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Does talking about money made you nervous?
Talking about money is difficult. Why is that? Our perceptions about money are formed early in our lives. And those perceptions are influenced by our parents, where we live, the religion we practice, and our perceived self-worth.
You may notice that the factors influencing how we talk about money are, themselves, things we don’t discuss easily.
Talking about money is taboo
When certain conversation topics ‘cross the line’ of social norms, they are considered taboo.
Taboo topics at a dinner party, for example, can be sex, how much money you make, politics, and religion. These topics can embarrass people or provoke heated arguments.
To put it another way, certain topics are believed to be inappropriate or impolite within certain social groups, making them taboo.
Reasons for our money taboo
What, then, is the reason for the taboo against talking about money?
One explanation is how people living in certain societies associate wealth with personal value. It’s the idea that the more we earn, the better or more important we are.
Factor 1: Nature
First, it’s our nature as humans. “It’s in the way we’re prewired to act around things we own,” says Young. “We understand ownership from a young age. Toddlers want their favorite toy and don’t want someone to have it. Money becomes something we own as an individual.”
Factor 2: Nurture
Second, it’s in how the topic of money was treated in your family in your formative years. Was talking about money avoided? It makes a difference.
Studies show that your financial attitude is built by age seven.
Ask yourself, “What is my first memory of money? That emotion can affect the way you interact with money later in life.”
Factor 3: Culture
Finally, the culture where we grow up creates a society’s norms. “For example, in Britain, historically, you could tell if someone was well off because they had land. It was obvious to everyone. Therefore, Brits are humble and avoid talking about money.
However, In America, historically, both wealthy and non-wealthy could own land. Pioneers were given land to help settle the west. So, you couldn’t tell who was wealthy as easily. For this reason, Americans are more eager to talk about money as it relates to themselves.”
“We judge others by what we can see they’ve spent: house, cars, clothes.
But we can’t see what they’ve saved: pensions, etc.”
– Paul Young, head of business consultancy at Quilter.
Guilt & Judgement
A lot of the discomfort we feel when we talk about money is closely tied to a feeling of guilt. The guilt of feeling that you ‘have it easier’ than someone else.
This is true especially when differences in affluence are glaring. You feel awkward talking about your new swimming pool when your colleague works double shifts to feed their family.
Consequently, feelings of guilt are the precursors to the fear of judgement. And judgement can come from others, or is perceived to come from others. But, often, it comes from ourselves.
Inequality is a great source of social and personal conflict. So, many societies have developed strategies to hide or ignore those inequalities. How? The taboo: ‘Don’t talk about money!’
In Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, the culture dictates that you should never see yourself as better than anyone else. In other words, it’s wrong to put yourself in a position where you might be perceived that way.
As such, Scandinavian societies are intensely private in their attitudes to wealth and money. This belief, and behavior, is known as jantelagen.
Many countries have some kind of social taboo about talking about money. However, some do not.
For example, in China it’s normal to talk about salaries, rents, and bills with your friends.
Chinese philosophy and culture do not have the same attitude about money that many western cultures do. Part of the reason for this is because Chinese traditions do not embrace the Christian underpinnings of wealth leading to corruption.
In China, money is a joyful, natural part of life. In fact, one of the most common gifts to give to children is the “red envelope” – a letter full of cash.
According to research done by Intuit Inc., people’s willingness to discuss money varies by age. Millennials are much more open to talking about salaries than their older counterparts.
The study found that 71% of respondents in their 20s or early 30s were comfortable talking about money with friends.
However, less than half of that number – just 31% – of Baby Boomers felt the same.
To summarize, it seems that the older you are, the less comfortable you are talking about money.
Sometimes historical ways of thinking are promoted as societal norms longer than needed.
It appears that not talking about money benefits employers much more than the employed.
For instance, “Companies are motivated to promote pay secrecy, either covertly or overtly, because it often saves them money,” notes BBC’s Kate Morgan.
Indeed, research shows that greater transparency about pay reduces the gender salary gap.
The study noted that being transparent about salaries reduced the gender pay gap between men and women by 20% to 40% percent.
EU is making changes
Thankfully, the attitudes and laws are changing in many countries.
The European Council has adopted new rules on pay transparency as of 24 April 2023.
This EU directive aims to combat pay discrimination and help close the gender pay gap in the EU.
These changes are vital for women, especially, because the current 13% pay gap between men and women results in a 30% pension gap when they retire.
Under the new rules, EU companies will be required to share information on salaries and take action if their gender pay gap exceeds 5%.
The directive also includes provisions on compensation for victims of pay discrimination. Additionally, there are penalties, including fines, for employers who break the rules.
Initiate personal conversations
On a more individual level, the taboo of not talking about money must be addressed to have healthy relationships.
That’s not easy, given that money is the number one issue couples fight about, according to Ramsey Solutions.
“It can be tremendously stressful, not only from a financial standpoint but also mentally and emotionally,” says Jeffrey Corliss, managing director and partner at RDM Financial Group at Hightower.
Corliss goes on, “The couple should view it as a business … their business, just like any other business or CEO would look at their cash flow and their finances and resources.”
Aisa International and OpusFidelio
Aisa International, s.r.o. is a wealth management firm with an award-winning team who provides investment advice, financial planning, and asset management for U.S., U.K., and E.U. expatriate citizens residing abroad. Holding all current regulatory licenses, including the FCA license in the UK and the Investment Licence in the European Union, Aisa International is uniquely qualified to provide personal financial advice for U.K. pensioners living outside of the U.K. Headquartered in Prague, Czech Republic, Aisa International serves its global clients where they reside through its OpesFidelio network of highly-qualified advisors. For more information, please visit www.asiainternational.cz.
The views expressed in this article are not to be construed as personal advice. Therefore, you should contact a qualified, and ideally, regulated adviser in order to obtain up-to-date personal advice with regard to your own personal circumstances. Consequently, if you do not, then you are acting under your own authority and deemed “execution only”. The author does not accept any liability for people acting without personalised advice, who base a decision on views expressed in this generic article. Importantly, where this article is dated then it is based on legislation as of the date. Legislation changes but articles are rarely updated, although sometimes a new article is written; so, please check for later articles or changes in legislation on official government websites, as this article should not be relied on in isolation.
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