Women's History Month

March is Women’s History Month. In honor of the occasion, we are taking a look at the history of women and business, challenging stereotypes related to women and money, providing some tips for budgeting, and offering financial advice for young women.

While there have been countless influential women in the history of business and banking, below are five women who have really left a mark on their generations and paved a path for future generations.

  • Maggie Lena Walker: The first woman to charter a bank in the U.S when she started St. Luke’s Penny Savings Bank in 1903. She served as the bank’s president until she passed away in 1934
  • Madam C.J. Walker AKA Sara Breedlove: Founded Madam C.J. Walker Company and created a line of haircare products for African American women after she developed a scalp condition that caused her to lose some of her hair. She is recognized as the first woman to be a “self-made” millionaire
  • Louise M. Weiser: The first woman named president of an American bank. She served as president of Winneshiek County Bank in Decorah, Iowa from 1875-1892
  • Muriel Siebert: The first woman to have a seat on the New York Stock Exchange in 1967, joining 1,365 males on the floor. She later opened her own brokerage firm and served as the superintendent of banking in New York in 1977
  • Janet Yellen: The first woman to hold each of the top economic positions in federal government. She was sworn in as U.S. treasury secretary on January 26, 2021, in addition to serving as chair of the Board of Governors of the U.S. Federal Reserve and chair of the Council of Economic Advisors during the Clinton administration

Women have faced an uphill battle in business in the United States since the country was settled. A few notable acts in the 19th century and 20th century really helped advance women’s rights in this area, including the Married Woman’s Property Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

  • The Married Woman’s Property Act passed in New York in 1848. As a result, a woman was no longer held liable for her husband’s debts, could enter contracts on her own, had the ability to collect rents and receive an inheritance in her own right, and could file a lawsuit on her own behalf
  • In 1938, the federal minimum wage was established with the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act, helping eliminate many pay differences between men and women
  • The Equal Credit Opportunity Act passed in 1974 in an effort to prohibit credit discrimination on the basis of gender

One way we can continue to pursue equality between men and women is by challenging stereotypes. One common stereotype is that women spend more than men. Forbes broke down the difference in spending between men and women on healthcare, transportation, food, apparel, and housing, and found that women only outspend men on healthcare and apparel, and spend about the same on housing. Additionally, women only spend about $85 more each year on apparel, and women spend more on healthcare because they are more likely to schedule appointments with their doctors and receive x-rays. This research makes it clear that many stereotypes about women and their spending habits are inaccurate.

Another stereotype worth challenging is that men make the financial decisions in the majority of households. While this may have been true among previous generations, it does not accurately describe the way household finances are handled by younger couples. Married women 45 and younger are twice as likely as older married women to make the financial decisions in their families. According to Kirstin Hill, the difference is partly due to women marrying later in life, as it is common for both partners to continue managing at least part of their finances separately. Two additional factors she notes for the change are the level of formal education younger women receive and the fact that many serve as the primary breadwinners in their households.

With this information in mind, we would like to share five financial steps every young woman should take, according to Jill Gianola and Margaret Price:

  • Take advantage of employer benefits such as 401k match and health insurance
  • Build an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses
  • Make necessities a priority, but leave some space for things you enjoy
  • Learn more about tax credits that will help you cut your spending
  • Pay off debt and invest in retirement at the same time

On average, younger women are choosing to remain single or get married later in life. As a result, it is more important than ever to learn about how to budget and save money from a young age. Our blog post on budgeting is a great place to start, as it offers resources on creating a budget, using a bill calendar, living independently, and credit counseling.

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