Money Stress Is Hurting Women’s Overall Health

By Ellevest Team

When the pandemic hit, it quickly became clear that the way people thought about money was changing. With careers in flux and public spaces (aka where we use money) transformed overnight, we were all forced to reexamine how we do things — including our finances.

But women have definitely had it worst of all (see: “She-cession”), and the way the pandemic has impacted our lives has changed, changed more, and changed again. We at Ellevest wanted to understand how that shift was impacting our community’s financial wellness — what they have, how they’re planning for the future, and most importantly, how they feel about it.

So, as we approach the pandemic’s second anniversary, Ellevest has commissioned the Financial Wellness Survey 2021, a nationwide survey of more than 2,000 people across the US about how they’re thinking about financial wellness, money, investing, and the financial services industry. What we heard suggests that financial wellness is deeply undervalued compared to other forms of wellness, and it’s costing us big time. And while women+ still struggle with confidence in their financial know-how, there’s also a lot of interest in learning more — meaning there’s plenty of room to improve overall financial health through a healthy financial wellness practice.

Financial stress: Women+’s sneaky saboteur

Text graphic: Nearly half of women say their mental and emotional health has suffered from financial stress, and 40% say their physical health has suffered.

The picture these survey results paint is a contradictory one. While women+ understand all too well the impact money and financial security have on their lives, financial wellness just doesn’t get as much attention as other forms of wellness.

More than one in five women (21%) report never having invested time in their financial well-being at all. (By comparison, just 12% of men say the same.) Only 14% of women-identifying respondents ranked financial health as the most important form of wellness.

But while women (35%) and non-binary respondents (44%) ranked mental health as the most important form of wellness, nearly half of women (49%) feel financial stress has taken a toll on their mental and emotional health, 46% of women say they’ve lost sleep over it, and 40% of women even believe it’s damaged their physical health.

Unsurprisingly, women+ also continue to worry a lot more than men do about their finances. Thirty-six percent of women worry about their financial health on a daily basis, compared to 28% of men, and a whopping two-thirds (67%) of women do so at least once a week. Also, 46% of women say that their money anxiety has worsened since the pandemic began.

And when respondents were asked about how they feel about money, the gender breakdown was even starker — bordering on heartbreaking. The top emotion for men (37%): “Confident.” The top emotion for women (35%)? “Overwhelmed.”

So what we’re seeing, in short, is a clear need. Money stress is having an overwhelming impact on women+’s mental and physical well-being, much more so than for men, and the pandemic has only made matters worse. But the key to changing that could lie in admitting one crucial fact: that financial wellness matters a lot more than we think.

A closer look at the results

If we dive down a little deeper into these survey results, it becomes clear that many — if not all — of women’s anxieties around money are the result not of inadequacy, but of generations’ worth of harmful myths and stereotypes.

Women+ understand financial wellness as peace of mind — and mastery

Three pie charts. 52% of women define financial wellness as not being stressed, 51% as feeling confident about money, and 48% as having a full understanding of their current finances.

The fact is, most women+ have a pretty solid understanding of what financial wellness is. The majority define financial wellness as not being stressed (52%), feeling confident about money (51%) and having a full understanding of their current finances (48%). (These align, more or less, with Ellevest’s own three-part definition: knowing what you have, knowing where you’re headed, and feeling good about it.)

Women+ also know what practicing financial wellness can do for them. They report that the most important factors in financial wellness are:

  • Feeling in control of their financial state (41%)

  • Having enough money to save for the future (40%)

  • Having the skills and knowledge to manage your own money (32%)

And finally, they’ve cautiously started to look: Talking with immediate family members, partners, and friends is the top way women+ find financial guidance and inspiration (30%), followed by financial content on social media and blogs (22%).

… But it still feels unattainable for most women+

Text graphic. 42% of women believe they don't make enough money to practice financial wellness.

Still, as we mentioned earlier, women+ say they haven’t dedicated much time to establishing a healthy financial wellness practice. Judging by the rest of the survey results, this, among other things, has left them feeling anxious and unsure about pursuing it for themselves — which is putting them at a serious disadvantage compared to men. (Remember that breakdown above, where men mostly felt “confident” about money, while women mostly felt “overwhelmed”?)

Women are told they’re bad with money, and the survey pretty much confirms that it’s messing with their confidence:

  • Compared to women, men are significantly more satisfied with / confident in their:

    • Overall financial health and future (67% vs 49%)

    • Current knowledge of finances (73% vs 53%)

    • Belief that they have the tools and resources they need to practice financial wellness (59% vs 43%)

  • 64% of men say they’re very satisfied with their retirement savings, while just 38% of women say the same

  • After making a big purchase, 32% of women feel guilty about spending too much money (but only 25% of men report feeling this way)

Not all of the roadblocks to practicing financial wellness are bad social messaging — women+ feel discouraged by the tangible structural inequality impacting their lives, too:

  • While men’s top concern is whether they have enough money for retirement (30%), women (28%) and non-binary folks (25%) are most concerned with the more immediate issue of living paycheck to paycheck

  • Nearly half (47%) of women who share finances with a romantic partner would only be able to support themselves for one month or less on their own

On top of all that, many women+ are self-selecting out of financial wellness altogether: 42% believe they don’t make enough money to practice it.

One big roadblock to financial wellness: Money talk

Text graphic. 1 in 3 women (33%) want to talk to others about money, but don't because of the

We know all too well that the taboos around talking about money have held women+ back for too long. Not talking about money — from salaries and net worth and retirement all the way down to the simple fact of how much stuff costs — only empowers people who already have it, and reinforces the inequality that holds women+ (particularly women+ of color!) back, both individually and structurally.

But money talk doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. In fact, we believe that a lot of that discomfort comes from not having the framework or the practice or support structure necessary to have those conversations. Our survey results support that theory:

  • Despite family members, partners, and friends being the top source of financial guidance and inspiration, 56% of women don’t talk regularly with others about finances

  • Only 14% of women regularly reach out to others for financial support and guidance

  • 31% of women (and 41% of millennials overall) want to discuss finances with others, but aren’t sure who they can talk to about it

This uncertainty largely comes from those social taboos and norms that have discouraged these conversations pretty much from the moment we learn anything about money.

  • More than 1 in 3 women (34%) were taught growing up that talking about finances with others is taboo — even crass

  • 1 in 3 women (33%) want to talk to others about money, but don’t for fear of being judged for it

  • 1 in 3 women (33%) would rather share their personal browser search history than their bank statements and investment accounts with friends

It’s clear that women want to talk about money, largely because they know what they stand to gain: They said that conversations help them feel more supported (45%), reduce stress (41%) and make them feel more informed about their own financial decisions (39%). The challenge is in finding the scripts that work for them to start breaking down those taboos and gaining the confidence they need to succeed financially.

Start recovering from pandemic shock on Financial Wellness Day

Text graphic. 41% of women believe that if they had a stronger community (resources, inspiration, guidance), they'd be in a better place financially.

In our community survey back in February, respondents said that the pandemic had prompted them to get more serious about practicing financial wellness, and now our wider survey suggests that’s true nationally, too. This time, 23% of women may report having given up on saving money since it began (and 22% of non-binary folks, vs 17% of men), but at the same time ...

  • 51% of women say it made them want to become more aware of their finances

  • 45% of women say it prompted them to either make or consider making new financial goals

  • 44% of women say they want to seek out resources to improve their financial wellness

  • 41% of women believe that a stronger community (resources, inspiration, guidance) would help them get to a better place financially

These numbers are supported elsewhere in the survey, too: Even though financial health was ranked as the least important form of wellness in theory, it also turns out to be the type of wellness people spend the most money pursuing in practice ($164 a month on average, compared to $141 for physical, $138 for spiritual, and $129 for mental) This suggests that people — women especially — are still trying to practice financial wellness despite an endless string of roadblocks.

That’s why we’re celebrating October 13 as the first-ever Financial Wellness Day. After a Hot Vax Summer of spending, 38% of women say they’re anxious about the prospect of upcoming holiday expenses, and nearly half (45%) consider October a key month to get back on track with their finances ahead of the end-of-year festivities (and expenses).

We at Ellevest agree: More than ever, this is the perfect moment to finally make the time and commit to a financial wellness practice — one that will build confidence and bolster your overall wellness for the long term. Get started with our Guide to Practicing Financial Wellness.

Censuswide conducted research on behalf of Ellevest, between September 23 and September 29, 2021 among 2,026 people ages 18-69, in the US. Read more in the detailed results of the Ellevest Financial Wellness Survey 2021 here.


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Ellevest helps women build and manage their wealth through goal-based investing, financial planning, and wealth management. Our mission is to get more money in the hands of women.