I was talking about gender in society in one of my classes, as one does, and got on the topic of women and poverty. When it comes to poverty, the world over, women tend to be more vulnerable – mostly because of children and family obligations. Also because of unequal work for equal pay. Also because society doesn’t value the work women are expected to do in their “spare time” – work like cooking and cleaning and making doctor’s appointments and being sure that their kids’ picture day forms are turned in on time (not to say men don’t do these things, but…yes to say that when they don’t get done, society’s stern eye turns straight to look at what the heck kind of deadbeat mom allows these things to slip, paying zero attention to the dad who also didn’t get it done).
Seventy percent of the world’s poor are women. And in the U.S., women were found to experience poverty at a rate 38% higher than that of men. Look at this chart – girls under 18 are doing okay. Everybody else, not so much.
Single-parent households are hit very hard with the poverty stick:
And it’s especially bad for non-white single mothers:
There’s so much to say here that I can’t possibly say it in one post, so many factors that make it harder for women to make ends meet and easier for them to get swept into poverty, so many ways that men can get societal approval for riding off into the sunset and leaving the women to pay for childcare and checkups, so many institutional barriers to making an equal wage or being treated equally as employed parents, so much time and money lost to terrible or non-existent maternity leave policies.
But instead I will say this: one of my students raised her hand and recounted how, when she was a senior in high school and her sister was a sophomore, her mother had a baby. Her mom got three weeks of paid time off, then had to go back to work because they couldn’t afford anything more. They also couldn’t afford child care. My student and her sister alternated days where they would go to school or stay home and take care of their newborn sister. Every other day of high school, erased because having babies wipes people – most often women – out.
Sometimes this whole philosophical movement seems so frivolous. “If you pay 0.01% fees on your investments, you’ll get rich so much faster than if you pay 4.2%!” Meanwhile, kids are losing their educations because their mothers have to go to work three weeks after a baby rips its way out of her body. “Give up your BMW for a Honda!” when a Honda is unimaginably fancy for many people. “I paid off $80,000 in debt in two years!” when that’s more salary than many families make in two years, and those families also have to juggle childcare.
At one point, when my brother first introduced me to the idea of FI, I told him I hated the philosophy – that it seemed to be a bunch of people patting themselves on the back for having advantages that put them ahead enough to get aheader even faster. He said, “doesn’t that mean that these tenets – like finding the best interest rate, cutting cable, etc. – would be the most helpful for the people without those advantages?”
And he’s right, in a way. I mean, he’s right. It helps everybody if we’re all talking about how to get a decent cell phone plan for $30 a month.
But so much of the conversation focuses on what we (the FI-minded) can do to get richer, not what we can do to make sure everybody can get richer. It’s so easy to get swept up in whether my student loan payment is going to jump by a hundred bucks a month and I’ll have to refigure my various extremely cheap loans. It’s so much harder to look at reality, the real reality, not just the fancy Honda-instead-of-BMW reality, and tackle the problems that really matter, and not just matter as in “I’ll retire six months earlier if I do this.”
Obviously I think about money, a lot. Obviously I try to optimize my lifestyle (while making tons of mistakes, obvs). Obviously me denigrating the Honda-instead-of-BMW statements doesn’t get me anywhere. But as we (the Fi-minded) are contemplating just how much we can squeeze out of every penny, it is critical that we (the people who have the resources and time to think about how to squeeze every dollar out of every penny) devote some of that contemplation to leveling the playing field.