Girls Can’t Add

Girls Can’t Add

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Girls Can’t Add

It’s true that our parents and our teachers told us we didn’t have to bother our pretty little heads with things like arithmetic.  Besides, it would be harder for us to find a husband if we were too smart …

Sound familiar?  Well, this was a carryover from our mothers’ and grandmothers’ social reality, perhaps, but not ours.

However, traces of this nonsense still lingered when Baby Boomers were growing up, and it resulted in many girls turning off to math as teens.  The social pressures may have softened a bit over the years since then, but somehow the belief about women’s difficulty with numbers has persisted.

So a lot of women have thrown up their hands and declared it impossible for them to “do finances.”

They’ve claimed it was their biology … and that they were just reflecting  biological differences in the math aptitudes of boys and girls.

Turns out, instead the difference was almost entirely social.  In fact, we can forget biology, as “social equality” seems to be what plays a dominant role in any actual test results.

Here’s the proof:  PISA, or the Programme for International Student Assessment, is part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).   In 2006, over 275,000 15-year-old students in 40 countries took the PISA test.

Globally, girls did score 7 percent better in reading than boys and, on average, did 2 percent worse in math.  But the math gap wasn’t consistent.

It seems the math gap shifted depending on how much “social equality” existed in each country.  In Iceland, for example, the girls outscored the boys in math by 2 percent.  Yet in Turkey, boys outpaced girls in math by 4 percent.   The performance differences implied a direct correlation with the status of women, even if the correlation wasn’t perfect.

Now, the U.S. is a country where women enjoy a high social status.  Yet we continue to let this minute global difference hold us back.

Add to that excuse the myth that we have to be good at numbers in order to get control over our finances.  (And some women do use this myth as an excuse to not even try.)

One small detail:  we’re not talking about rocket science here.

The only exception would be if we’re into real sophisticated investments in our portfolios and we’re analyzing a beta coefficient, or risk factor.   But, short of that, everything we need to get control over our finances we learned before the sixth grade.  We can add, subtract, multiply and divide, can’t we?

So this myth is debunked!

On the other hand, it’s possible that the real resistance isn’t “being good at numbers,” but rather what the numbers might tell us.

Shelves of books exist on the role of self-worth, fear, blame, guilt and shame in people’s unwillingness to know where they stand financially.  We won’t go into all the details here, but everyone I’ve worked with has told me (once they were willing to get honest about their financial reality) that it was never as bad as they had imagined.

It rarely is.  But when we don’t know the truth about our numbers, we imagine the absolute worst.  And that paralyzes us.

Yet by knowing the numbers, they suddenly hold far less power over us.  Like magic.  They become just numbers.

So do you think it’s time to come out from behind the myths and get honest with what you own, what you owe, what you earn and what you spend?

Let me know in the comment section below if the “Girls Can’t Add” belief has kept you from getting real clarity on your numbers …


Bio: Sharon O’Day lost everything at age 53: her home, her business, everything. But how could that be? She’s an expert in global finance and marketing with an MBA from the Wharton School. She has worked with governments, corporations, and individuals … yes, she was the secret “weapon,” if you will, behind many individuals in high places. Yet she did! Since then, with her finances completely turned around, Sharon has gone on to interview countless women. She’s done extensive research to understand how that could have happened, especially with her strong knowledge of numbers and finance.

The surprising answers are shared in her posts, articles and an upcoming book. Today her mission is to show as many women as possible how to become financially free for the long term, through her coaching programs. She has developed a step-by-step plan to get past all the obstacles that keep women broke and scared … and from reaching the financial peace of mind they so deserve … if they’re willing to do what it takes!

  • Sondra

    This is wonderful Sharon. I am a GIRL! I am FABULOUS and I can ADD!!!!

    • SharonODay

      Me too, Sondra.  Guess we just need to keep spreading the word to those who aren’t and/or can’t!  😉

  • This is a great post Sharon.  It is so true that most of the time the problem is not with adding, but with what the numbers mean.  And it’s not just limited to girls.  I have heard this excuse time and time again in my tax practice from both sexes.  Some of us are old enough to remember when computers and portable calculators came on the scene.  In my opinion, that’s when this excuse officially lost all of it’s power.  I think you’re doing a fabulous job of educating people (both sexes) about their finances and helping them to get a grip on this extremely important part of their life.

    • SharonODay

      Robert, I get great joy out of hearing every so often from someone who says that she (or he) has turned things around in her finances after reading my articles for awhile … or even after one specific article.  That’s my motivator, so what else could I ask for?  😉

  • Sharon, you’re the BEST at helping us to take control of our financial mindset! It does give so much freedom to know our numbers… and then to get behind the numbers and root out any lies we’ve been believing as ‘truth’ about finances. You really know how to blast those lies to smithereens! Hey, what is the word on your book?

    • SharonODay

       After all this time, Susan, my book has taken on a life of its own, and has joined some sort of “witness protection program” these days.  Hiding with no desire to come out! 

  •  Thank Sharon for inviting people to get their finances in order. The numbers become just the numbers when we are in control and clear. People are often scared from numbers and so don’t face them, which is what gives them insecurity and problems arise from there. Great article ~ amazing job! 🙂

    • SharonODay

      Solvita, people tend to magnify how bad things are, if they don’t know precisely.  And most of my clients discover things are not as bad as they imagined.  Just think of all the lost sleep that could be avoided!

  • Ginger Pugliese

    Before we can get our finances in order, we have to figure out what is driving our relationship with money.  Until we do, nothing can/will change.  Sharon, you are an extraordinary teacher. Great article.

    • SharonODay

      I hope more and more pieces are falling into place for you, Ginger!  This really is one of those cases where “knowledge is power!”  Personal power.

  • Stacey

    I think for me it was more about not liking math.  But I do like to add, when it is money!

    • SharonODay

      Stacey, that’s a good “like” to have: adding up money!  As long as you’re adding more than subtracting …

  • Sharon, I agree that most of us need to get over their fear of numbers. However I am happy to say I have several friends who have their Masters Degree in Math. Also, my husband who is a HS teacher says the females are really outperforming the males in this area these days. So there is hope for the future! 
    He also told me recently that they started a mandatory personal finance program – yippee!!

    • SharonODay

       That’s great news about the mandatory PF programs, Lori!  If they had started long ago, I could take a break and have fewer messes to help clean up!  😉

  • Ah Sharon you hit the nail on the head again! However, I was always good in math as a child. I can add, subtract, multiply and divide…my issue revolved around being unable to say NO when the balance hit zero. However, now with your loving guidance and straight forward, no bull, no nonsense approach to handling money and realizing where our bank account balance is…we are pulling out of our hole and re-building our credit, spending within our budget and are much happier on a daily basis. 

    • SharonODay

      You win the prize, Ms. Carla, for being an absolute pit bull when you decide to do something.  After all, LOOK at you!  Slimmer, trimmer, loaded with energy … and with finances headed in the right direction.  Hats off!

  • Another great post Sharon. Yes, I agree too that most of us need to get over their fear of numbers. When I was at school I didn’t like math, but I got “B” and was very happy with that…Totally agree with Solvita – 
    The numbers become just the numbers when we are in control and clear. Thanks for sharing this post!

    • SharonODay

      Anastasiya, what’s sad is that many teachers didn’t used to encourage little girls to excel in math beyond a certain grade.  Things have improved over the decades, and I even hear occasionally about some schools offering classes in personal finance in high school.  Finally!  😉 

  • andreabeadle

    Nice post Sharon. I agree that when we actually look at the numbers it is never quite as bad as we think and it definitely loses its hold over us!!

    • SharonODay

      Andrea, I guess this is where the expression “knowledge is power” comes from?

  • I think of money as energy in motion. It is so important to learn proper handling of money, respecting and not giving away our power to husbands and expect them to do it for us.

    Thank you for your ideas !

    • SharonODay

      As you say, MarVeena, money is energy in motion.  So if we give away the role of handling/nurturing our money to others, we’re giving our energy away as well.  The good news is that energy (and power) can be taken back easily … if the other person doesn’t resist. 

  • Great article Sharon … some points hitting close to home 😉

    • SharonODay

      Tracey, I hope if they’re hitting close to home that means they triggering some healthy changes … there’s so much we just don’t address because we don’t think to.  That’s why I keep writing these articles: as memory joggers!

  • Your facts and figures show proof that we a product of our environment (this includes the attitude and beliefs of our parents). Important information because with this understanding we can conclude that we have the power to not only change our beliefs about our own capabilities but if parents take heed they can positively impact the mindset of their children…who are our future leaders! Excellent article Sharon!

    • SharonODay

      Denny, we know that if more little girls were parented as you propose, I’d have fewer women to work with many decades later.  Sounds good to me!

  • Sharon, I always felt that girls would do better in math, if we encouraged that way. i try to do so with my daughter. I let her know that being creative is not enough, that the jobs are more than ever heading towards the STEM subjects, and in fact, I made a special point of enrolling her in her school’s after hours math and science program. I hope it sticks. i do what I can, to give my kids a dose of the real world. Also, I love your podcast! You guidance there has really helped me… get my own podcast up. You are GGGREAT!