Are Shoes And Houses Really Keeping Women Poor?

Are Shoes And Houses Really Keeping Women Poor?


We women have come a long way:  we have broken a few ceilings (perhaps not be the glass ceiling yet, but we are getting there), we can vote (can you believe it is not even 100 years since we were allowed to do so?) and we can become Members of Parliament.

However, we have not yet breached the big wealth ceiling. Of the 1 426 people on the Forbes Rich List, (those are the world’s billionaires in dollar terms) only 138 are women. The 15 richest people in South Africa do not include any women.

But the majority of women who do appear on the world’s Rich Lists, mostly owe their fortunes to their families or their husbands (rather ex-husbands). Their wealth seems to come from either family wealth, inheritances or divorces.

Why don’t women achieve great wealth?

Even if being included in the rich lists is not part of your life goals, just having a moderately substantial balance sheet seems to be out of reach for most women.

The reason might be that we probably have been hurdled from the start – earning less income than men for the same job, not being allowed to be a member of a pension fund (in some instances this rule has applied until as recently as 25 years ago), leaving work to bring up the kids.

And do not discount the fact that so many of us partnered with men that either assumed all the assets in the relationship and prevented us from accumulating some of it for ourselves, or worse, consumed the little bit that we had.

You need to think ‘rich’

But maybe, just maybe, one of the reasons is that we still do not have a ‘rich’ mind set.

  • We have a consumption culture and would rather buy another pair of shoes or handbag than save the money so that it one day can become wealth
  • If we invest, we are overly cautious about the risk involved in investing. Research done by VISA last year showed that only 2% of women invest directly in shares while the majority thinks that buying shares are the worst investment choice. For 54% of women, property is their preferred investment choice. With a potential return of about 16% per year on shares versus about 7% in property – who is going to get really rich by only investing in property?
  • The same research showed that only about one-third of women would consult a professional for money advice. This might be the reason why the money of so many widows and divorcees gets ‘schemed’ away.

And yes, we still get men whose buddies around the braai count as their financial adviser – but the really serious-about-money-men have a whole battery of advisers who talk to them about their financial affairs.

Fortunately, the financial planning industry has over the last 10 years become much more ‘womanised’ with a lot more female professional financial planners around, so that women can talk to women about their money.

Women still think that protecting our income and assets against life changing events such as a serious illness or disability is a male thing, while 70% of women have no short-term insurance. So when life happens, our savings get used to replace whatever is lost – again affecting our wealth.

In order to really start celebrating women’s achievements, maybe we need to start thinking ‘rich’ – and make it part of every woman’s life goals to have her own share portfolio by the time she reaches 30!

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Hesta van der Westhuizen
Hesta van der Westhuizen CFP is a Certified Financial Planner at Consolidated Financial Planning and has a BCom-degree and Advanced Post Graduate diploma in Financial Planning Law. She is also Chairperson of the Financial Planning Institute’s Risk committee. For more information please visit: