Study suggests gender stereotypes about money can damper women’s cognitive functioning

New research suggests that gender stereotypes about money can negatively impact women’s cognitive functioning.

The study was recently published in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly.

“The notion of gender and money interested my colleague (Sarah Gervais at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln) and I because despite how frequently men and women encounter money matters, there is surprisingly little empirical work on the topic,” explained study author Jill Allen, an assistant professor of psychology at Drake University.

“Although most research up to this point suggests that money=power (and enhances self-sufficiency), we wondered whether it may actually be a liability for women’s cognitive functioning, given that stereotypes suggest that women are not (and ought not be) good at money-related matters.”

An initial survey of 395 female college students found that women who more strongly identified with their gender and women who endorsed benevolent sexism were more likely to believe in money–gender stereotypes.

Two follow-up experiments with a total of 179 college women found evidence that priming the concepts of money and femininity undermined their performance on a test of cognitive functioning.

“Our series of experiments suggest that when both femininity and money are both activated (i.e., salient in one’s mind), that cognitive costs follow,” Allen told PsyPost.

“Specifically, having both on one’s mind interferes with cognitive processes, including those which are money-focused and more general processes as well.”

The researchers used images of products like ballet slippers and lipstick to prime the concept of femininity before the participants completed their cognitive test. Some participants viewed masculine or gender-neutral products instead.

“We suggest that this has important consequences for women, as they navigate financial decisions and interactions in their daily lives (but may also be simultaneously thinking about their gender),” Allen said. “It many ways, this research sheds light on why stereotypes about women being ‘bad at money’ persist.”

But there are still some questions that need to be addressed by further research.

“To be sure, there are open questions that remain about women’s experiences with money,” Allen explained. “Two future directions relating to this work come to mind. First, understanding how some women (i.e., successful accountants or investment bankers) navigate these seemingly inconsistent identities warrants further empirical attention.”

“Second, examining how intersecting, chronic identities (e.g., gender identity, socioeconomic status) play a role in the femininity-money incongruity hypothesis would be a fascinating next step in advancing theory and research in this area.”

“We defined ‘cognitive functioning’ using a classic working memory task (e.g., Stroop task) in which people had to inhibit the response to read a color word and instead name the color of ink it was printed in,” Allen added.

“Slower responses times corresponded to reduced cognitive functioning, and we ruled out the possibility that participants were simply taking longer to complete the task to be more accurate (e.g., speed-accuracy tradeoff).”

The study was titled: “The Femininity–Money Incongruity Hypothesis: Money and Femininity Reminders Undermine Women’s Cognitive Performance“.