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The financial literacy gender gap is a little more complex than we think

February 5, 2021
Lieran Docherty

Finances play an important role in every person’s life. But despite advances made to women’s economic security in recent decades, women continue to face very different financial challenges than men. These challenges are felt by women in their everyday lives, including in their homes.

It starts at work. In addition to the persistent gender wage gap, women across Canada are still more likely to work in jobs with financial instability, poor working conditions and limited employee protections. This has been highlighted in the past year with women accounting for over 60% of all pandemic-related job losses in Canada.[1]

It also happens at home. Women are more likely to be responsible for daily household spending and yet are less likely to be a part of the large financial decisions in the household.[2] These gender norms spill into public policies and practices too. In heterosexual couples, financial support or payments are often made to the man by default. This is increasingly problematic when policies require that finances are joined after a couple has been residing together for only a short period of time. Furthermore, we often hear from women that their financial knowledge and skills are undermined by professionals in the finance industry.

The effects of these disparities can be devastating. Financial dependence and economic insecurity have a major impact on women’s safety. They can marginalize women, increasing their risk of intimate partner violence and making it harder for them to leave violent situations. Violence results in costs for women including health costs, lost wages and moving expenses. Women are also faced with long-term financial consequences once they have left a violent relationship such as debt, poor credit, a diminished ability to work and ongoing legal costs. Financial hardship after leaving an abusive relationship is a near universal experience for women.

Right now, we have the chance to improve this. Canada is currently revising and renewing its National Strategy on Financial Literacy. In our response to its consultation process, we highlighted the need for strategies on financial literacy to consider the complex and intertwined barriers faced by women in achieving financial security. This includes gender norms related to money, public policies that undermine women’s financial independence and the prevalence of financial abuse in relationships across Canada.

To strengthen its approach, we also recommended that the National Strategy on Financial Literacy:

  • Undertake research to understand the most effective ways to overcome current attitudes and norms around women and finances.
  • Develop tailored programs that address the specific needs of particular communities and populations of women.
  • Support free financial counselling and debt remediation for survivors of financial abuse.
  • Support the development of guidelines and best practices for government and financial institutions to identify and respond to customers impacted by financial abuse as a form of intimate partner violence.

These changes can help to set women on a path to financial independence and long-term economic security – a very worthwhile investment.

Interested in learning more about financial literacy and violence against women? You can read our full submission here.


[1] Scott, K. (2020). Women bearing the brunt of economic losses one in five have been laid off or had hours cut. Behind the Numbers. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Retrieved from: http://behindthenumbers.ca/2020/04/10/women-bearing-the-brunt-of-economic-losses-one-in-five-has-been-laid-off-or-had-hours-cut/

[2] OECD (2013) Addressing women’s needs for financial education. Retrieved from: https://www.oecd.org/daf/fin/financial-education/OECD_INFE_women_FinEd2013.pdf

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