Does getting a refund mean you’ve made a profit? Are you saving rather than spending when you shop the sales? Can you justify an unaffordable fashion purchase when you work out the ‘cost per wear’?
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because these are among the core principles of ‘Girl Maths’, the viral trend which focuses on the invented ‘rules’ that help women justify how they spend their money. The term ‘Girl Maths’ was coined on New Zealand radio station FVHZM, where morning presenters Fletch, Vaughan & Hayley host a segment where listeners call in to confirm that their extravagant purchases are ‘basically free!’ But what started out as harmless fun has quickly turned into a personal finance phenomenon that promotes some outdated stereotypes about girls, women and money.
What is Girl Maths?
It didn’t take long for Girl Maths to become a TikTok sensation, and the ‘Girl Math’ hashtag has had more than 488 million views to date. Although most examples are firmly tongue-in-cheek, they also reinforce outdated ideas about women and money – namely that women are bad with money and make poor financial decisions. Not only that, Girl Maths also sends a message that women should justify their spending choices in a way that isn’t required of men.
For example, some Girl Maths ‘rules’ say that spending doesn’t count when you use cash, or that anything under £5 is ‘basically free.’ Others claim that an expensive purchase can somehow save you money, or receiving payment when you’ve split the bill with friends equals bonus money. Some users justify the cost of a designer handbag because it’s a classic design and such good quality that they will use it for years and save money, unlike a cheaper – and potentially less durable – option. According to Girl Maths, a bag that costs £750 and is used every day for two years costs just over £1 per day – which isn’t much more expensive than a £50 bag that’s used once a week for a year, before falling apart.
The truth about women and money
It’s easy to take women’s financial freedom for granted – but just 50 years ago women in the UK didn’t have the right to open a bank account in their own name, let alone get a credit card or a mortgage. In this context, Girl Maths doesn’t seem quite as funny when it reinforces the idea that women can’t control their spending, shouldn’t be trusted with money, and don’t know how to manage their finances responsibly.
In fact, an increasing body of research suggests that the opposite is true. Despite the stereotypes about women and frivolous spending, a study by Deloitte indicates that men splurge just as much as women – and spend up to 40% more in the process. Research from Barclaycard revealed that men spend more on clothes and shoes than women, and trading platform eToro found that women are not only more financially responsible than men, but are also more likely to set a budget and stick to it.
Encouragingly, GoHenry research shows that girls aged 6-18 already know how to manage their money responsibly and make sound spending decisions. Our latest Youth Economy Report found that girls aged 6-18 are saving 213% more than they did last year, compared to boys who are saving 105% more. Growing up in a time of economic instability means that financial independence has never been so important, and financial education is crucial to help this generation learn how to manage their money and use credit sensibly, long before they can be tempted to make impulse buys using Buy Now Pay Later.
“Girl Maths sounds like harmless fun, but it does send a message that women can’t manage their money or control their spending – and that’s a damaging generalisation. Financial education holds the key to mastering the money skills that set all young people up for life, helping them to make considered financial decisions that really do add up.”
Louise Hill, CEO and co-founder, GoHenry
Money and maths
Another issue with Girl Maths is that it plays into the stereotype that women are bad at maths. Even though there are countless examples of women who have excelled in maths-related fields, there’s still an imbalance in the number of women studying maths. The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that, in 2018, girls received just 39% of Maths A Levels, even though they received more than half (55%) of A Levels overall. More recent UCAS data shows that only 37% of students who enrolled to study maths at UK universities in 2022/23 are women or non-binary people.
Fortunately, politicians are now recognising that maths and money skills are linked – and are prioritising them in the school curriculum. At the recent Labour Party Conference, Shadow Education Minister Bridget Phillipson said that Labour plans to improve teaching of ‘real life maths’ from primary school level, explaining this as the numeracy that people need ‘for life and for work, to earn and to spend, to understand and to challenge.’
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also outlined his vision for maths to be taught to the age of 18, claiming that it will grow the economy, and create better-paid jobs.
Here at GoHenry, we believe that money and maths skills are closely linked, which is why we’ve joined forces with money experts and industry campaigners to push for compulsory financial education from primary school onwards. This will arm young people with vital money skills that will affect the financial decisions they make for the rest of their lives – including their ability to calculate interest, work out percentage discounts, and stick to a budget.
We’re not there yet. So, in 2023, when the pay gap stands at 8.3%, girls and women are routinely told that they’re ‘bad at maths’, and celebrating poor financial decision-making has become one of the year’s biggest viral trends, it’s hard to see the funny side of Girl Maths.