When You’re No. 2

Jiab Wasserman

WE ALL KNOW financial literacy is important. But it’s especially important if you’re a woman.

According to the Gates Foundation, “No matter where you are born, your life will be harder if you are born a girl.” Today is Equal Pay Day—the day when U.S. women finally earn enough to “catch up” with men’s earnings from the previous year. Women in the U.S. earn 82% of what men do for equivalent work and, as a result, suffer a 33% wealth gap. Women also have less access to borrowed money than their male counterparts.

All this leaves women with less control over their daily life. Think about a female applicant who is rejected for a new job because of her weak credit report. Or a woman who’s stuck in a relationship because her husband controls the family’s money.

More than 50 years ago, Avis ran an advertising campaign that said, “When you’re not the biggest in rent a cars, you have to try harder. We do. We’re only No. 2.” I’m not advocating that women accept today’s unfairness. But gender inequality isn’t going away any time soon. In the meantime, women will have to work harder and know more to propel themselves ahead—and financial literacy is one way to compete better on an unequal playing field.

Marcus Aurelius, the famous stoic Roman emperor, wrote in his Meditations that “if you submit to the frustration with a good grace, and are sensible enough to accept what offers itself instead, you can substitute some alternative course.” Here are five workarounds that I’ve found have provided “alternative courses” for me:

  • Be a smart consumer and self-advocate. Because of the pink tax, women get hit twice—first with less pay and again when they pay more for products. What to do? Think unconventionally. For instance, there’s no difference between men’s and women’s tennis shoes, so I often buy men’s—because they’re cheaper. Don’t be intimidated. Ask questions and negotiate for a better deal, especially on a big-ticket item like a mortgage. Advocate for yourself in your career by asking for a raise or promotion, or by negotiating for better benefits.
  • Understand the importance of credit scores. Sellers want to give the best deal to their best customers. An excellent credit score will put a woman in an elite group of customers, giving her more power to obtain the best rate on a mortgage or a credit card, and lower premiums on homeowner’s and car insurance. That higher credit score can also get you quicker approval from utilities and cellphone companies. More employers are using credit histories when conducting background checks for both new and existing employees. This can impact the hiring and advancement for women.
  • Understand the power of compounding. Combined with time, compounding can turn regular savings into a large nest egg. It’s crucial to save as much as you can and as early in your adult life as you can. But compounding can also work against you: Cumulative interest on loans can turn a molehill of debt into a mountain. Avoid credit card debt. Keep other borrowing to a minimum.
  • Similar to compounding, small positive steps can produce extraordinary long-term results. Take good care of yourself physically and mentally. Eat healthily, stay physically active and get enough sleep. These small positive habits will help reduce medical costs, both now and in the future. More important, they’ll help you to feel good, reduce stress and have the confidence to face life’s challenges.
  • If you aren’t used to making financial decisions, start small, but start somewhere. Overwhelmed by the idea of buying another car? Try purchasing new tires for the car you already have. Don’t have a checking or savings account in your own name? Find a bank that has no required account minimum, so you can start saving sooner rather than later. Do research ahead of time, so you go into these transactions with confidence—and come out with what you want.

In 2017, Jiab Wasserman left her job as a financial analyst at a large bank and is now semi-retired. Her previous articles include Grab the WheelIn Withdrawal and Time Well Spent. Jiab and her husband Jim, who also writes for HumbleDollar, currently live in Granada, Spain. They blog about downshifting, personal finance and other aspects of retirement—as well as about their experience relocating to another country—at

Do you enjoy HumbleDollar? Please support our work with a donation. Want to receive daily email alerts about new articles? Click here. How about getting our newsletter? Sign up now.

Browse Articles

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Mik Barbasol
Mik Barbasol
2 years ago

Question …why don’t companies hire more women and/or minorities to increase profits if they’re paid less for the same work ??

R Quinn
R Quinn
2 years ago

While a fact, the generalization that women in the U.S. earn 82% of what men do for equivalent work is misleading. We all know there are many factors affecting this number. You may not be saying this, but many people assume the difference is due to pay discrimination and that is not true. It’s important to make that distinction if we are to address the problem.

No form of discrimination should be tolerated, but in the minds of some people that is always the case.

Let’s say a man and women with identical backgrounds, qualifications, etc apply for two identical jobs. Clearly they should be paid the same to start, but then what? How do you factor in future performance and value added by each person without risking being charged with discrimination.

What if one of the candidates comes to the job with extra directly related experience? What if the women comes to the new job having previously earned significantly less than the man, is the new employer responsible for making up the difference.

Unless we are saying we want union style pay for all jobs with no recognition of individual performance, this is not a simple problem to solve fairly for both men and women.

2 years ago

Good advice, Jiab. Blau and Kahn have been studying the gender wage gap for many years. Below is the abstract from one of their recent studies.

Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn*
Journal of Economic Literature 2017, 55(3), 789–865
“Using Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) microdata over the 1980–2010 period,
we provide new empirical evidence on the extent of and trends in the gender wage gap,
which declined considerably during this time. By 2010, conventional human capital
variables taken together explained little of the gender wage gap, while gender differences in occupation and industry continued to be important. Moreover, the gender
pay gap declined much more slowly at the top of the wage distribution than at the
middle or bottom and by 2010 was noticeably higher at the top. We then survey the
literature to identify what has been learned about the explanations for the gap. We
conclude that many of the traditional explanations continue to have salience. Although
human-capital factors are now relatively unimportant in the aggregate, women’s
work force interruptions and shorter hours remain significant in high-skilled occupations, possibly due to compensating differentials. Gender differences in occupations
and industries, as well as differences in gender roles and the gender division of labor
remain important, and research based on experimental evidence strongly suggests that
discrimination cannot be discounted. Psychological attributes or noncognitive skills
comprise one of the newer explanations for gender differences in outcomes. Our effort
to assess the quantitative evidence on the importance of these factors suggests that
they account for a small to moderate portion of the gender pay gap, considerably
smaller than, say, occupation and industry effects, though they appear to modestly
contribute to these differences.”

David Baese
David Baese
2 years ago

Jiab – I want women to have equal pay. Every dollar my wife earns is a dollar I don’t have to earn. – Dave

Free Newsletter