Gender roles, socialization and finance

Finances homes dones

Olympia ArangoEconomist (UPF), Vicepresident of
Luz ParrondoDirector of the Finance and Control department

In recent years, the use of the term “gender analysis” has become popular for talking about parity and women in different fields. There are different rankings that seek to indicate the lack of a female presence in some professional fields. Every day there are more and more demands for parity in lists of political parties, boards of directors, institutions, or in any working group.

This article could be yet another in a long list that reviews what is evident: the lack of women in the field of economics, specifically in the world of finance; that is to say, the lack of equity in terms of gender. But beyond pointing out what could be considered relatively obvious, with this short article we show how the same mechanism that perpetuates differences can be used to eliminate them: gender socialization.

There is a great difference in the number of bank accounts that men and women have around the world, with that of men being much higher

The Global Findex Data Base (1) explained in 2017 that there is a great difference between the number of bank accounts that men and women have around the world, being much higher in the case of men. Beyond what we might think in the first instance due to possible prejudices, there is not much difference between developed countries and developing countries. In both cases there are a greater number of men in charge of finances in a “formal” way. Where then is the cause?

Gender limitations can occur in two different ways (2), at the formal level, through the institutions, or at the informal level through the sociocultural system. For example, in Spain until recently, account ownership was formally reserved for men, but once this limitation was removed, inequality seems to have continued (3). Informal limitation, on the other hand, depends on the cultural structure. These roles historically appeal to what Wolf (4) called the expectations of the public sphere and the private sphere. A woman is expected to be submissive, and a man to be dominant. Women work at home and men work in the job market. This fact is relatively paradoxical since, while women are expected to stay at home doing housework, there are many housewives who take care of the accounting and finances of their own home. 

The 2019 Alpha Female Cityware report (5) refers to the specific situation of women in the field of finance. A highly relevant piece of information that it gives is how management teams made up of both genders offer greater profitability than single gender ones. In fact, another study carried out by UPF-BSM professors (6) shows how the presence of women on the boards of a company makes it able to reduce its debt and be more profitable. Given this type of evidence, what should we be looking at? Beyond believing that, due to their own nature, women are good or better than men, we could reflect on what makes their behaviour less risky. The answer is found in the construction of mixed environments where the capabilities of individuals flow without expectations due to gender.

The stereotype of a person dedicated to the stock market or finance is contrary to the attitude that we would understand as “feminine”. This fact is an obstacle for those students or professionals interested in finance.

The stereotype of a person who is dedicated to the stock market or finance is contrary to the attitude that we would understand as “feminine”. We think of an aggressive, competitive, and successful man. This fact, in addition to being an obstacle for those students or professionals interested in finance, can have certain consequences for women who dare to make the leap. For example, if they are equal to or more aggressive than men, they will suffer a “social penalty” (7) since their behaviour does not fit with the expectation that society has for a woman's behaviour.

We can find a solution to this paradox in the same mechanism that generates it: “gender socialization”. Gender socialization (8) is the learning process by which the beliefs, values, and dominant behaviours of a given society are transmitted, gender relations are built, and differential roles are assigned. Gender does not build itself; it is changeable and adapts to its environment.

If men and women behave as “expected of them”, within the pattern of gender roles, the difference between the two becomes ever greater, that is, men act in an increasingly masculine way and women in an increasingly feminine way. This “acting in one way or another” conditions the behaviour and attitude of each individual. For example, if women are less aggressive in negotiation, it may be due to a contextual expectation that encourages them to find a fit in the female mould, in short, to avoid showing typically “masculine” attitudes.

Egalitarian groups do not reinforce gender polarization because they do not reward (socially or economically) stereotypical behaviour and so allow people to flow freely between different attitudes

On the other hand, in heterogeneous and balanced environments the transmission of values is balanced and the result has proven to be much better. Various studies show how the behaviour of women and men changes when they share context and interchange gender attitudes (9). Men and women modify their behaviour when they are in mixed egalitarian groups. Egalitarian groups do not reinforce gender polarization because they do not reward (socially or economically) stereotypical behaviour and so allow people to flow freely between different attitudes. By this we mean, for example, that a woman who normally takes risk and has leadership skills will not be punished or judged for showing this type of attitude. The same framework of analysis can be transferred to a man who has high emotional intelligence, a concept traditionally associated with the female gender, and if he decides to apply that virtue in his work, he will not be judged in a negative way by his colleagues.

Let's use existing mechanisms to our advantage. The process of gender socialization has the ability to consolidate stereotypes, but it can also create egalitarian environments if we understand its dynamics. We can create (and even force) environments where gender roles can be diluted, and expectations can be confronted. Fluidity is the future; we invite you to flow.


  1. Demirgüç-Kunt, Asli, Leora Klapper, Dorothe Singer, Saniya Ansar, and Jake Hess. 2018. The Global Findex Database 2017: Measuring Financial Inclusion and the Fintech Revolution. Washington, DC: World Bank. doi:10.1596/978-1-4648-1259-0. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO
  4. Wolf V. (1929) Una habitación propia.
  7. Heilman, M.E. and Parks-Stamm, E.J. (2007), "Gender Stereotypes in the Workplace: Obstacles to Women's Career Progress", Correll, S.J. (Ed.) Social Psychology of Gender (Advances in Group Processes, Vol. 24), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 47-77
  8. Barker G. 2006. Presented at United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), in Collaboration with UNICEF, Expert Group Meeting: Elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child, September 25-28. Florence, Italy: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (EGM/DVGC/2006/EP.3)
  9. Meeker, B. F., & Weitzel-O’Neill, P. A. (1977). Sex Roles and Interpersonal Behavior in Task-Oriented Groups. American Sociological Review, 42(1), 91–105.
  10. Aries E. (1974) Interaction patterns and themes of male, female, and mixed groups. Paper presented at the American Psychological Association in New Orleans USA. Published by Small Group Behavior, Sage in 1976.
  11. Aries, E. J. (1982). Verbal and Nonverbal Behavior in Single-Sex and Mixed-Sex Groups: Are Traditional Sex Roles Changing? Psychological Reports, 51(1), 127–134