In recent years, major cultural shifts have pushed Americans to break down stigmas, challenge taboos, and be more transparent in many parts of our culture, including the realm of personal finances.
The open pay movement is making a case for more transparency around pay and compensation. More and more states and cities are recognizing the importance of including financial education in school curricula. Student loan debt is a major policy topic with U.S. presidential hopefuls.
A new FinanceBuzz survey finds that most Americans are still feeling the taboo around talking about their finances, but there are places where taboos have been broken and more open discussions about money are happening. When it comes to our personal finances, what we keep private and whom we choose to share details with is nuanced and varies by age, gender, and financial topic. Here’s a look at how money taboos shape our lives in 2019.
- Millennials are more open to discussing their money details than Gen Xers. This is true whether they’re sharing money details with parents or co-workers — or on social media.
- Money taboos are strongest around the money we have or owe. People are least willing to share the amount of money in their bank account, with just 30% saying they’d be willing to share this information with a close friend. Almost half of those surveyed (47%) would be willing to share their credit card debt details with a friend. People are much more willing to share details around the price they paid for their home (76%) or their credit score (61%).
- 83% of people think parents shouldn’t discuss the details of their personal finances with young children (ages 14 and younger). This includes 14% who say parents should never talk about money with their kids.
- Salary has long been a taboo topic, but this appears to be shifting. 29% of millennials say they’re willing to discuss their salary with a co-worker versus 21% of their Gen X counterparts. Millennials are also more open about discussing salary with a close friend (60%) compared to Gen Xers (49%).
Millennials are leading the way, breaking money taboos
Being more open about finances is key to discussing money issues and finding solutions — from a societal level down to individuals.
Fortunately, more people are recognizing that the taboo around discussing money is often an obstacle to financial progress. Millennials, in particular, are more open to discussing and even detailing their finances, our survey finds.
That willingness of millennials to be more open about their finances extends to social media, too. Millennials’ place as the first generation to grow up with the internet may also impact their views on which personal information is appropriate to share publicly or should be kept private.
Indeed, our survey finds that millennials are the generation more easily persuaded to share details of their personal finances on social media when offered an incentive. Compared to Gen Xers, millennials are much more willing to share their salary, credit score, debt, or even bank account balance if offered $100 each to do so.
The most taboo money topics: Bank account and debt balances
Our survey finds some personal finance subjects are still off-limits for many Americans.
In our survey, we asked how likely respondents are to share specific details about their personal finances with a close friend. By far, the detail people are least willing to disclose is how much money they have in the bank. Only three in 10 say they’d be willing to name this number to a close friend.
Credit card debt is also a more-taboo money topic, with only 47% saying they might share that information. Almost half of people also see discussion of retirement savings as more taboo — even when talking to close friends.
So what are the financial topics Americans are more open about? People are fairly comfortable sharing the price they paid for their home, with 76% saying they’d do so. Comparing credit scores is also more common, with 61% of people saying they’d likely talk about their score with a friend.
Our findings show that it’s less taboo to discuss money topics that aren’t completely under your control. The price of your home says as much about the housing market as it does about you, for example, and a credit score isn’t particularly personal either. The price you paid for your home and your credit score can also both potentially be seen as status symbols that reflect positively on you.
Discussing what is in your bank account or the debt you hold, however, might be more likely to bring negative judgement. A reluctance to discuss these issues could reflect discomfort with disparities and inequalities in the realm of finances.
In essence, talking about money issues can reveal discrepancies in wealth and money management that people feel could invite negative judgments or comparisons. And this concern might be valid. Our recent debt judgments survey shows that many people do make negative and moral judgments of others based on their debt and financial management.
Talking to kids about money is still taboo
Survey respondents overwhelmingly don't think parents should share their financial details with their young children. In all, 83% say parents should not discuss details of their financial situations with kids 14 years old or younger.
Just over a third (35%) say parents shouldn't share personal financial details with kids until they are in high school. Another 35% say you shouldn't share until your kids reach adulthood. Additionally, 14% say parents should never share this info with kids.
These results reveal a bias against discussing money with young kids. Many might view finances as a topic too heavy or mature to discuss with children. Some parents might worry that talking about finances will force their child to grow up too fast or will cause their child to worry about the family’s financial situation. Others might feel they don’t know enough about money or have good enough financial habits to pass on solid advice to their kids.
However, this attitude against parents discussing money with their kids runs counter to all financial advice out there. Studies show that a child learns and establishes basic money behaviors by age seven. If parents aren’t actively talking about money with their children and helping them practice healthy financial habits, that’s a big missed opportunity to set children up for lifelong success.
Let's talk about salaries (or not!)
According to U.S. Census data, women earn just 80.7 cents for every dollar a man earns. Talking about and comparing salaries more openly in the workplace is one small step that could help close this gap. If a woman isn’t aware she's being paid less than her male counterparts, she might not know to ask for more money.
The good news is that there is a generational shift around salary discussions. Millennials are more likely to talk about their salary with co-workers (29%) versus their Gen X counterparts (21%.) Millennials are also more likely to discuss their salary with their friends and family, too.
The not-so-good news for closing the gender wage gap is that women are still more reluctant than men to share salary information in the workplace. Only 21% of women say they've shared salary information with a co-worker, compared to 24% of men. Yet when it comes to talking salary with friends, women are more likely to divulge salary info (55%) than men (47%).
It's clear from the survey results that salary is still a taboo topic for most of us. Some companies are adopting an open salary model that helps break the salary stigma. When all salaries are public and based on a formula, it can not only break the taboo but also eliminate gender bias in negotiating salary.
Discussing debt and money can make a difference
The money taboo won’t disappear overnight, but being open to and initiating conversations can make a difference for you.
A willingness to talk about money with other people can open up opportunities to learn about finances and get encouragement to improve your situation. This social support can be a huge motivator to work toward money goals, from paying off debt to earning a raise.
So, what could happen with your money if you talked about it? Maybe it’s time to open up about your finances and see.
FinanceBuzz ran this survey through Pollfish, collecting 1,000 responses from online users in the U.S. on June 3, 2019. For our analysis, we defined Generation X as respondents born between 1965 and 1980 and millennials as respondents born from 1981 to 1996.