Hearing people talk about money makes me squirm. Not the old 'oh god, I’m so broke' stuff - I’m always saying that, it’s a text template for my conversation. Want to hear someone whinge about having no money, just come and say hi, I’m always around. What causes social discomfort is when people start talking specifics about their salary, savings, rent. If it’s less than what I have I feel bad for whingeing about money, and if it’s more than what I’ve got (and it usually is) I feel a complete failure - irresponsible and not asking for enough money from employers.
The fact that I’d rather talk about poo than money with my closest friends does not put me in a minority. New research from First Direct shows that over half of women aged 18-34 are uncomfortable talking about money. In fact, 40% of women would find it easier to discuss politics with friends over money, closely followed by religion (35%) and sex (30%). While the polling company did not ask the women about whether they’d prefer talking about poo, I’m pretty sure they would.
While these statistics are, I’m sure, revealing, I'm surprised 60% of women would rather talk about money than politics as I'd rather boil my own head that discuss money with anyone. I don’t know how much my partner earns and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know how much I make either.
Our attitudes towards money are embedded in us from a surprisingly early age. A Cambridge University study found that our cashflow habits are formed by the time we’re seven years old.
This was true with Suada Mohamoud, an events organiser and TV host, 29, says: 'I’m very similar to you, I hate talking about money. I would literally rather talk about going to the toilet.' Suada says the fact she never talked about money with adults when she was as a child engendered a fear of finances. 'It was, ‘if you have it give it, but if you don’t have it keep quiet about it.’ It makes me feel vulnerable. Even with my husband I feel so awkward talking about how much I’ve made or he’s made.'
However, it isn’t just when you’re grasping around for money (like I constantly am) that you feel uncomfortable talking about money. Aliyazia Stephanopoulos (NAME CHANGED, OBVIOUSLY), 30, says she has 'the worst' relationship with money because she grew up in a wealthy family. 'I have not up until recently truly understood the value of it. I am very aware of the privilege I was raised in, by which I mean beyond having more than enough to go around, I was also raised in a generous household. Due to this, I feel like it’s cheap and ‘show-offy’ for me to talk about it, knowing that other people may have it harder.'
There’s no doubt, however, that it makes it easier for wealthy people who should be paying you properly to make us feel the cringe when doing things such as comparing salaries. 'The culture of embarrassment around talking about money was created by people who don't want equal pay,' argues Alice Wagstaffe, 28, who now works as a TV producer. 'I once did the exact same job as this other girl. She was more experienced than me but from a difficult background, younger than me and pregnant at the time. She got an immediate £3,000 pay rise to bring her salary in line with mine because I told her how much I earned and she marched straight to our boss to ask.'
Women Research shows there’s a gender pay gap of 18% for hourly wages and a 23% gap between black and white university graduates. The keener we are to discuss it, the faster we will recognise discrimination in our immediate circle of co-workers and friends. Then, in theory, the faster the culture will change.
I’m self-employed, so perhaps my acute embarrassment boils down to the fact that if I don’t make much money one month then I automatically feel like it’s probably my own fault. However, freelance journalist Pandora Sykes, 30, points out that if you want to do something you love then you have to be prepared to put up a bit of a fight. 'I don't tell all and sundry about how much I make, but I'm pretty open if I'm asked. I'm the primary earner out of me and my husband - something which is clearly still considered unusual. This weekend at a wedding I was asked what I do and half-way through, an old man cut me off with ‘but your husband can look after you, can’t he?’ Plus, I am super money orientated. I want to write, which doesn't pay much, so I'm proud of myself when I do. I’m all like, I love my craft but also: ‘HOW CAN I MAKE DOLLAR’'
Pandora and Alice have made me realise that I can’t act like a shy English maiden from the year 1800 when it might be helpful to openly discuss my earnings, but it’s going to take a lot to shake my embarrassment.
**Liked this? You might also be interested in: **
Follow Helen on Twitter @helennianias
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.