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By timestaff
November 17, 2010

Do women really require female-targeted money books with chick-lit titles, cute covers and hipster language ?

That’s the debate sparked by an essay published on Slate last week about the rise of sugar-coated personal finance books for women.

Many people — not just those of us who write about women’s financial issues — have been baffled by the popularity of books such as Hot (broke) Messes and Does This Make My Assets Look Fat?

And in her Slate piece, Hannah Seligson argues that these books perpetuate a myth that women are financial dopes who can’t handle money, a la Sex and the City‘s Carrie Bradshaw (“Oops, I spent $40,000 on shoes”) and the protagonist of the Shopaholic books and movie.

Many women still hold the damaging view that they aren’t “good” with money, despite evidence to the contrary. Seligson cites data from Generation Earn, by US News & World Report columnist Kimberly Palmer, which dismantles the idea that women are chronic overspenders or have more debt than men.

Although Seligson is right that women are no less savvy and responsible about money than men are, I disagree with her conclusion that women don’t need additional, specialized financial advice.

The problem Seligson doesn’t address is that women, on average, are still lagging far behind men on the financial front. As I wrote in a November feature for Money, women tend to earn less and thus save less. And certain lifestyle issues — taking time out of the workforce to raise children, for example — further compromise women’s long-term financial health.

On average, according a survey from MassMutual, women’s retirement nest eggs are two-thirds the size of men’s. Studies from the Employee Benefits Research Institute show a similar gap. Yet we have to stretch our assets, flattering or not, to cover much longer lives.

It’s galling — and as a woman, it’s scary.

Is the answer to dole out financial advice in the paperback equivalent of brightly colored Pez dispensers?

As Tracy Clark-Flory wrote in a rejoinder on Salon: “As if I needed more reason to avoid the subject of finance, said section is apparently color-coded for the ladies, just like the rest of the bookstore…with the color pink.” Although Clark-Flory would like “a special sub-section just for me, and all other literate females,” the truth is that many women are buying the advice that’s packaged like candy.

I just don’t know if the spoonful of sugar is going to make the medicine go down. The more upsetting truth about these books isn’t that women don’t need them — as Seligson argues — but that they need something. And what’s being aimed at them is making matters worse, by perpetuating women’s own lack of financial confidence.

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