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Why is it weird to talk about money with your girlfriends?
A guest essay from Julia Glum
Today’s essay is by Money news editor Julia Glum. Julia also writes Dollar Scholar, a weekly newsletter that teaches young adults how to navigate the messy world of money — with the help of memes and cute dogs. When not at work, you can find Julia devouring The Bachelor, ordering the biggest popcorn possible at her local movie theater, and hoping her latest read doesn’t involve a character who’s actually a ghost (it happens more than you'd think).
I like to think I talk with my girlfriends about everything: what I thought of the sheet pan gnocchi recipe I made last week, which of us could realistically get on Raya, whether Nicholas Galitzine can pull off playing Hayes in The Idea of You movie, etc. But, honestly, I stumble whenever money gets brought up. I’ve been a personal finance reporter for almost six years now, and it’s still awkward to talk about salaries.
A few years ago, I interviewed Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette expert who founded the Swann School of Protocol, about this exact topic. According to Swann, the rules of decorum have historically dictated that people refrain from talking about salary because it can make others feel uncomfortable. The entire concept of etiquette is built around putting others at ease, and salary talk goes directly against that.
If I earn more than my friend, for example, she might feel jealous of me. Or she may start assuming I’ll pay for our dinner without realizing there are major differences in our financial responsibilities, Swann said. My friend might even think I’m acting tacky — we’re not supposed to talk about how much money we earn, or how much money we spend on clothes/rent/a haircut… right?
However, younger generations have grown up sharing every detail of themselves online, a habit that crosses over to IRL behavior. In fact, a LinkedIn survey from last year found that 46% of Gen Zers are willing to share their pay information with close friends, compared to 45% of millennials, 34% of Gen Xers and just 22% of baby boomers.
There are legit reasons to take the salary talk out of the shadows, especially in the workplace. Not only is sharing your pay with coworkers fully legal — it’s protected under the National Labor Relations Act — but having the information out there can also help close wage gaps. Salary transparency can foster a better and more trusting relationship between employers and employees. And on a less formal level, talking about salary can help my friends realize they’re underpaid… and make moves to correct it.
I took this question to my group chat, texting my three best girlfriends to get their thoughts. One replied, "I'm pretty open about it generally, but I'm also less concerned about my salary than lots of people" — which makes sense, because we work in media (it's not exactly a lucrative field). Another responded, "I don't super mind it, especially when I know someone is trying to figure out where they stand." The third said, "I think it's complicated but good to talk about."
As you can tell, it’s certainly not natural to talk about earnings with girlfriends, but I try to remember it’s not weird unless I make it weird. I tend to rely on a tip Swann provided: Whenever I bring up my pay, I do it politely and in context. For example, when I get a raise and want to celebrate — that’s a good opportunity to talk about it. Another great time to talk salary: When my friends are in negotiations for a new job, and sharing my salary could give them an edge.
Not to get on a soapbox, but I do remind myself that, when it comes to pay, women are at a disadvantage to begin with. Even now, women earn an average of 82 cents for every dollar a man does. It’s important to talk about salary so that we can continue working toward equal pay, and one tiny way to contribute to that movement is by talking more about salary. At the end of the day, it’s just talking with your friends, and we’re all rooting for each other to succeed.
I’ll leave you with this: If we can discuss our piercings that never quite healed correctly, brainstorm the best caption to use for an Instagram carousel and debate which Sarah J. Maas series is the smuttiest, we can certainly talk about our paychecks.
FYI! We launched the Diem app—Diem is designed to embrace the whims, questions, and hushed conversations that women have been having “behind closed doors” for centuries. Our community talks about topics just like this newsletter every day. Join us via web, iOS or Android.
If you want to try Diem before downloading, text your personal, funny, important, and thought-provoking questions to +1 (518)-855-3436 — (🇺🇸 #s only atm!)
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