Today the Australian media reported on a High Court case involving a pre-nuptial agreement (‘pre-nup’) between a wealthy property developer and his younger bride, who he met via a “web site for potential brides”:
Pre-nuptial agreements have never been a magic bullet to prevent financial exploitation where one spouse (usually the man) takes far more assets into a marriage than the other. It has always been a case of it being better to have a pre-nup than nothing at all, in order to reduce the likelihood of subsequent divorce-rape.
In Australia, and elsewhere, even competently and ethically prepared pre-nups are subject to legal challenge. In the case cited above, the nature of the agreement was found to constitute ‘unconscionable conduct’. This was said to be on the basis of both a demand that the agreement be signed or the marriage would not go ahead, and with respect of the terms of the financial settlement set out in the agreement.
One alternative that might be considered would involve relatively minor changes to relevant Australian law. What is proposed here is by no means a complete fix, but it would represent at least a step in the right direction.
In Thailand, as in various other countries, the law differentiates between assets accumulated prior to marriage, and assets accumulated during the marriage:
Sin Somros is/are the marital assets or property of the marriage jointly owned by husband and wife, in general all properties acquired after the marriage (except those listed in section 1471 under 3) (Source)
Sin suan tua is property which is exclusively owned by only one of the spouses. The owner of the sin suan tua property is free to dispose of it without having to account to the other spouse. Under the Civil and Commercial Code (CCC), property comprising the sin suan tua of a spouse consists of: (i) property belonging to the spouse before marriage; (ii) property for personal use, dress or ornaments suitable for the spouse’s station in life, or tools necessary for carrying on the profession of the spouse; (iii) property acquired by the spouse during marriage through a will or gift if that property was intended to be sin suan tua; and (iv) the khongman (a betrothal gift). (Source)
Thai law also allows for couples to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement, the details of which are as set out here.
The reality is that the current divorce laws in western countries favour the interests of women and were written at a time when society was a very different place, for example pre-advent of no-fault divorce and at a time when most women were house-wives.
Read this other blog post to see what happens in a situation where the husband still typically brings far more assets into the marriage than the wife (indeed the wife is more likely to be in debt at the time of marriage), where most divorces are initiated by women, and where the court system is dominated by white knights and older gents guided more by chivalry than a genuine commitment to justice.
A situation where pre-marriage assets are quarantined from seizure seems to be eminently fairer to me, but which politician/s in Australia would publicly support it? Sadly, very few or none at the present time – and certainly no-one in the ranks of the major parties.
Failure to consider and introduce legal reforms such as this will only accelerate the trend of men avoiding marriage and de-facto relationships, and the deleterious social impacts arising from that.
It will be interesting to see if a positive outcome of same-sex marriage in Australia will be greater enthusiasm for law reform related to the distribution of assets in the event of divorce. When straight men are the only ones impacted then such reform is anything but urgent (think, ‘glacial’). Indeed we have already seen heightened interest in the reform of laws related to alimony and spousal support brought on by the increasing numbers of cases involving divorces involving female spouses as primary bread-winners.
Why slave away crafting a serious academic research paper when you can knock out an under-graduate quality effort that will still be published provided it pushes the appropriate PC buttons? One gets to bang the feminist drum to one’s heart’s content, virtue-signal across the chattering class, and pad out one’s resume all at the same time.
Anyway, accuracy, objectivity and academic rigor are so last century!
only surveys women yet uses the results to argue a case of relative female disadvantage
features lamentably weak research methodology
only identifies contributing factors consistent with a predetermined conclusion based on feminist dogma
infers that men are primarily responsible for both causing and resolving the alleged situation of female disadvantage
My comments are inserted within the body of the article, and shown in blue font.
The main premise of the article is that women are significantly disadvantaged in terms of achieving financial security, and warrant special assistance in this regard. This disadvantage is said to stem mainly from a lack of awareness of investment options and strategies. In supporting this position the paper grasps at various feminist chestnuts such as the gender wage gap, the superannuation gap, and gender bias within schools and specific employment sectors.
“Our investigation into the financial literacy of young women finds they are confident in implementing budgeting and savings strategies, but lack the knowledge and confidence required to implement long-term financial strategies.”
The first thought that sprang to mind was ‘Why focus solely on young women?’, especially if the intention is to assert gender-based disadvantage. What exactly was the goal of this research project? Better understanding a problem that affects many PEOPLE with a view to identifying strategies to help those in need? Or simply opportunistically seizing on the issue of savings and investment in order to add to the chorus of ‘women have it tougher’?
The justification for excluding men from the study is hardly compelling:
the average level of retirement savings for men is greater than the average for women
men are claimed to be, again on average, more financially literate than women.
What of the fact that many men fall below the male average, and quite likely also the female average? There would certainly be no shortage of men who “lack the knowledge and confidence required to implement long-term financial strategies“. Consider too that some women would exceed male average savings, and that this segment is sure to increase in coming years.
Bear in mind too that men’s savings are not necessarily their own, and will more often be used to support dependents. For example, many women are financially supported in later life by current or previous male partners, whilst relatively few men are supported in such a manner. And indeed, far more men than women will have some or all of their savings confiscated via court-ordered settlements following separation or divorce.
“This is surprising given that financial literacy usually refers to not only an understanding of how money actually works and how to make and manage money for day-to-day affairs but also how to use this in preparation for the future.
While our results are preliminary, based on social media users and require more detailed research, our results begin to draw links between social, institutional and personal attitudes towards financial knowledge.
A survey we distributed across social media found that 91% of 175 respondents had confidence in their ability to implement savings strategies (varying from simple to complex), and 89% were confident in their ability to budget. Strategies included everything from planning for a holiday to managing credit cards. Participants also considered budgeting and saving to be the most important aspects of their finances.”
It appears that all the survey respondents were female – a major oversight – and were likely self-selected from within the ranks of the researchers’ friends/associates. What likely degree of survey bias did this entail? In other words, to what extent are the results meaningful even in a purely statistical sense?
However, our survey participants expressed a distinct lack of appreciation for longer-term financial goals. While 72% of respondents felt that savings were extremely relevant to them, only 38% said the same about superannuation, and they showed even less interest in other long-term investment (23%).
Knowledge and confidence in implementing long-term investment strategies were even more concerning. Only 17% of respondents said they had a “medium” knowledge of superannuation and only 1% (or two of 175 respondents) felt that they had an in-depth understanding. In contrast, 55% indicated having little or no knowledge whatsoever.
The numbers look even bleaker for responses about investments. A low 12% of survey participants had medium levels of knowledge in this area, while again only 1% felt their knowledge was in-depth.
When asked about why they lacked financial knowledge, the barrier most commonly acknowledged by participants was lack of financial information taught at school (91%). Also 55% of participants reported feeling discouraged from learning about finance because they were women. This is consistent with reports of female students being discouraged from studying subjects such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).”
Oh please! That’s a reach isn’t it? Did male students receive additional education regarding financial information at school? With no corresponding results for young men, the value of the stats provided above – in terms of supporting a gendered agenda – are dubious.
And as for the validity of measuring how people “feel” about things, I would refer you to this paper.
Insufficient superannuation and savings at retirement have also been linked to high rates of homelessness experience by older women – a point that has been emphasised by Homelessness Australia. While there are many factors that contribute to homelessness, from drug and alcohol abuse, lack of affordable housing and domestic violence, a 2013 study by Adam Steen and David MacKenzie suggests that the little research done is this area indicates poor financial literacy is also a contributing factor.
Difference in superannuation savings between women and men are driven by interrelated factors including: the gender pay gap, more frequent participation of women in lower paid industries and jobs, disproportionate participation of women in part-time and casual positions. Also influencing this trend are the fragmented work patterns as a result of time taken off for unpaid care and pregnancy related workplace discrimination. Women also typically retire earlier and live longer than men – up to 4.4 years longer for a female born today.
These are mainly issues of personal choice. Choose different options, for example taking a job in a higher paid sectors, and the situation changes regardless of gender – as stated in the following paper (and countless others).
“A Department of Labor study released in 2009, which reviewed upwards of 50 peer-reviewed papers, concluded the wage gap, “may be almost entirely the result of individual choices being made by both male and female workers.”
“Women, more than men, show a demonstrated preference for lower risk occupations with greater workplace safety and comfort, and they are frequently willing to accept lower wages for the greater safety and reduced probability of work-related injury or death”” (Source)
In addition to these structural and social factors, our data suggests that women are ill-equipped to manage long-term financial investments.
That sounds almost sexist doesn’t it? … whilst readers can only speculate how much better-equipped men in the same cohort are, as the relevant information is omitted from the “data”.
And then there are the other factors that might have a bearing on women’s relative unwillingness or inability to commit to long-term financial plans. One of these is female hypergamy, and one of the authors responded to this suggestion in the following manner:
Do you, dear reader, consider the author’s response to be a) Objective b) Scholarly or c) Butthurt (Circle correct answer/s)
Some other possible factors are mentioned in the readers comments that follow the article, for example the relative confidence of men v women (as distinct from actual knowledge or skill). Willingness to take risk was also mentioned.
But the authors earlier asserted that homelessness was highly correlated with financial literacy, and yet there are far more homeless men than women. Would someone please explain?
I’m perfectly willing to accept that financial literacy is a significant factor, for both men and women, in achieving financial security later in life. And yes, this should be a major focus in terms of designing appropriate remedial action.
What I am not willing to accept however is:
Designing and providing educational programs for financial literacy that are not available to both men/boys and women/girls
Extending financial support or other incentives to women, but not men (as in the case, for example, of the ANZ staff Super payment mentioned in this blog post).
“For many years people have been trying to tackle issues around gender equality by asking men and women to change. This approach will not work.
What we need to do is to look at the systems that are holding women back from achieving their full potential. And when we’re talking about systems we’re referring to structures and practices in our schools, workplaces, businesses and community that reinforce biases. These systems need to be redesigned so they are fairer for women, recognise the unique strengths and talents of both genders, and equally support the success of both genders.”
So apparently we can’t ask women to change what they’re doing, even if it directly contributes to their predicament. Nope, we have to change the “systems“.
Being unhappy about witnessing this regressive move I contacted the bank, firstly via Twitter and then email, to express my concern and dissatisfaction. Our subsequent email exchange is shown below:
“Thanks for getting in touch with us to provide feedback relating to ANZ Women’s Initiative that was launched on the 29 July 2015. This kind of feedback is valuable to us because it helps us better understand what’s important to our customers.
ANZ is committed to being a socially responsible bank, and we believe that from time to time we have a responsibility to take action on important social issues. We understand that some of our customers and employees hold different views on our decision to make additional superannuation contributions for our female employees, and we respect your right to hold this view.
Research shows that in Australia, women retire with 47% less superannuation than men – and 1 in 5 women yet to retire has no superannuation at all. This is driven by a range of complex factors. However, on average women retire earlier and live longer than men, so the importance of having enough superannuation is even greater for women.
ANZ has weighed up all of these factors and is comfortable that the payment to female staff is a positive step that will help women to overcome the gap.
ANZ takes the issue of discrimination very seriously and in developing these new measures considered the relevant Sex Discrimination and Anti-Discrimination Laws. The payment is permitted under Australia’s anti-discrimination laws because it is a “special measure” designed to address this super gap that our research clearly demonstrates between men and women.
Our action has the full support of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission. The Sex Discrimination Commissioner advised ANZ that, in her view, ANZ’s initiative is consistent with the objects of the Federal Sex Discrimination Act. ANZ has also been given a 10 year exemption from the NSW Anti-Discrimination Commission (because NSW is the only State where the anti-discrimination legislation does not contain a “special measures” exception).
ANZ views this initiative as a positive step to support women and help close this gap in superannuation savings so they have greater security in retirement. While you may disagree, we do appreciate you taking the time to provide us with this feedback.”
I wrote back to the bank:
“Thank you for your prompt response. I disagree with your rationale for promoting feminist policies at the expense of your customers and shareholders. My original position on this matter remains unchanged and unresolved.
1. Whether women retire with less or nil Super is a reflection of their personal choice. Choice about what type of training they undertook, choice about what field of work in which they seek employment, choice about how much overtime they do, choice about whether they take time out during their careers.
2. Those women who choose to get married often then have the choice to be stay at home mum’s (and be supported by their partner) or not. Most women enter marriage with less assets then their partners, or in debt. Most divorces are initiated by women, who then tend to walk away often with in excess of 50% of their partners assets, even when those assests were accumulated prior to the marriage.
4. Women live longer in large part because disproportionately more is spent on research into womens health and on the treatment of womens health issues, and because men are more likely employed in relatively more stressful and higher risk occupations (one reason why they are, on average, in receipt of higher incomes)
In summary for every disadvantage suffered by women there are benefits or advantages, as is the case for men. Therefore it is inappropriate and discriminatory to single out women for incentives/rewards for real or imagined discrimination faced by them, but at the same time to ignore issues that negatively impact on men.
“Thank you for your email and further feedback which has been noted. As your concern is regarding a policy decision made by ANZ, the Customer Advocate will not become involved. It is not the role of the Customer Advocate to review or change a matter that relates to ANZ’s setting of staff benefits. If you wish to escalate your concern you may contact the Financial Ombudsman Service.”
Whereupon I said:
“Thank you for your prompt response but my concerns with ANZ’s decision to re-orientate itself in lockstep with feminism philosophy runs deeper than simply the $500 payment to female staff. In the absence of other options I will now investigate/consider the appropriateness of lodging a submission with the Financial Ombudsman Service”
It’s not just banks doing this … it’s not just about financial benefits … and the implications extend beyond staff of the relevant company
Since forever many companies have wanted to do good in their local communities, or at least be seen to do good. Until recently they were content to do things like sponsor a local football team or make a donation to a charity. Although the worthy causes were usually unrelated to the business of the company, these were small benign gestures that troubled no-one. How quickly that has changed in the space of just a few years.
Now were are seeing companies expend large amounts of money and time on causes that can be polarising and contentious. The implications of adopting (often judgmental) public positions on these issues or causes can flow through to staff, customers, shareholders and then out into the broader community.
With the superannuation issue there was a tangible benefit for staff, well, for some staff. As this trends builds, and with these other issues, there are both carrots and sticks being employed. The sticks can include shunning/shaming or even dismissal for staff who don’t embrace the company line and engage in wrong-think.
“Solicitors have complained of being intimidated at their workplaces if they publicly criticise the endorsement of same-sex marriage by their professional association and law firms … He said it was wrong for the Law Society and the Bar Association to express any view on same-sex marriage because it was peripheral to the central concerns of both organisations.”
“Westpac has been forced to defend an email from a staff networking group telling fellow employees to vote Yes in the same-sex marriage survey, erroneously claiming that doing so would prevent 3000 suicides a year”