On a perfect summer day, the kind that whispers "Come out and play," 21 teenage girls are spending the morning at an unusual camp - indoors, in a sleek conference room high above Boston's financial district.
Seated around a polished table at a brokerage firm, they're learning about a subject new to many of them - saving and investing. It's all part of an innovative two-day financial camp designed to teach girls from sixth grade up the importance of economic responsibility.
This morning's session focuses on stocks. "Has anybody ever heard of an IPO?" asks Meg Greer, a financial consultant at Salomon Smith Barney and founder of the camp. Several heads nod. Mrs. Greer also talks about portfolios, dividends, and blue-chips, giving these Girl Scouts a new vocabulary. This afternoon she'll take them to the Boston Stock Exchange to see markets in action.
Why girls? By many measures, women still lag behind men in their financial knowledge and acumen. And among students, a gender gap in math and finance persists.
Ms. Greer finds girls "a little braver and less inhibited" in the company of other girls when learning math and financial skills. As an example she cites girls who feel intimidated as part of a student investment group at a suburban Boston high school whose members are almost all boys.
Mariko Chang, a professor of sociology at Harvard University, is studying how girls and young women learn about finances and how they decide to spend or save money. She sees several troubling paradoxes.
"Women are supposed to spend a lot on clothes, jewelry, and makeup, but they're not supposed to be very knowledgeable about money," Professor Chang says. "Women earn less but live longer. They need more money, but they don't have as much information as men. They're under a lot of pressure."
What do young women need to build a sound financial future? Like their male counterparts, they need information. They need to know about options beyond savings accounts. "And of course they need money," Chang adds with a laugh.
As women earn more money and lead more independent lives, their need to counter a fear of finance grows. By starting early, financial experts like Greer can help students - boys too - resist the siren call of a shop-'til-you-drop culture, as well as the deluge of credit cards tempting consumers in each day's mail. Both can sabotage a financial plan.
Encouraging economic self-sufficiency will also ease concerns that many women are, as the clich puts it, "just one divorce away from poverty."
Greer hopes efforts like the financial camp will also encourage girls to consider careers in finance. Although women now make up about half of new doctors and 40 percent of lawyers, she says they still account for only about 10 percent of brokers and investment managers.
But even if students aren't interested in financial careers, Greer says, being able to take control of their money, set long-term goals, and save and invest for the future will be an important part of their lives.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society