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Tough Financial Times Call for Extreme Measures, but How Does Gender Affect the Way We Cope?

21/08/2013 17:34 BST | Updated 21/10/2013 10:12 BST

We are finally seeing some glimmer of hope regarding the UK economy. Any positive news following several years of gloom is welcome; over the past six years most of the British public have had to cope with some degree of financial difficulty. Whether this is down to the general economic downturn or more personal circumstances, these will invariably prompt a change in spending. But more often it is our savings that are hit the hardest.

Our recent study of over 15,000 people across 15 countries found that an inconsistent attitude to saving is fast becoming commonplace, with more than half of people globally stating that they are not regular savers. This leaves many with no option but to resort to more extreme measures to cope when tough times hit, something that seems to be exacerbated in Britain when we make the comparison between men and women.

Though I suspect this disparity is not news for many, it is evident that our retirement savings are suffering as the temptation to dip into them becomes greater. We found that over a sixth of men in the UK would consider using their retirement funds to cope with tough times as a result of unforeseen life events - be that redundancy or perhaps sickness - compared to just one in ten women.

Yet, halting long term savings is just one of the sacrifices people make in order to survive in the short term. Our research went on to find that downsizing a home is another option considered by many though far favoured by women. These alternative coping mechanisms explored by Britons are what makes a poignant gender contrast.

The study highlights that more than a quarter of women would consider downsizing to deal with financial difficulty, compared to just 18% of men. Given that homes can be an emotive investment, people's unwillingness to unlock their equity during times of hardship is understandable but, unless they plan ahead for the unexpected, people are often faced with no alternative.

While the 'here and now' has become increasingly difficult to navigate, our plans for the future have also suffered. Unsurprisingly, we found that home ownership is placing a huge financial strain on today's savers, with a third of people in the UK saying that buying a home or paying a mortgage has had a significant impact on their ability to save for retirement.

Downsizing isn't the only solution where we detect a gender gap. When we asked if people would ask friends and family for help during times of financial need, another disparity became clear. We found that men tend to be more reluctant to rely on support from loved ones, preferring instead to use savings and investments or sell valuables - with only 18% of men saying they would ask for help compared to more than a quarter of women.

We found that women also tend to be more adaptable in times of financial need, with 30% saying they would be willing to look for a better paid job to battle against the funding gap compared to just 22% of men. At the same time, our research shows that 16% of Britons - regardless of sex - would consider borrowing to avoid parting with their assets. While these actions are understandable, they all suggest that we are in the main a nation of short-term thinkers and non-planners.

Despite the obvious difference of opinion between sexes, one fundamental action is clear. In order cushion against the impact of the unexpected, whether the economic downturn or another 'life event', a new and more robust approach to saving needs to be taken.

Though well-intentioned but erratic saving is understandable in the current unpredictable times, the consequences for later life can be dire. Regardless of age, gender or position, only when we plan for the future and save regularly can we truly safeguard against the unforeseen and ensure we are able to maintaining our living standards later in life.