THE BLOG

The Gender Gap - Do Men and Women Handle Debt Differently?

22/03/2016 09:44 GMT | Updated 22/03/2017 09:12 GMT

The sexes are considered to be very different, in various aspects of everyday life and therefore why should this be any more uncommon when it comes to debt?

There might be an old fashioned view that men are in charge of the money and the major financial decisions, but that's an outdated thought process and not in touch with what actually occurs in many UK households. According to research from Policy Expert, women take care of most of the bills in the home; 58% look after utility bills, 72% manage home insurance and 67% oversee the grocery shopping.

However, with this ownership and responsibility come problems.

Last year, it was revealed that more women than men are now likely to file for insolvency - the first time this trend has been witnessed. '22 in every 10,000 adult women in England and Wales applied for either bankruptcy or another insolvency status.' As a comparison, the number of men applying for the same fell from 33 per 10,000 adults to 21.

Debt advisors PayPlan have disclosed that their client base is 51% female, though the average debt level of women is £12,244.49 compared to £15,448.95 for men. Meanwhile, The Money Advice Service - having stated that of the 8.8 million people struggling with debt in the UK, 64% are women - asked the question: 'Is debt more of a female issue than male?'. Earning a lower salary than men, a tendency to be employed in lower paid jobs, and decisions not to return to work after maternity leave were all listed as reasons why women may struggle with debt.

In the USA, recent research from credit Experian evoked some fascinating insight. It discovered that men are more likely to fall 60 days or more behind on their mortgage payments than women, but are also comfortable taking on debt and use more of their available credit. Mirroring conclusions from the UK, women, on the other hand, tend to have the responsibility for day-to-day bills and often carry the blame for debt trouble.

Just as fascinating as the statistics behind male and female debt are the ways both sexes tackle financial problems. Are women more likely to take charge and look for ways out of debt than men? Are men more inclined to ignore the issue or take out more loans to tackle the problem?

Those who don't attempt to tackle their debt issues can find themselves spiralling into a world of denial but also depression, stress and fear for their way of life. Many men find it difficult to admit something has gone wrong, and so hide their debt from friends and family while the money due mounts up and the panic does too. PayPlan, who have created a debt barometer tool to help people assess their finances and manage their money, have released some revealing real life case studies.

"The stress of being in debt affected me quite a lot. I was worrying all the time and couldn't sleep or eat."

Simon, a pub manager from Basingstoke, tried to keep his debt problems a secret - even from his family.

He found himself struggling to pay back £8,000 worth of debt after spending on credit cards and taking out a loan. "Everything seemed to spiral out of control," he recalled. "The stress of being in debt affected me quite a lot. I was worrying all the time and couldn't sleep or eat."

However, instead of seeking help he stayed silent and managed to hide his problems for a long period of time because family lived abroad. "I kept avoiding contact with them," he said.

For individuals like Simon, an unwillingness to seek out help at first can push them further into debt and even cause mental health issues. The Money Advice Trust confirms that those with a debt problem are twice as likely 'to go on to develop a common mental disorder.' While those already living with a mental illness 'are more likely to develop a problem with debt.' Simon did finally reach out to an expert, after his family discovered his problem and became concerned.

An agreement to pay off £100 a month was drawn into a schedule and he managed to pay off all his debts in May 2015. Simon is still working on how to manage his budget but confirmed, "It feels strange having money now. I look at things and ask myself, 'do I really need that, can I get it cheaper somewhere else?'"

It's very easy for both men and women to feel out of control and helpless as debt mounts up. For some, debt is a necessary evil and not a matter of choice. It's the price to pay for being able to live their lives or support family members - and that affects both sexes.

Val Norris discovered this when she offered to pay for her dyslexic son's tuition fees after he had to repeat his first year at University. She found herself in debt by £26,312 but borrowed more money to pay off the initial debt she had built up. However, unlike Simon she swiftly recognised the need to seek advice.

"Life was a nightmare," Val said.

"I was stressed, depressed and overcome by a feeling of hopelessness. My family knew I was in debt and urged me to get help, so I got in touch with a debt management company."

"Everything was explained to me and I was treated with respect. They allocated an affordable amount to each of my creditors and I was made to feel that my financial problems were normal and easily resolved. Life is easier now as I'm repaying my debts but can live reasonably well."

Val's experience has made her more savvy with money, which means she is unlikely to land herself in debt again. "I'm very careful what I spend," she said. "I sometimes have to go without near pension day."

As we all try to get by in a world where living expenses are rising steadily and wages aren't increasing on the same scale to match them, debt could become even more of a serious issue. It's important that regardless of gender you seek advice immediately, and there's plenty out there that is free and impartial.