The financial legacy of Sex and the City

When I was around age 14, I discovered Sex and the City.

I can still recall my awkward, teenage self, furtively watching some of the very first episodes late on a Friday night, hoping my parents wouldn’t cotton on.

Not only was the name of the show incredibly risqué for mainstream 90s TV, but so was the unfiltered directness of the women and their storylines. It opened up my naive and sheltered existence, as it did for so many other young women across the world. Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha gave a voice and name to many topics that women, even at that time, still had no idea how to articulate.

I next encountered Sex and the City aged 22, while working as a nanny during a bleak and cold London winter. I remember discovering a dusty box set, and proceeded to devour the entire series from start to finish any spare moment I got. Looking back, I distinctly remember the way I related to the show in my early 20s was so different to my wide-eyed curiosity at 14.

This pattern repeated itself throughout my late 20s. Sex and the City - like any great book – is one of those rare and magical pieces of storytelling that has a unique and incredibly personal message for every woman, no matter her age. It often feels like the characters are speaking directly to you. The reason is simple – the female condition is incredibly universal. At some point in our lives we’ll all walk a few steps in those women’s fabulous (and sometimes painful) Manolo Blahniks.

The world still isn’t quite ready for us

Financially independent, fierce, open and honest about their hang ups, it comes as no surprise that the ‘single by choice’, sexually liberated career woman portrayed in Sex and the City is the very woman so many of my generation have become, myself included. We grew up idolising her, and so we became her.

While we can revel in the freedom of living life on our own fashion forward terms, unshackled from the ironing board, it strikes me that the world we live in hasn’t exactly caught up. The older I’ve got, the more I’ve realised being single and ‘independent’ comes with significant financial penalties. It’s one thing the world of designer shoes that Carrie inhabited never quite reckoned with.

Fast forward from 1998 to 2018, and whether you’re a single guy or a girl, a Big or a Carrie, it costs to be single. British magazine Good Housekeeping estimates single Britons pay on average £2000 more compared to those in a relationship. The costs add up on things like insurance premiums, holiday bookings, ready to go meals versus family sized lasagnes and even basic things like Netflix. The ‘silent single tax’ is everywhere.

A hypothetical Miranda might quite rightly point out that this is the UK, not the states. Unfortunately the numbers in the US are equally grim. An article in the Atlantic estimates that over a lifetime, unmarried women in the US can pay as much as a million dollars more than their married counterparts for healthcare, taxes, and more.

Single inequality cuts across genders

We all bemoan gender pay inequality and glass ceilings. These certainly don’t help the cause of men or women when it comes to levelling out the playing field. But what will also hold us back financially - men and women included - is a society still orientated around couples. Equal opportunity for wealth creation should exist on one income, not just two.

Today across the developed world, more people are choosing to live alone than ever before. Between 1980 and 2011, the number of one-person households grew from 118 million to 277 million. By 2020 it will rise to 334 million, according to Euromonitor International.

These people need new ways and ideas about how to build financial security that doesn’t depend on someone else. Concepts like fractional home ownership, increased awareness of investment options outside of property, and re-imagined annuity products that provide a guaranteed income in retirement for a generation that struggles to save.

A force to be reckoned with

As a generation, millennials are redefining what home, family and community means. It’s a social evolution that is now tipping into a financial one.

Couples are great, and I hope to be half of one someday. But until then, I can’t help but wonder, like Carrie surely would if she were still writing her weekly column; should I be financially discriminated if I’m not? The answer to that is a resolute no, and I hope coupled up or not, you agree with me.

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Jess Ellerm

CEO and Co-Founder at Zuper Superannuation. Loves fintech, writing, pilates, Campari and soda's and, as of 2018, marathon running.

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