The 2024 theme for women’s history month is “Women who advocate for equity, diversity, and inclusion.” As we celebrate women’s history, we applaud accomplishments and the female figures in “herstory” that have helped paved the way for women today. We often lift up stories about the “sheroes” making a difference in our communities. We honor the women leaders that we look up to around the world that will continue shaping the path ahead. This is not that blog post. This post will explore some of the financial work arounds that girls and women have created out of necessity; how we justify some of our economic choices; and, how we can support one another in our decisions and goals for economic justice.

So, let’s talk about “girl math.”

This label started as a cute social media joke with young women making purchases with the “free” money received when returning an item, or the cash a friend pays for their portion of a meal that you charged to a credit card or buying more items to receive “free” shipping. Marketers even started using the concept in ad campaigns to boost sales. Then came criticism and comparisons to “boy math,” and social media spiraled, and media commentaries started to dig a little deeper. But if we focus only on behavioral economics, we miss the intersectional aspects of “girl math” that have been factors long before the phrase started trending on TikTok.

Looking at “girl math” as having a choice around spending or expenses has come a long way following a similar timeline to the domestic violence movement.

      • The Equal Credit Opportunity Act passed in 1974 granting women the right to open credit cards, bank accounts, or commit to a mortgage without their husband’s signature – a huge leap for single, divorced, or widowed women to establish credit and build assets. Prior to this, “girl math” necessitated women to save or hide cash as the only means of savings. Women often had to stay in relationships for financial security and had no real say in where she or her family lived.
          • Although the Equal Credit Opportunity Act passed in 1974, most women did not know the law existed. Women were still frequently told that they needed a male relative to co-sign for their loans, preventing women from building their own credit. A group of successful women in Denver took matters into their own hands and opened the first women’s bank in 1978. The bank was exceptionally successful and helped women take control over their own finances.
      • In 1978 the Pregnancy Discrimination Act passed, making it illegal to fire a woman for being pregnant. “Girl math” meant hiding pregnancies to be able to keep working, sometimes leading to health risks for both mother and child.
      • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defined sexual harassment in the workplace in 1980. Before the protections against sexual harassment, “girl math” often silenced women in the workplace out of fear of being fired if they spoke up.
      • While more women were earning college degrees and attaining more professional and managerial roles in the 1980s, the income gap between men and women merely narrowed. The wage gap was even more significant for Black and Latina women and persists today. Intersectionality of economics and race continues to compound “girl math” issues including access to wealth and wage disparities.
      • The Family and Medical Leave Act passed in 1993 requiring employers to hold jobs for employees with qualified leave for medical or family reasons. “Girl math” still necessitates saving up for parental leave in the U.S. where the law doesn’t require employers to provide payment during the minimum 12 weeks leave employees are eligible for.
      • The 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act helps protect against pay discrimination for women.
      • Prior to the 2010 Affordable Care Act, health insurance premiums for women were often higher than for men.


Even with these protections in place, women still find the need to manage their finances with “girl math,” especially victims of domestic violence. 99 percent of domestic violence cases also report economic abuse. A person who does harm may take or deny money or impart other forms of restricted access to household finances or prevent a person from working and the ability to earn wages as a form of control over their victims. In these types of instances, “girl math” might mean hiding cash with a friend or relative as a means of untraceable access to money.

Cash isn’t traceable like credit or debit card transactions or other payments that are processed through financial institutions or apps. Cash doesn’t have barriers such as biases that might increase interest rates or lower valuations. Cash doesn’t care where you are from or what language you speak. Cash, compared to other forms of currency, is considered “free.”

But “free” ≠ freedom.

There is still more work to be done to attain financial freedom and “girl math” is not going away yet. But there are resources for survivors of domestic violence to help build a path for financial stability. Organizations such as the Allstate Foundation are providing classes for survivors to build financial awareness and providing cash support to survivors. And actions that we all can take are through our donations and being conscious of where our dollars are spent and invested such as supporting Women- and Minority-owned businesses and banking with community banks and credit unions that support local issues. As we reflect on women’s history and see how far women’s rights have come in just the past 40-50 years. Think of how far we can go if we advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion to create economic justice solutions that replace the need for “girl math,” especially for the survivors of domestic violence.


Ema Phelps, ICADV Director of Capacity Building