Money Is Still a Taboo Topic According to Harris Poll

There’s a section in the book The Financial Diet that says that most people would rather talk about their most intimate sex acts than their finances. A July 2019 Harris Poll confirms that money is still a taboo topic of conversation. They surveyed more than 1000 people, age 22 and older, who have at least $10,000 in investable assets to their name.

Money And Sex Are Both Taboo Topics

They asked the people that they polled to rank five subjects based on how taboo their perceive those subjects to be. The five subjects were:

  1. Health issues
  2. Money / personal finances
  3. Politics
  4. Religion
  5. Sex

38% of those surveyed said that sex was the most taboo topic. But the next one on the list was money. 22% felt that it was the most taboo topic, more taboo than sex. Another 24% ranked it second most taboo.

But People Would Rather Talk About Sex

Although people said that sex was more taboo in society than money, when asked what they themselves would be most willing to discuss in social settings, they were more likely to talk about sex. 13% of those surveyed would talk about sex over the other four topics whereas only 11% would discuss money. It was pretty even, though, because 37% ranked sex last whereas only 26% ranked money last.

Those two topics were definitely the ones people wanted to talk about least. Apparently, people want to talk about politics, because it got the most first place votes with 31%. 25% would talk about health issues first. 19% would talk about religion, which is still considerably more than those who would first choose to talk about sex or money.

People had different reasons for not wanting to talk about money, but they all said that the number one reason was that “it’s not polite to discuss finances in social settings.” Other than that, about a quarter said that they don’t want to seem like they’re bragging. However, millennials were more likely to say they didn’t want people to think of them as failures. They were also more likely than the other cohorts to say that they didn’t discuss money either because they aren’t doing as financially well as they’d like or they’re not doing as well as others think that they are. Only 2% of Baby Boomers were concerned about what other people thought about how well they’re doing.

Within Personal Finance, What Are the Taboos?

So, money seems to be a taboo topic. But within the topic, there are some things people would rather discuss than other things. The poll asked about the following personal finance topics:

  • Childcare expenses
  • Credit card debt
  • How much spent on housing
  • Income
  • Living paycheck to paycheck
  • Medical costs / medical debt
  • Not having an emergency fund
  • Restaurants/ takeout spending
  • Retirement planning
  • Student loan debt
  • The cost of living

Of these topics, people were least comfortable talking about their student loan debt. More than a third said it was taboo for them. People also didn’t want to talk about childcare expenses and living paycheck to paycheck.

Of these topics, people were most comfortable discussing retirement planning. Other less-taboo personal finance topics included income and how much they spent on housing.

People Say Money Shouldn’t Be Taboo

Although the people surveyed felt like money was a highly taboo topic, they also felt like it shouldn’t be that way. More than half of those surveyed felt that society would be generally healthier if people felt that they could freely discuss personal finances. Another 25% weren’t sure. Baby Boomers were the least likely to answer “yes” to this question. Only about one third of them were sure that talking about money would make society healthier. On the other hand, more than half of Gen Xers and over 70% of millennials felt that it would help.

Interestingly, although people seemed to think that society would generally be healthier if we talked about money more, fewer people actually wanted to do so. Asked, “generally, do you wish you could discuss your personal finances more freely?” about 2/3 of millennials said yes, but only 39% of GenXers and 19% of Baby Boomers felt the same way. Overall, only 37% of those polled wanted to be able to discuss their money more openly.

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