News and Commentary

Beware The Study Claiming 70% Of Millennial Women Are ‘Financially Abused’ By A Romantic Partner
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Update: CentSai reached out to The Daily Wire after publication to explain the survey. Instead of a list of specific behaviors, as the campus sexual assault studies do, CentSai asked if respondents felt they had been financially abused or had experienced financial infidelity. An updated version of this story can be found below.

This week, multiple outlets – including The Washington Post and The New York Post – ran an article from The Associated Press claiming 70% of millennial women have been “financially abused” by a romantic partner.

Such a high number of a form of abuse most people don’t even think about should set off alarm bells immediately. The survey mentioned in the article is also from 2017. It was created by CentSai, which bills itself as an “online financial wellness community” geared toward millennials. The outlets that ran the story, written by NerdWallet writer Kelsey Sheehy, did not link to the actual survey, instead including a link to CentSai’s press release about the survey.

That press release claims the survey “found that almost two-thirds (60%) of millennials surveyed reported that a romantic partner used money to manipulate or gain power and control in a relationship” and that “Just as many (60%) said a romantic partner had either lied about money, or hid money or debt from them.”

An additional “Seventy-eight percent (78%) said financial institutions have a responsibility to educate consumers on the issue.”

The survey questioned 2,000 millennials aged 18 to 35, but nowhere in the press release does it say what questions were asked of participants. And that’s where the real story lies.

The press release states that the “survey asked about specific relationship behaviors that constitute financial infidelity or abuse.”

CentSai told The Daily Wire that it asked respondents two questions: The first was about whether respondents “felt” a romantic partner had used money to “manipulate you or gain control over you.” Those answering “yes” were determined to have been financially abused. The second question asked respondents if they ever had a romantic partner lie about money or hide money or debt from them. Those answer “yes” to this question were determined to have been the victims of financial infidelity.

In the previous version of the article, I reported that providing a list of specific behaviors is what surveys purporting to show that 1 in 5 or 1 in 4 or 1 in 3 women have been sexually abused during college. Instead of asking participants if they have been sexually assaulted, they ask broadly worded questions and then use the responses to claim women were sexually assaulted. The respondents may not believe they were sexually assaulted, but that doesn’t matter to those pushing the numbers.

CentSai’s survey asks more direct questions, but responses are still open to bias on the part of the person answering a question. They may have “felt” someone manipulated them using money, whether or not that was true. And they may have had someone lie to them about money, but it had less to do with financial infidelity and more about fear in a new relationship. For example, someone may have inflated how much they spent on something to impress a date, which pales in comparison to someone opening a credit card and running up debt in another person’s name.

CentSai also told the Wire that the survey provided a comment box for respondents to explain their answers. An analyst for the company told the Wire that more than 95% of people who answered “yes” to either of the above answer filled out the comment box. Many, the analyst said, wrote that a partner had ran up debt under their name or stolen settlement money from them. As with any comment box, CentSai was not able to verify what was written, so people could have exaggerated their alleged abuse.

As the Press article suggests financial abuse “can run the gamut from subtle to egregious.”

“It might look like a partner who can’t keep a job or pay their share of the bills. Or one who makes you feel guilty for spending your own money,” Sheehy wrote. “But it could also be a partner who offers to handle the household finances, then gradually restricts your access to those accounts.”

As with the sexual assault survey, not all of those behaviors can equally be considered “financial abuse.” People may go through a hard time and a series of jobs in a short amount of time that may be due to circumstance rather than behavior. A family emergency might make it difficult to pay the bills one month or two. Perhaps the person made a really ill-advised purchase and that’s why their partner made them feel guilty.

The fact is, we don’t know what was actually going through the heads of respondents.

A final note. CentSai’s 2016 survey found half as many millennial women indicating they had been financially abused by a partner. That survey found that “Men were more likely to be both the perpetrators and the victims of financial abuse and infidelity.”

The jump in the number of women suggesting they had been financially abused comes from “awareness,” a CentSai analyst told the Wire. The advent of the #MeToo movement caused women to start re-evaluating how they have been treated.

This may have led them to exaggerate their claims in the survey, as we saw with the exaggerated of flat-out false #MeToo claims made once the movement started. The jump may have also had to do with the fact that in 2017, at least 70% of respondents were women, up from 47% in 2016.