Hey! Thanks for your interest in my PhD research, which I'm currently undertaking in the School of Finance, Economics and Marketing at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT).

 

I started out as a part-time Masters by Research student in March 2018. A year-and-a-half later and still very much enjoying my subject matter, I was convinced to upgrade the scope of my project. So, in February 2020 I completed a Confirmation of Candidature and successfully upgraded to a PhD.

In December 2020 I was awarded a RMIT Research Stipend Scholarship which has allowed me to leave my day job writing content for a superannuation fund and become a full-time student. Huzzah!

What's my PhD about?

Poverty in older age is a growing concern in Australia. Women over the age of 55 are now the fastest growing homeless group in the country, with a 30% increase over five years between 2011-2016 (AHRC, 2019). The Australian Human Rights Commission states that without innovative solutions, this problem will continue to increase (AHRC, 2019). Social marketing may offer one innovative solution using education and communication initiatives that drive positive change in financial decision making. However, to effectively execute such social marketing campaigns, a more nuanced understanding of the financial consumption behaviours of women is needed.

 

According to advocacy group Women in Super (2020), poverty in old age begins from the start of a person’s life - what they study impacts on what they earn, as does having children. For women, superannuation is a tool that can address systematic structural differences in financial outcomes as women age. However, at present, a superannuation gap of 37% exists between men and women at retirement in Australia (ABS, 2018). The gender gap in superannuation begins early in the paid working lives of men and women and continues over time, widening exponentially between men and women in their 30s. By the age of 40, males have twice as much superannuation as females (Davis, 2012). This gap presently has an impact on women’s wellbeing as they transition to retirement.

 

The purpose of this study is to understand how social cognitive theory, encompassing Bandura’s sources of self-efficacy (1997), influences millennial women’s engagement with superannuation. As the superannuation system was set up for individuals to fund their own retirement, it is imperative that women are financially capable to build their superannuation wealth and manage it in retirement. This study will focus on the three actions of combine (roll all super accounts into one to minimise fees), contribute (add extra super either before or after tax) and invest (select the relevant mix of investment options to suit their age and risk tolerance level). These actions, if taken by today’s millennials can have a significant impact on their superannuation balance at retirement (ASIC, 2018). The study will look at how the sources of mastery experience, vicarious experience and verbal persuasion can be leveraged in social marketing campaigns to reach girls and young women growing up. It will also explore how social marketing might meet this cohort of women in the online communities including podcasts and Facebook groups that they are increasingly turning to for community-centred advice (Bitter, 2014; Sadovykh & Sundaram, 2016).

 

In the last 2-3 years, personal finance podcasts and OSNs have grown in popularity in Australia. They come at a time when, given the cost, professional financial advice has considerable barriers to entry for average consumers. Financial advice fees can start at around $3,500 for a financial plan and increase from there depending on how the client and the adviser agree for the plan to be implemented (MoneySmart 2021). This lack of access is a barrier to average consumers being able to reach their financial goals and optimise their financial wellbeing (Russell, Kutin & Marriner, 2020). There is limited research focusing on younger Australian women and how they build self-efficacy through family, friends and new media such as podcasts and OSNs to engage in and make financial decisions about superannuation. The benefit of learning the drivers of financial self-efficacy in the superannuation space is that it relies on behavioural change of the individual, rather than government intervention. While legislation that helps fund members with low balances has been introduced over the years by the government, this takes considerable time, and this research offers another direction. Given the financial challenges placed upon society in funding an ageing population in retirement, and that women outlive men by approximately five years, this is a critical topic to explore, and to disseminate the findings of.

How are things progressing?

I've conducted two rounds of semi-structured interviews with Australian millennial women. We talked about their financial influences, their history with money, their approach to risk and how they make decisions about superannuation.

Both rounds of interviews have been analysed and the findings will be disseminated in academic journal articles which will also form two chapters of my PhD thesis. I'm now in the process of undertaking a content analysis of Australian finance podcasts that will form the third original research chapter of my PhD.