Illustration by Sibel Ergener

Men Who Have Bad Relationships With Their Moms Are Bad With Money

A recent study shows that mommy issues are more likely to make us terrible at personal finance

Psychologists have long suspected that many of the relationship issues people grapple with in adulthood stem from unhealthy or deficient relationships they had with their parents as children. But a new study from researchers at Oklahoma State University finds that a boy’s bad relationship with his mother can lead to a cavalier relationship with money as an adult.

Namely, men with mommy issues are more likely to be degenerate gamblers, or engage in other financially risky behaviors.

The study, published earlier this year in the journal Cogent Economics & Finance, had 360 Oklahoma State students complete a 24-question survey about the quality of their relationships with their parents. The results showed both men and women with negative relationships with their fathers were more likely to engage in “ethical risk-taking,” such as cheating on their taxes or timesheets at work, according to lead author Shelia Kennison, a professor of psychology at Oklahoma State.

But the link between parental relationships and financial risk-taking revealed a difference between the genders. “Nothing predicted financial risk-taking for women,” Kennison says. Whereas with men, “a negative relationship with mom was a strong predictor” of erratic financial behavior.

These men were more likely to make high-risk investments, participate in get-rich-quick schemes or to leave a wake of unpaid bills and debts. This does not always spell negative financial consequences, as a successful career in, say, finance or real estate, is often predicated on the capacity to make bold financial maneuvers.

“So I guess the question is, what is Donald Trump’s relationship with his mother?” Kennison says.

Answer: Pretty good (if we take Trump’s word for it). “Part of the problem I’ve had with women has been in having to compare them to my incredible mother, Mary Trump,” he wrote in his 1997 book The Art of the Comeback.

Kennison says the link between bad relationships with moms and reckless financial behavior is possibly due to the patriarchal view that a man’s worth is measured in dollar signs. “Being a financial success is one of the way men can be most validated. If you wanted to impress your mom, being financially successful is a reasonable way to approach that,” Kennison says.

Similarly, when a man has a poor relationship with his mom, he’ll often try to compensate for that debt by pursuing validation from other women, and financial gain can be seen as a means to that end. “Men might try to seek money in a risky way because they don’t know how to impress women otherwise,” Kennison adds.

The study did not attempt to find a link between parental relationships and more typical unhealthy financial behaviors such as overspending. But other research shows that our entire attitude toward money management is also rooted in our childhood. Our parents, it seems, are largely responsible for our financial decision-making as adults, both good and bad.