The EU Money Taboo

Why is talking about money such a taboo?

Date of publication: March 8, 2021 on MAX TV Network : Money, Law & Labour

 Many Dutch prefer not to share with each other what is deposited into the bank account every month. Talking about money is a so-called taboo. Why is it like that? We ask financial psychologist Anne Abbenes.


Biggest taboo

In 2006 research agency TNS NIPO was commissioned by the KRO tv Network  to study the 100 biggest taboos in the Netherlands. These 100 are then discussed in the KRO program Het Grootste Taboo. At the time, talking about money was not in the top 100, but related matters did. For example, having debts is number 37 on the list. The Swiss psychology journal Aware Psychologie published the same kind of research around the same time. At number 13 on their list: talk to colleagues about salary.


Capital punishment

Although we are now 15 years later, according to Anne Abbenes, this does not mean that much has changed in this area. We prefer not to talk about money. The fact that this is not popular hobby number 1 has to do with the past, among other things. She explains: “In the past, being in debt was a major sin. In the days of the Greeks and Romans, a man who could not meet his financial obligations was forced into slavery, but he was not alone. His wife and children too. And in the time of Charles the 5th there was the death penalty if you could not fulfill your financial obligations. Even if you had paid off debts, you still had to pay for it. ”


Not much has changed

Although Charles the 5th has not lived since 1558, the attitude towards not being able to meet financial obligations, not much money or even debts have not changed enormously. In 2006, having debts is still seen as one of the biggest taboos and in 2021 you will still be punished if you cannot meet financial obligations. “If you can’t afford something, the costs will only increase.”

 So having little money or debt is something that still has a hint of negativity around it, so talking about it can be quite a barrier. “It feels humiliating for low-income people to talk about money.”


Lots of money

But what about having a lot of money? This does not seem to be discussed so quickly, while fairy tales and other stories often suggest that a lot of money is very positive. Think, for example, of Cinderella. As soon as she marries the rich, handsome prince, she has a comfortable life without worries.

 According to Anne, religion is a reason that we prefer not to talk about money, even though the income is high. “Within the Dutch, Calvinist culture, money is seen as something dirty that you don’t talk about. After all, the credo is “just do it normally, then you’ll be crazy enough.”

 Another reason that people with a high income prefer not to say anything about money is the fact that they are afraid of having to justify their high salary, says Anne.


New and too abstract

So the taboo on talking about money is a historical legacy, but the past is not the only reason it is thought that way. The fact that money is a fairly new and abstract concept also reinforces the taboo atmosphere. “Our brain is millions of years old and money is a fairly new concept. For example, the Greeks already had it, but then the system was quite simple. The abstract of money, such as trading on the stock exchange, dates back to the 15th century. The brain finds that very difficult, because the brain is tuned to live in the now. That’s also why we as a species could survive in times when finding or not finding food really meant death or life. Therefore, something like saving or trading with an eye to the future is difficult for us, because our brain is not tuned to have to look to the future. That goes against our biology. The brain has not had time to adapt to this situation, as it were, which makes it even more difficult. ”

 In addition, the mystique surrounding money does not really help. Anne: “Extreme forces and even human capacities are attributed to money; it can grow multiply, so it’s no surprise that we’re having a hard time rationalizing it. This only increases the taboo. ”


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