Is money a taboo subject? How it is discussed in the UK and whether views differ around the world

Is discussing money taboo around the world?

Money is a taboo subject, especially in western countries such as the UK, US and Canada. It’s often shrouded with secrecy.

According to a Lloyds Banking Group survey in 2019, 50% of UK adults believe discussing personal money matters is taboo.

Another study by OnePoll in December 2021 revealed over a third of British people struggle to discuss money, and one in ten people are not willing to discuss finances - even with their partner.

This study of 2,000 people found that 35% think money is more awkward to discuss than health problems.

But is the UK more reserved when it comes to discussing money than the rest of the world?

NationalWorld has taken a look at how attitudes towards money differ across the globe.

How is money discussed across the world? 

Nathalie Hyland, 24, is a teacher in Shanghai, China, after living in the UK for the majority of her life.

For her, discussing money has varied depending on her cultural environment.

Being from a Honduran-Hispanic background, she said: “The Latin American experience with money, from my perspective as someone who grew up elsewhere and goes back home, parallels with any other friend with the same experience - that there is a culture shock with money”.

When discussing how much bigger items like homes and cars cost, Ms Hyland says Hispanic communities are more likely to use specific figures.

She said: “In the Hispanic culture, it’s fine to say exactly how much something was. I remember having these discussions with my British husband.

“We were going to Zoom call his parents and I said you should mention that this is how much you’re going to be earning in this job.

“He said: ‘No, I can’t possibly do that. We don’t do that.’ I responded by saying they’re your parents and you’re a uni student - isn’t it better that they have a full idea of what your life is like? And he says, no that’s not acceptable.

“Whereas in a Hispanic household - in my experience, and being Honduran - it would be completely acceptable to tell your family exactly how much you earn or exactly how much something cost”.

Now, living in China for the past two years, Ms Hyland mentions how financial discussions are more similar to the Hispanic culture than the British.

“The Chinese culture and the Hispanic culture will understand each other, and the gap seems to be in the English culture,” she said.

In China, from Ms Hyland’s perspective, money is discussed openly but in a slightly different way.

She said: “There were a few culture clashes. People, even if they don’t know you, will ask what your salary is and it’s not considered rude.

"But the way I struggled to assimilate is gift-giving. The value of the gift is very important. If the value is high, but the gift is not so useful, I’ve heard people commenting, ‘I would have rather just received the money for this’ - and people would look up the value of a gift immediately.

"There seems to be a sweet spot that I don’t understand where it’s not too expensive and it’s not too cheap. You can return it because it’s too cheap and you can return it because it’s too expensive.”

Are other countries similar to Latin America and China? 

Veronica Kim, 27, now lives in Vancouver, Canada, after being raised in Malawi to Korean parents.

Similar to Ms Hyland, Ms Kim’s perspective of money has seen some drastic changes.

With her cultural background in Korea, Ms Kim said: “In Korea, money is discussed quite casually among family, friends and even strangers. People are very interested in other people’s wealth and it’s indicative of social status.

"Korea used to be one of the poorest countries in the world, now it’s one of the wealthiest so they are very conscious of their history and may be more comfortable openly discussing money in everyday life.”

Yet for her, moving from Malawi to Canada did not bring a financial cultural clash.

She said: “In Malawi, I would say money isn’t openly discussed either but not for the same reasons. The wealth gap is pretty substantial and it’s not difficult to notice.

“It’s not considered a private matter like in Canada, but it’s also not casually spoken about like in Korea. The attitude and discussion around money is quite different from more affluent countries, it’s focused more on communal goals than individualistic ones.”

Why is money not openly discussed in the West? 

Privacy is a huge concern for many people, Kim believes.

She said: “Money is not discussed openly in Canada as it is considered to be private and sensitive. Money is more likely to be discussed in a general sense, rather than a specific sense”.

Many people think earning money is a competition, and allowing another person to know your financial status could be similar to flashing your cards at a poker game - it would not be in your self-interest.

However, in cases of self-interest, people talk.

Ms Hyland said: “In my group of colleagues, we are mostly ‘foreigners’ and have a separate pay scale to local teachers. We’ll compare our salaries to each other because our job is the same.

"There are many different cultural criteria for salary here that aren’t necessarily in the UK, like gender and ethnicity.

“For example, the most qualified person could be earning less and you start to realise; she’s a woman, she is black. We’re here to make money, and if we feel like we’re being discriminated against, it’s good to protect ourselves.

"It makes me wonder, is the UK the same but we don’t know it because we don’t discuss it. I remember being close to my colleagues in the UK but never discussing salary. Maybe it’s not exclusive to China.”

A message from the editor:

Thank you for reading. NationalWorld is a new national news brand, produced by a team of journalists, editors, video producers and designers who live and work across the UK. Find out more about who’s who in the team, and our editorial values. We want to start a community among our readers, so please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and keep the conversation going. You can also sign up to our newsletters and get a curated selection of our best reads to your inbox every day.