Women Are Primary Earners, Not Primary Decision-Makers

Women are ‘thrust’ into breadwinner role by economic crisis

Over half of women are the primary breadwinners in their households, a survey released Wednesday by Prudential found. Rather than indicating better work opportunities, though, the survey found women are assuming this role as a result of their husbands and partners losing their jobs.

“Unfortunately, this increase is not the result of making more money, but the crisis is forcing women into this role,” Joan Cleveland, vice president of business development for Prudential, told reporters attending a panel on the survey findings. “Many were thrust into this position because their spouse lost their job.”

Fifty-three percent of women, including single and divorced women, are the top earners in their family, including 22% of married and partnered women. Of the female breadwinners, 30% said they earned more than their partners because of the economy. The same percentage said there had been a job loss in their household.

Despite many women being the higher earner in their families, they are not necessarily the primary decision maker. Just 20% of those breadwinners say they’re well-prepared to make financial decisions, compared with 45% of male breadwinners.

Among married women, 35% say they share decision-making responsibilities with their husband, and 19% "take control" of financial decisions. By comparison, 21% of men say they share decision-making responsibilities equally with their spouse, and 38% take control.

An SEI Quick Poll released July 9 found that although an “overwhelming majority” of respondents were happy with the way financial decisions were made in their family, female respondents who said they were the primary earners in their families were more likely than men to feel tension from their partners regarding financial decisions. 

Another key point to emerge from the survey is that women’s confidence gap has been widening since 2000. While 38% of women are confident about the economy over the next 12 months, Cleveland said, that’s down from 55% two years ago.

While women are relatively confident in immediate concerns, like buying a house or reducing debt, long-term and big-picture issues presented larger problems. Maintaining their standard of living, protecting investments and not outliving their savings ranked high in importance, but low in confidence.

“Women are putting their current needs in front of their future needs,” Deborah Owens, a wealth coach and author who spoke on the panel, said.

Although the median income for women is lower than for men, they are more likely to use a financial advisor (35% versus 33% of men). Furthermore, median savings and investments are higher—much higher—for women who work with an advisor than for women who don’t: $63,000 versus $10,000.

Additionally, nearly two-thirds of women who work with an advisor said they were comfortable taking on more risk for a better reward, Cleveland said.

But why, if outcomes are so much better for women who work with an advisor, would two-thirds continue to attempt planning on their own? The main reason the survey found is cost.

“Women feel advisors are cost-prohibitive,” Owens said. In fact, 53% of women said they don’t use an advisor because they are too expensive, and 51% said they didn’t have enough assets. Just 19% said they would rather invest on their own, and only 17% said they didn’t use an advisor because they didn’t trust them.

A key point for advisors to remember when working with female clients is that they see the financial planning process as a collaboration. Forty-four percent of respondents said they rely on input from their advisor, but that ultimately they make their own decisions. 

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