Married Men, Women Self-Identify as Decision Makers

Few respondents said their spouse was the primary decision maker

Almost 70% of married men say they make financial decisions primarily by themselves, but their wives might have a different story, according to a survey released Thursday by BMO Private Bank. When asked if their spouse was the primary financial decision maker in their household, only 13% of married women agreed.

A similar gap appeared when the questions were reversed. Although fewer women identified themselves as the primary decision maker (38% versus 69% of men), only 5% of men said their spouse was calling the shots on financial decisions. Forty-six percent of women said they share financial decision making equally with their spouse.

BMO Private Bank polled 748 investors at the end of April. Although all identified themselves as married, they weren’t necessarily married to each other.

The survey found men and women also disagreed over who was in charge when it came to which financial institutions to use or big purchases like new cars or renovations to a house. Almost 70% of men said they were the primary decision maker on which financial institution to use; just 9% of women said their spouse made that call. The same percentage of women said their spouse made the final call on big purchases, although 62% of men said they were the primary decision maker.

With such dramatic differences in the way investors perceive financial responsibility, the importance of communication is obvious. "Men and women have unique financial needs, and finding the right advisor who can listen to those respective needs and respond with clarity while delivering value can make all the difference in the world,” Mary Jo Herseth, national head of banking for BMO Private Bank, said in a statement.

She stressed that input from an objective outsider can prevent money problems from becoming marital problems.

“Going from ‘my’ money to ‘our’ money can be difficult process and arguments about money can cause serious issues for a marriage,” Herseth said. “Bringing a third individual into the discussion, such as a financial advisor, can help provide an objective perspective.”

In a phone interview with ThinkAdvisor, Herseth noted that women control roughly one-third of assets under management in the United States. “Retailers and banks are recognizing how important they are to their markets,” Herseth said. “Men think they’re dominant, but women are rising in how comfortable they are making financial decisions.”

She noted that women are more risk averse, but are more “thoughtful” about their finances. “They want a lot of information and want to hear about how their strategy will affect them long-term,” Herseth said, while men tend to be more transactional.

For advisors working with married couples who are at odds with their financial strategy, Herseth said, “It’s all about communicating with each and working with them so they can work with each other.”

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