Although a majority of women now classify themselves as the primary breadwinner in the household, only 20% feel confident in making financial decisions. That disconnect came to light in Prudential Financial’s most recent “Financial Experience & Behaviors Among Women.”
Prudential’s biennial study on women and finances started in 2000. In this latest study, the financial service and insurance company canvassed 1,400 women. But in a twist from previous years, this year’s survey enlarged its sample group; including women from diverse cultural backgrounds and of income levels lower than $50,000 (the cutoff in prior studies) and surveyed 600 men to get a basis of comparison.
Prudential reports that 53% of the women surveyed said they were the primary breadwinners in the household, either because they were single or were the higher wage earner in a married couple. The researchers conclude that an increasing number of women are assuming that role due to their partner losing a job in the economic downturn, with 30% reporting they have experienced a layoff in their household. Further, 30% of women report they are struggling to make ends meet or are no longer able to keep up with expenses.
Sarah Thompson, vice president of global strategic research at Prudential, said that because previous studies were based on a smaller sample group and did not include women with incomes below $50,000, it would be difficult to say if the percentage of female breadwinners has increased or decreased from prior years. “We have no way of knowing if it is a change,” she said.
The study was released at press conference in New York City Wednesday. In a panel discussion detailing the findings, three female financial experts spoke about the need to educate women on investing and the various products that can prepare them for retirement. They also called on the financial community and advisors to reach out to women to help them close the knowledge gap. “This is an opportunity to educate women on financial matters,” said Joan H. Cleveland, senior vice president, business development, individual life insurance at Prudential Financial.
Cleveland was on the panel, which was moderated by Lynette Khalfani-Cox, author and a personal finance expert know as the Money Coach®; and included author Deborah Owens, CEO of the Owens Media Group, which teaches women how to build wealth.
Owens attributed the lack of confidence about finances and retirement planning to a lack of knowledge about investments. “Do I know enough to invest?” is a common perception among women, she said.
When the men were surveyed, 45% said they were well-prepared to make financial decisions, much higher than the female counterparts.
Owens pointed out that even though many women act as the CFO of their household budget, they still feel unsure about investing. “Where is this lack of confidence coming from?” she asked.
Women are more risk averse, the report noted, which leads them to choose guaranteed investment options rather than equity investments, which although are riskier can grow their wealth more, Owens said.
Following up on that theme, Cleveland reiterated that advisors need to work with women to help them understand the risk-reward equation of investing. She further noted that if a couple works with an advisor, about a quarter of women leave the advisor when the marriage dissolves. Therefore, she urged advisors to build relationships with women.
The survey found that women are willing to collaborate with an advisor, with 44% saying they rely on input from an advisor, but make their own decisions. More than a third of women who do not use and advisor say they would consider doing so.
One perceived roadblock to working with an advisor is that many women believe the cost is too high. Yet Owens said advisors have various pricing structures. “We need to show what the access points are,” she said. “There is an advisor of some type that can assist you.”
Khalfani-Cox said that women should approach retirement planning not as an all-in-one major undertaking, but a series of small steps such buying life insurance and making an appointment with an advisor.