It’s a Woman’s World: Survey Finds That Women Control Household Finances
Women might not have their faces on money yet, but they certainly have their hands on it.
A new GOBankingRates survey of more than 1,000 women shows them taking the lead in household money matters — and that comes as no shock to the women who deal with this dynamic in their professional lives.
“My experience reflects your research that a majority of women manage the finances in the household,” said life and financial coach Heather Albrecht, founder of Heather Albrecht Coaching.
Laura Wasser, a family law expert and chief of divorce evolution at Divorce.com, concurs.
“I have seen a surge in women who are taking charge of their finances, especially in recent years,” she said. “It’s fantastic to see more women feeling confident and empowered in their financial decision-making.”
Nearly 90% of Women Either Assume Control or Share It
When asked how involved they are in household finances compared to their partners, about one in five women said they were single or the only adult in the household. Among those who aren’t, nearly 40% take the lead in their household’s financial decisions and another 30% make financial decisions together with their partner.
That leaves fewer than 12% of women whose partners maintain control, which would have been unthinkable until fairly recently.
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More Women Earn the Incomes That Fuel America’s Households
If more women are making money decisions, it’s probably because more women are making money.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about one in three women worked in 1950 — but even by 1980, it was still just over half. The female employment-to-population ratio didn’t reach 60% until 2000 and, according to the Center For American Progress, it’s more like 75% today — and they’re not surrendering control of the money they earn.
“As more women have entered the workforce and gained financial independence, they have also taken on more responsibility for household finances,” said Andrea Worden, a finance expert and partner in the Worden and Carbitcher Law Firm.
It’s Not Just Finances — Attitudes Are Shifting, in General
The trend toward greater workforce participation emerged slowly and steadily starting in the Eisenhower era. But the last few years have witnessed an explosive shift in the public consciousness that spawned movements like #MeToo, Time’s Up and Equal Pay.
“I think that this trend is part of a broader shift toward gender equality,” said Wasser. “Women are no longer content to take a backseat when it comes to financial matters. They want to be actively involved in managing their money and securing their financial future — and this is a great thing for everyone involved.”
As Attitudes Evolved, Empowering Financial Tools Emerged
Lauren Bringle, an accredited financial advisor at Self Financial, thinks all those decades on the financial sidelines fostered an unhealthy collective money mindset that is finally starting to break.
“For years, there has been a fundamental disadvantage in how men and women are taught about money management and personal finance,” she said. “Women have been conditioned to prioritize frugality and saving, while men have been taught about the importance of investing and growing your wealth long term. But we are seeing a tide turn — with more women taking control of their finances, it’s obvious these conventional approaches are no longer sticking.”
And women now have the tools to put those philosophical shifts into practice.
“Over the past few years, we have also seen a steady increase in free online resources that help people get a better sense of their financial situation and plan for the future,” Bringle said. “Organizations like Operation Hope, NFCC and AFCPE provide users with free financial coaching, making money management easier and more accessible for everyone. All of these resources have made it easier for women to take ownership of their finances and break the pattern of conventional financial education.”
The Pandemic’s Impact Can’t Be Understated
The COVID crisis did not distribute its consequences equally. Women bore the brunt in terms of physical health, mental health, job loss, caretaker burdens and financial hardship.
“The pandemic has disproportionately impacted women in the workforce, with many losing their jobs or having to reduce their work hours to care for children or elderly relatives,” said Worden. “This has led to a greater need for women to take on a more significant role in managing household finances.”
But just as World War II empowered women back home out of necessity, so, too, did the pandemic.
“Women may have taken on more responsibility for managing finances as a way to ensure their family’s financial stability and security during uncertain times,” said Worden.
It’s also likely that the pandemic forced many women to confront how vulnerable people are when they’re not in charge of their money.
“I have found that the women I see in my practice equate money with security,” said Albrecht.
Unfortunate Circumstances Can Offer Second Chances
Sylvia Guinan, CDFA and financial advisor with Wells Fargo Advisors, serves mostly women in transition dealing with situations like divorce or the death of a spouse. More frequently, she’s seeing them emerge from those transitions as changed people.
“I’ve recognized that the women who weren’t leading or at least sharing responsibility for the household finances tended to have shame and embarrassment over that decision,” said Guinan. “When these women started their lives over solo or with a new partner, their regret about not being involved in financial decisions had them all saying, ‘never again.’ Furthermore, I see many women going into second marriages that not only want to be involved in joint financial decisions but are unwilling to co-mingle all of their assets. They want to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to money management and I say, ‘Go for it! You can do it!'”
Whether they’re starting over or starting for the first time, the study shows that women are changing the landscape of money and gender.
“Ultimately, what’s driving this dynamic is a desire for independence and autonomy,” said Wasser. “Women are realizing that they have the skills and knowledge to manage their finances effectively, and they are seizing the opportunity to do so. And I think that’s something we can all celebrate.”
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