This lower engagement has the potential to put women’s hard-won earnings and future financial security at risk. We share insights from the report, including the key challenges women primary breadwinners face embracing their financial clout, and how we can collectively change this dynamic to help women on their path to greater financial participation.
Women continue to make great strides in education, labor force participation and career advancement, and they are contributing more to their families’ incomes than ever before. And despite a widely acknowledged gender pay gap, nearly one-third (30%) of the US women in heterosexual couples we recently surveyed said they earn more income than their spouse or partner.
Yet challenges remain
For our latest installment of Own your worth, we examine how women breadwinners* make decisions about the money they earn. We spoke with over 800 high-earning women and men in heterosexual couples and women in same-sex couples, and found that only half of women breadwinners in heterosexual couples are very engaged in short- and long-term financial decisions.
That’s significantly less than men breadwinners. This lack of engagement has the potential to put women’s hard-won earnings and future financial security at risk.
If money is power, why aren’t more women breadwinners exercising it?
From our research, a picture emerges of why so many women breadwinners are still relinquishing their power over financial decision-making. And while some of these challenges are less pronounced for women in same-sex couples, we found several reasons for the disparity between women and men breadwinners:
1. Traditional gender roles heighten women’s ambivalence about being the breadwinner. Less than half (49%) of women primary earners in heterosexual couples say they prefer being the breadwinner, compared to 87% of men primary earners. Many women breadwinners said that friends and family assume men are the breadwinners, and 1 in 2 of these women don’t correct them.
2. Most women breadwinners also contend with trust issues from their partners. Most non-primary earning men wish they were the primary earner (66%) and could contribute more (75%), and women breadwinners face distrust around their spending and investing habits from non-breadwinner partners.
3. Many women breadwinners still take on more of the household responsibilities like cooking and cleaning, as well as childcare. This leaves them less time for financial responsibilities.
Women are working harder and going farther than ever before. We know that their lagging financial confidence isn’t a matter of competence. Through this research, we hope to identify what is preventing so many women breadwinners from taking a more active role in the important decisions about their financial futures.
Recognizing and addressing these challenges are crucial
Many women breadwinners are not fully embracing their financial power—for valid reasons. Understandably, women who excel at careers and still handle most of the household responsibilities have plenty of other important demands on their time and energy beyond financial decision-making considerations. Especially if they are deferring these decisions to help keep the peace with a partner who has insecurities about their own earning status.
The cost of this dynamic
The problem remains that when women breadwinners defer participation in financial decisions, they may be giving up a say in the key considerations that impact their long-term financial goals. Demographic trends bear out that 80% of women will at some point have to manage their finances on their own, so it’s important to be engaged in these decisions at each life stage.
It’s critical for women breadwinners to feel empowered throughout the course of their lives so that they can shape their own financial futures and steer their own paths to achieving the goals that are most important to them.
Claiming one’s rightful seat at the financial table
Financial professionals can help alleviate some of the burden or sensitivities that exist around money by doing the following:
- Seek to understand the family income dynamics first, and facilitate conversations that include each partner in the relationship equally.
- Set assumptions aside and listen to the unique needs of women breadwinners.
- Look for ways to simplify, ease and automate services to help reduce the time burden of financial engagement for women breadwinners.
- Address financial engagement through the lens of a comprehensive, goals-based financial planning approach such as UBS Wealth Way.
There is undoubtedly more work that needs to be done to empower women breadwinners in financial matters. However, by focusing on comprehensive planning, engaging women breadwinners as decision-makers and positioning our industry as champions of financial parity, we can take crucial steps together to help correct this imbalance.
For more insights on the financial needs and challenges of women breadwinners, see the full report Own Your Worth 2023: Tradition, trust and time 13 June 2023.