Fifty years ago, only 12% of US families had a woman as primary breadwinner (earning more than 50% of the family’s income). That number today is more than half (54%) and continuing to climb.1 The current gender breakdown of bachelor’s and master’s degree recipients skews decidedly female (58% to 42%), and women now hold more than half of all professional/managerial jobs and own nearly one-third of all private businesses in this country.2
In fact, nearly all income growth in the U.S. over the past 15-20 years is attributable to women—while men have seen flat or even declining incomes. By around 2028, the average American woman is projected to earn more than the average man.3 The transition from stay-at-home mom to independent working woman and now primary family breadwinner has been a welcome evolution.
Relationship dynamics and communication
As women continue to climb the economic ladder, the nature of the financial management and caretaker roles within the family also need to evolve. For that to happen, however, a great deal of open and honest communication needs to occur. It’s important that you and your spouse are on the same page financially—especially since men and women tend to have differing values, priorities, and practices when it comes to money.
You need to be able to count on your spouse, so don’t avoid these types of conversations just because you don’t want to hurt their ego or pride. Sure, financial conversations may sometimes be awkward and uncomfortable. But having a clear understanding of your total financial picture and creating a basic saving, spending and investing plan you both can live with will help head off future conflicts and minimize the likelihood of unexpected and unwelcome surprises.
The need for more thoughtful planning
Advanced degrees and demanding careers mean that more women are delaying major life events such as marriage and children. According to Pew Research, fewer than 20 percent of 18-29 year-olds are married today compared with well over half of them (59 percent) in 1960. And nearly half (47%) of all births in the U.S. are now to mothers who are age 30 or older.4
How does this impact your financial plan? As the earning and economic power of women continues to rise, it’s even more important for your voice to be heard at the financial planning table. Delaying milestones like marriage and children can help you save early in life for important goals such as college funding, retirement, and long-term care. It can even provide you with the flexibility to take a couple of mid-life sabbaticals for a year or two. But to achieve these goals, you need to focus on planning early on.
Realize that your time is worth considerable money and start prioritizing those tasks—such as taking an active role in financial planning—that will benefit your family most. You may want to consider hiring childcare providers, a cleaning service, and/or meal delivery service to free up additional time.
Even with help, time management can still be difficult. That’s why you need to be confident that you’re working with a trusted advisor who values open, honest communication. Women have unique financial challenges—from longer life expectancies (which require different retirement planning considerations which can conflict with more conservative investment inclinations) to a different emphasis on planning priorities. So make sure you’re working with an advisor who understands the pressures that women breadwinners face and is supported by a team who can relieve the time and stress involved in making and implementing financial decisions.
Whether you’re interested in learning more about a specific financial topic, want to discuss a new financial challenge, or are seeking advice on ways to impart strong financial values to the next generation, the key is to start getting more personally engaged with your advisor.
Even if you and your spouse opt to divide household and financial responsibilities, you can’t afford to be in the dark about where and how your money is invested. It’s your life, your future and your money. Now is the time to get more actively engaged with it.