Women are primary breadwinners: Paradoxes about women and money

4 min read ·


Walking into a recent luncheon for the launch of Prudential's study on the Financial Experience and Behaviors Among Women, I was greeted with the headline: "Women are primary breadwinners, whether they like it or not." The first thought that popped into my mind was "Is that really true?" The second, as someone who reads and writes about the gender wage gap, was, "Show me a woman who wouldn't like earning the most in the family." Fortunately, the panel offered three money smart women along with a study full of statistics on the realities of how women manage their money and what we need to fix.

Myth 1: Most Women Aren't Bread Winners

Prudential's study surveyed more than 1,400 women and discovered that 53% are primary bread winners. The study, in its twelfth year, expanded its reach this year to allow greater representation from diverse racial and economic backgrounds. Of the women surveyed, 40% are single or living alone, and thus solely responsible for their own and their family's finances. Add the 22% of women who are married or living with a partner who make more than their partner, and you have the a majority of women as breadwinners.

[More from Forbes: The most unfair cities for being a working woman]

Though it's nice to see that there are holes being punched into the idea of men as the de facto breadwinner, this isn't necessarily good news. Lynette Khalfani-Cox, a personal finance expert known as the Money Coach and moderator of the discussion, cautioned that the breadwinning majority "doesn't mean that 53% are making a lot of money." Instead, nearly a third of female breadwinners say that the challenging economy is the reason they make the most money in their household. Further, just because the majority of women are breadwinners, it does not mean they feel prepared to make financial decisions

Myth 2: Women Can't Handle Their Money

This myth is one that too many women believe. The confidence gap between men and women is one of the most upsetting discoveries from the survey: while 45% of men feel well prepared to make financial decisions, only 23% of women felt the same. The gap between women's goals and their confidence in achieving their goals is increasing as well. While in 2008, women with household incomes over $50,000 experienced a gap of 62 points between goals and confidence, in 2012 the gap has widened to 69 points.

[More from Forbes: Most dangerous U.S. cities for women]

The most important goal for women? Having enough money to maintain their lifestyle in retirement. Many women seem to simply feel unprepared for what will happen when they stop working. The experiences and knowledge of women in finance is proof enough that women are more than capable of learning about finance and managing their money. However, women often get stuck in traps created by misconceptions and myths about how they should handle their money.

Myth 3: Advisors Are Too Pricey

While women less confident their financial knowledge than men, they aren't much more likely to be using an advisor (35% vs. 33%). Over half of women explain their lack of an advisor because they are too expensive. Speakers Joan Cleveland, Prudential Individual Life Insurance's senior vice president of Business Development, and Deborah Owens, CEO of Owens Media Group, a financial expert and author, called out this conception as a dangerous myth.

[More from Forbes: 10 happiest jobs for working moms]

Different types of advisors are available across a wide price range and can ultimately be a huge asset financially. Cleveland believes that for women to move forward financially, it "comes down to the educational aspect." Women need advisors who will look into their unique financial situation and give them knowledge that will allow confidence.

Myth 4: Investing Isn't For (Young) Women

Investing is a particular area in which women lack confidence. People in the finance world have created an image of impenetrable complexity, filled with algorithms and acronyms. Prudential found that women tend to connect more with the personal side of finance, considering its personal consequences on themselves and their families as opposed to the economy as a whole. Owens claims that women need to realize that, as the growing percentage of consumers, they are the ones driving the profitability of stocks. Women can't be scared off by apparent difficulties and lack of female representation in the financial world, but instead realize they need to take time to educate themselves.

[More from Forbes: What women could afford if they earned equal pay for equal work]

Young women especially need to take steps toward understanding investing. When women avoid investing young, they're losing out on the one thing that knowledge can't buy: time. At age 25, many women are concerned about feel like beginners when investing. However, even as a beginner, investing a little money can build up for a more comfortable retirement, instead of a panicky beginning to investment decades later.

Myth 5: All Financial Changes Have to Be Huge

When I asked what the number one piece of misinformation women hold that hurts them financially, Khalfani-Cox had plenty of experience answering questions on money management to answer easily. She has seen too many people think that financial changes have to take a huge amount of money or undergo an economic "make-over." Instead she suggests "wait, maybe do one piece at a time." Create a to-do list of small changes to make in your life. Make an appointment with a financial advisor, write your will, get life insurance: one at a time these less drastic changes will help you build confidence and improve your financial situation.

Ultimately, as the majority of women are making the most money in their household, they need to realize that they can take charge of their financial situation. As women build confidence by taking small steps to gain experience and knowledge, they will be willing to take more (reasonable) financial risks, allowing for greater reward.

Everyone can take a few small steps to improve their financial health. Today, take a couple minutes and think about what you may have been putting off doing in finance. Then, go for it.