But when it comes to our finances, women appear to be less in control. A 2021 survey of high-net-worth individuals by UBS Group, a financial services firm, found that just one in five couples make financial decisions together. In addition, more than eight in 10 women defer to their spouses because they believe they lack the knowledge. And more than seven in 10 women say they have neither the interest nor the time to participate in financial discussions.
An unequal partnership: Why women defer financial decisions to their spouses
It may surprise you that high-earning women aren’t in charge of, or at least sharing equally in, household financial decisions, but these findings align with what we see frequently in our wealth and family office practice at Rubach Wealth. Our client roster includes many highly successful women, most of whom run their own businesses or are top-performing professionals. They’re smart, dynamic and hard-working. At work, they’re definitely the boss—so why aren’t they also the boss with their personal finances?
There are a number of reasons. Many high-performing women are burned out from the stresses of long hours at work and, in a lot of cases, having to put in a “second shift” when they get home, caring for kids and maybe aging parents, as well as doing the bulk of housework. They don’t have the time nor the energy to manage the money, too.
In many households, male partners assume it’s their role to take charge of the family finances—including budgeting, spending and investing—and letting them do so may seem like the easier, conflict-free path. Sometimes, women who are more financially successful than their partners choose to relinquish oversight of the family finances as a way of equalizing power in the relationship.
There’s also the matter of financial literacy and confidence in making money decisions. Sometimes, women are compelled to learn money management by a sudden change in life circumstances, such as divorce (grey or otherwise) or widowhood. My own mother—a very strong, intelligent and capable woman—did not have the financial knowledge nor the belief she could handle money matters, so she deferred completely to my father. When he died at age 50 with no will or estate plan, my mother had no idea what assets or debts he left behind. For the first time in her life, she had to figure out our family’s finances, and we all struggled during this difficult time.
While studies suggest financial literacy increases as incomes rise, women still tend to be less confident about their financial knowledge than men. This may be due, in large part, to a lack of practice. In a Statistics Canada study based on data from 2014, researchers found women scored lower in financial literacy when their partners handled the long-term management of the family finances.
How a financial advisor can help
It’s time for women to take charge of their finances or, when there’s a spouse or common-law partner involved, at least be equal partners in the decision-making. The happy paradox of taking command of your finances is that you don’t necessarily need to have all the answers or do all the work. Finding the right advisors and partners—and being willing to delegate and share in the decision-making—is key. High-performing women already do this in their business or profession, and it’s a big part of what makes them successful and effective leaders.
Working with a financial advisor to create a financial plan is a step in the right direction, but it’s important to choose the right professional—one who will listen, not dictate, and who will build your plan through a holistic lens. If you’re a mom, for example, your financial plan needs to map out the transfer of wealth to the next generation, supported with a strategy for helping your children manage the gift, and potentially the burden, of their inheritance.