Women breadwinners spread thin between familial and financial duties

Women are the breadwinners in four out of 10 American families, and nearly 95 per cent of women will be their family’s primary financial decision maker at some point in their lives.

But with this added financial responsibility comes tremendous stress, according to a new study of breadwinning women from the Family Wealth Advisors Council, a national network of independent wealth management firms.

The group’s survey of more than 1,000 working women finds that females are spread too thin when it comes to their familial and financial duties.


This is something also felt in the UAE. According to The Status of Working Women survey from bayt.com, released in November last year, 28 per cent of working women in the UAE say they are the breadwinners in their households. The results also highlighted the difficulties many face, with 25 per cent of UAE respondents admitting they find it hard to balance work and family.

Here, Heather Ettinger, a managing partner of Fairport Asset Management in Cleveland, Ohio, and co-author of the US study, reveals more about the critical issues facing women breadwinners today.

What impact does the role of breadwinner have on women?

Sadly, it’s a role of stress, stress, stress. She is caring for her kids, maybe her parents and even kids in the next generation. In fact, 40 per cent of the women surveyed acknowledge that they feel pressure from family and friends to downplay their breadwinner status, and 28 per cent of married or committed women reported that their parents actually disapprove of their breadwinner role.

How is this stress affecting her finances?

It is not that the women don’t want to be in control, they just don’t have time. Women are taking on 75 per cent of all family financial planning, and, in some cases, they are assuming as much as 90 per cent of the responsibility for charitable giving, paying for college, retirement planning and overall saving. But there is a gap in the advisory services available – 35 per cent of these women have no financial adviser. When they do work with a financial adviser, they say they are not satisfied with the experience. Meanwhile, 62 per cent of women say they are leaving money on the table in terms of getting their financial house in order and taking advantage of a company’s benefits.

What happens to breadwinning women in divorce?

Sadly, most of them end up much worse financially than they were. That’s not necessarily different than most divorces overall, but these women end up having to pay alimony and child support. It creates a bigger stress emotionally, financially. Divorced women are not only supporting themselves, but members of their extended family as well. That might explain why many of them report not being as knowledgeable as they would like to be about their finances. What is interesting is that divorced women in our study felt the least supported in workplace. By contrast, the widows felt the most supported.

Are breadwinning women taking advantage of flexible work situations?

Nearly 85 per cent of the women we surveyed said firms are doing an excellent job of providing technology that gives them the ability to be more flexible. That is really important, but 46 per cent of them are also saying: “My employer is not supporting my needs in terms of a work-life balance.” When it comes to their jobs, some are getting more leadership training and mentoring. But there is still a big gap between managers saying: “I’m going to help coach you in your career” and “I am going to make sure you are getting a defined career path.” There is an opportunity here for companies to differentiate themselves in terms of talent development as well as attracting and retaining women.

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