Men, Women Disagree Over Who’s the Boss

Articles, Medill Reports

Published by Medill Reports

By Christina Maria Paschyn
March 6, 2007

It’s a rich man’s world – at least that’s what rich husbands think.

According to a study released Tuesday, 56 percent of affluent husbands said they are the ones who make the financial decisions in households, but only 20 percent of affluent women agreed. On the contrary, 61 percent of affluent women said financial-decision making was a joint effort

“When we asked the questions in our research, although men perceived that they were actually making more of the decisions, the reality was that in most of the households the primary financial decisions were jointly made,” said Catherine S. McBreen, managing director of Spectrem Group, a Chicago-based consulting firm that specializes in affluent and retirement markets..

The Spectrem survey polled more than 500 households with more than $500,000 of investable assets. There are more than 8 million households in the United States that are considered affluent; these families make up the top 5 percent of U.S. income brackets.  They consist of small-business owners, executives, lawyers and doctors.

Spectrem director Tom Wynn said he was not surprised to see that men and women disagreed on the issue: “I think that a lot of times in financial decision making we’re not really aware of what the other spouse is doing. We tend to think ‘I’m making all the decisions’ whereas the other spouse thinks it’s a joint process.  I think it boils down to a basic communication issue.”

But despite the difference in opinion, almost two-thirds of rich families said they pool their finances together.

The study also found generational differences; those over age 65 were more likely to have the husband make the decisions.

However, John Schneider, president of Private Wealth Advisors, a Pittsburgh-based wealth management company, said times are changing.

“Over the last 15 years, I have started to work with more and more women who are younger in their forties and fifties,” he said.  “I think there’s much more of a balance today and its very rare today that a man would come into the office without his wife. Now I see much more of a joint effort and at times women coming in without their spouse.”

McBreen believes this is largely due to the fact that the majority of affluent women today work full-time.

“The women—because they’re more educated, because they’re more involved in the decision making, because many of them are working—clearly believe they’re more involved,” she said.

Fifty-two percent of rich women are employed full-time, while 18 percent work part-time.  Households with a stay-at-home spouse make up only 21 percent of the affluent population.

“The mythical American household promulgated in the 1950’s where the husband works and the wife stays home and bakes cupcakes is clearly a delusion of the past – even for affluent households,” the report stated.

While the study found that husbands tended to make most of the decisions in families where only one person was working, Wynn said more and more affluent housewives are getting in on the action as well.

“I think that we’re definitely seeing a trend in that way,” said Wynn.  “They are taking a greater interest in decision making and the financial well being of the families.”

For Schneider, however, “stay-at-home moms are usually more active than men.”

“They are well educated, they have worked and they have saved money,” he explained.  “And if they are at home they have greater access to the internet and have more flexibility to come into the office.  I really talk to the women more than the men in those instances.  They’re just more accessible.”

Minal Shah, interviewed by Medill News Service, confirmed the study’s conclusions.  She is a stay-at-home mom from Schaumburg, Ill., who considers herself upper middleclass.  She said she and her husband, a small-business entrepreneur, share the financial decision making power.

“When we emigrated here from India so many things were unknown, and it was better that both of us got involved,” she said.  “Besides, the majority of the time the people who migrate here are well-educated and that’s the way the lifestyle is here.  We like it that we both get involved.”

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