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Wives and the Checkbook

According to "New Economics of Marriage: The Rise of Wives" by Pew Research Center analysts Richard Fry and D'Vera Cohn (January 19, 2010), women are besting men "in education and earnings growth." Their statistics are noteworthy for countless reasons.

  • An observation that "marriage rates have declined for all adults since 1970 and gone down most sharply for the least educated men and women" suggests that those with degrees (and therefore statistically likely to earn more over their lifetime) are walking down the aisle.
  • For Americans between 30 to 44 years of age, there are more females than males with college degrees.
  • Three out of ten unmarried women with college degrees realize greater economic gains versus only fifteen percent of unmarried male who had gone on for higher education.
  • Household incomes grew for three out of ten married men with only a high school diploma. Less than two out of ten unmarried males with no college under their belts saw their checkbooks get bigger.
  • In both 1970 and 2007, 53 percent of survey-takers report that husbands and wives had the same level of education. In 2007, 28 percent of households declared that wives had more education versus 20% in 1970.
  • When the wife earns more money, only 21 percent of the respondent households claim the husband as the primary financial decision-maker versus 46% of situations where the Missus gets to choose. When the husband earns more, the number climbs to 35% in terms of final say on investments and purchases. In 36% of homes, the female better half decides.

In "She Works, They Are Happy" (New York Times, January 24, 2010), Tara Parker-Pope offers that divorce rates have dropped from 23 per 1,000 couples thirty years ago to 17 today, in part due to the ability for women to earn a living without help from a spouse. The result, she avers, is a change in how much time men spend on domestic chores and earning the bacon. While not yet an equal split, today's "to do list" at home is a far cry from the plaudits of Arlie Hochschild. In her still popular book, The Second Shift, this University of California - Berkeley sociology professor laments the imbalance between working men and women when it came to childcare and housework.

Demographic research about men, women and money always provokes thought and is great fodder for cocktail party chats. That's not all. The ramifications for individual financial planning, retirement plan policy-making and industry-wide sales and marketing efforts are immense. Women tend to live longer which necessitates a large enough piggy bank to pay bills over a longer period of time. Then there are all sorts of studies about how lifetime decisions are influenced by gender, age, education and income. Marketers cannot ignore the fact that their pitches must encompass the "who" and "how" of sales for IRA, mutual fund, annuities and insurance.

As the female earnings landscape is altered, office dynamics are not immune to change. InThe Male Factor: The Unwritten Rules, Misperceptions, and Secret Beliefs of Men in the Workplace (December 2009), author Shaunti Feldhahn describes the results of a large-scale survey of men to better understand how they judge the opposite sex in a business environment. Not surprising perhaps, she finds that emotions and long-winded discussions (not getting to the point) are looked upon poorly by respondents. This begs the question - Will women change by being more like their male counterparts or will men learn to go with the flow and willingly accept communication differences? Will it depend on whether the boss wears a skirt or gets the coffee instead? 

Disclosure: No positions