40 Percent of Households Are Now Headed by Women

Updated 10/24/19

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Despite the fact that it’s 2018, we still have far too many antiquated ideas about gender roles. It’s often assumed that, in heterosexual relationships, men will make more money and be in charge of the finances, while women will rule the domestic domain, even when they also have a job outside of the home. But new statistics from Refinery29 and Chase got to the bottom of what modern households actually look like—and the results were really interesting.

They found that women are now the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of households, which is amazing. Though we are still struggling with a gender pay gap and the still-staggering glass ceiling, it’s heartening to see women leading their households. “More than ever, we are seeing women seek out financial advice and guidance for the benefit of their relationship,” Priya Malani, co-founder of Stash Wealth tells Brides. “Sometimes the guys are also interested, other times they appear to be ‘along for the ride’ and other times, they are totally disinterested. The number one concern for women: are we checking all the right boxes or are we missing opportunities to be smarter with our money, individually and as a couple.”

And it turns out that women making more money and being in charge of the finances isn’t just great for women—it also just makes sense. “We love seeing females acting as ‘CFO of the household’ because studies show that women are better than handling money than men—which is crazy considering the generally accepted narrative is that women are ‘bad at money’,” Malani says. “Truth is, women have better credit scores and higher savings rates.” Be proud, ladies.

But that’s not all that Refinery29 and Chase found. There’s a lot to know about modern households and, though much of what they learned focuses only on heterosexual couples, it’s fascinating to see how the times are changing. Here are the statistics you need to know.

1. Some Female Head of Households Out-Earn Their Partners, but Not All

When it comes to female breadwinners, it’s not always the case that they earn more than their partners. While 37 percent of female breadwinners out-earn their partners, in 63 percent of cases they were single mothers, so they are the primary and only breadwinner. It’s an important distinction, though in both cases the women are still taking on the financial responsibility.

2. Although for Millennials, the Statistics Are a Little Different

When it comes to how millennials fill in the gaps, the results are really interesting. Millennials make up 14 percent of women who out-earn their partner and 27 percent of single moms.

3. Many People Still Think Children Do Better If Their Mothers Don’t Work

This was a contentious issue—51 percent of adults think that children are better off with stay-at-home moms, so it was almost a 50/50 split. But only 45 percent of women agreed, compared to 57 percent of men. Considering so many women have to work to keep their families going—and manage to have happy, healthy children—it’s disappointing to see that half of people still have such dated views.

4. Women Being the Primary Breadwinner Can Affect Their Relationships

In heterosexual couples where the woman was the primary breadwinner, the couples were 15 percent less likely to describe themselves as “very happy” and 46 percent more likely to have discussed separation in the past year than couples where the man is the breadwinner. Some, though not all, men still struggle with feeling emasculated by their partner earning more money, which is probably part of the issue.

5. ...Though Times Are Changing

The number of people who think that marriage is better when the man earns more than the woman is dropping—while 40 percent of people thought that was true in 1997, only 28 percent of people agree with it now. So there’s progress, even if it’s not as quickly as we'd like.

6. Stay at Home Dads Are on the Rise

From 1989 to 2012, the number of stay at home dads nearly doubled—with 2 million dads staying at home to look after the kids.

7. Most Women Want to Postpone Starting a Family for a Career

Eighty-three percent of women said that they wanted to delay having children to focus on their career, while 79 percent of men said the same. While many wanted to save money and provide for their family, some said that career progression also played a role. That’s probably why the average age people have their first child is rising—from 24.9 years old in 2000 to 26.3 years old in 2014.

8. The Most Important Issue Is How It Made Them Feel

But perhaps the most interesting data about female breadwinners was how they felt about it—and how they thought their partners felt. While 55 percent said they felt independent and 46 percent were proud of their status, 55 percent also felt burdened—and, crucially, only 35 percent felt appreciated. And 49 percent of female breadwinners thought their partners felt inadequate, while 47 percent thought they felt embarrassed.

Those statistics are worrying. Neither party, no matter the gender, should feel embarrassed or guilty about earning more or less than their partner. Unless you’re willfully choosing not to get a job when you are able to and are deliberately using your partner for their finances, most people are just doing the best they can. They find a balance based on schedules, salaries, childcare, and a host of factors to see who should take on more work and who should work less. And, in many couples, both parties are just working as hard as they can.

It’s great to see that women are becoming the primary breadwinners, though there’s still a long way to go with the gender pay gap. We all need to embrace it. Whether you’re a woman or you’re married to one, there’s nothing wrong with women experiencing financial empowerment. There’s more than enough to go around.

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