The majority of women have emerged as primary breadwinners, whether they like it or not, according to Prudential Financial's latest biennial study, the "Financial Experience & Behaviors Among Women."
The study, in its 12th year, found that 53 percent of the more than 1,400 women surveyed are primary breadwinners, with increasing numbers of women assuming this role as a result of partners losing jobs during the financial crisis, divorce and women deciding to marry later. The survey was broadened this year to include women of all income levels, larger representation of women from diverse backgrounds and comparative data on men's financial attitudes.
The survey also found that, despite their role as breadwinners, only 20 percent of women felt well prepared to make financial decisions, compared to 45 percent of men.
Susan Blount, senior vice president and general counsel at Prudential Financial, said that while past research focused on women who are primary or joint financial decision makers, the new data shows that consistent with demographic trends and reflecting the impact of the financial crisis, the majority of women today are financially responsible for generating their own and their families' income.
"The study shows that with women in more control than ever of their finances, they face significant challenges when it comes to financial decision making, and admit to a lack of knowledge about financial solutions that can help them," Blount said.
The research also indicates that women have been affected by the financial crisis to a greater extent than men, with 70 percent saying they have lost ground. Of particular concern: About 30 percent of women surveyed report they are struggling to make ends meet or are no longer able to keep up with expenses.
In addition, roughly 30 percent of women say they've experienced a layoff in their household as a direct result of the economic downturn. That said, women are surprisingly positive about the future, with nearly 40 percent indicating they are optimistic about the country's economic prospects. Of those queried, 24 percent of men report being very pessimistic about the economy compared to 16 percent of women.
While the majority of women reported being primary breadwinners, approximately 22 percent of women who are married or living with a partner report being the one who makes the most money. It varies greatly by race, with 33 percent of Asian American and 31 percent of African-American married women being the higher-income earners, compared to 19 percent of white women.
Female breadwinners are more likely to say they maintain completely separate financial accounts and investments from their spouse. Underscoring a gap in financial knowledge, only 10 percent of female breadwinners feel very knowledgeable about financial products and services, and are only half as likely as men to feel well prepared to make wise financial decisions.
The study polled 1,410 American women and 604 American men between the ages of 25 and 68. A copy of the report is available at www.prudential.com/women.