Since the 1960s, the U.S. has seen a steady increase in female breadwinners and breadwinning mothers, flipping the script on traditional gender, marital and family norms. Women are the sole or primary breadwinner in 16% of marriages today, versus 5% in 1972, and in nearly a third of marriages both spouses earn the same amount of income, according to a 2023 Pew Research Center report. 

The growing economic contributions of women are an established fact. With an estimated shift of as much as $30 trillion in assets into the hands of women over the next three to five years and younger women increasing their financial savvy, we are bound to see a shift in the traditional “key” financial decision maker (currently, two-thirds are men). 

This transformation creates tremendous opportunity to help grow female earnings through investments, encouraging financial planning practices to tailor approaches to serve financially empowered women. 

What’s Different About Planning For Women  
From longer life spans to serving as primary caregivers, women’s lives present distinct planning challenges. Women are more educated than ever, making up a majority of the college-educated labor force. As women pursue advanced education, they often delay life events such as getting married and having children, adding complexity to their financial decisions. For example, if a woman defers childbearing into her 30s or later, she may face the challenge of paying for college tuition at a time when planners recommend maximizing retirement savings. 

While retirement planning is important for everyone, women on average live six years longer than men, making them more likely to be widowed and financially self-reliant in their later years. Further, women are more likely to encounter breaks in their careers for caregiving, which may reduce lifetime earnings.   

According to UBS’ Own Your Worth report, although women are earning more and living longer, they are often less engaged in making both short- and long-term financial decisions. One reason for this may be lack of time. Women breadwinners are still taking on many of the household responsibilities. Women spend about two hours more per week on caregiving than their husbands and two and a half hours more on housework, experiencing significantly less leisure time, according to the Pew Research Center. This lack of time to dedicate to their finances may result in deferring financial decisions and giving up a say in key considerations. 

As a result, proper planning for women is critically important to ensure their current needs are met and a plan is place for long-term financial success.  

What Women Want Versus What They Get 
So, is the financial services industry fully meeting the needs of women today? Research shows there is still room for improvement. A majority of women (64%) surveyed by Boston Consulting Group in 2020 said they felt their wealth management firm needed to improve its value proposition. The two groups that expressed the most discomfort with the status quo were high-net-worth women and women professionals. 

The research points to common issues, such as an advisor who mainly focuses attention on the male partner in a relationship or one who misjudges a woman’s level of comprehension and oversimplifies the information they provide. 

Within the predominantly male financial services industry, unconscious bias may cast a long shadow on the client experience for women. When financial professionals make assumptions about a female client’s needs or knowledge level, they do her a disservice. An examination of personal biases should be foundational for planners serving clients of any gender. 

Serving Breadwinner Women Better 
Focusing on improving the client experience for women is simply a smart business strategy. Here are three areas that can make an impact. 

•  Ease women’s time-based conflict. Financial professionals serving female breadwinners can help with the juggle of professional and personal priorities. This might look like using technology to aggregate assets for all-in-one convenience, or recording a video of a financial plan update so a woman can watch it and respond on her terms. It might take the form of educating clients about the value of their time and helping them identify responsibilities they can delegate or outsource. By encouraging women to share their challenges, advisors can develop personalized strategies to overcome them.

• Create an intentional approach to counteracting unconscious gender bias through resources such as the CFP Board’s new book, The Psychology of Financial Planning. It provides an overview of client and planner attitudes, values and biases as the first order of business, with frank encouragement for financial planners to reflect on their own financial background and biases to enhance client empathy. 

• Invest time in building client confidence. Seek to understand the needs of women breadwinners, setting aside assumptions, and provide a collaborative space that encourages financial engagement. Watch the webinar Key Insights into Becoming a Trusted Advisor for additional strategies. 

Women’s wealth is undoubtedly on the rise, and our industry has the great opportunity—and great responsibility—to help champion their financial futures.   

Emily Koochel, Ph.D., is the manager of financial wellness at eMoney Advisor