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Younger women are twice as likely to make their families’ financial decisions as in previous generations

Married women 45 and younger are twice as likely as older married women to make the financial decisions in their families, according to a new report from Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.

The report surveyed 4,000 women of all ages. It found that more women, regardless of martial status, are taking control of their money: 75% of women under 45 reported managing their money on their own, compared to 50% of women over 55.

The difference is partly due to women marrying at later ages than their parents’ generation, says Kirstin Hill, chief operating officer for Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. When they get married later, it’s common for both partners to continue to manage at least part of their finances and investments separately.

Women are also more educated than ever and are more often the primary breadwinners in their households. That adds to their confidence with handling money.

“Arguably, younger women are standing on the shoulders of generations of women before them and now seizing the opportunity to take control of their finances,” says Hill.

Younger women are also actively educating themselves on financial matters and are more comfortable talking about their finances with others, says Hill.

Another portion of the study measured unconscious bias in the financial advising industry. It found that while most advisors have “good intentions,” they are still more likely to assume that a woman does not have much investing knowledge (even if she is the decision maker in her family) or to assume that women are inherently risk averse, which is not always the case.

To demonstrate unconscious bias, Merrill Lynch researchers used live eye tracking technology to measure how long a financial advisor spent making eye contact with each partner in a heterosexual couple in the same meeting. It found that advisors, regardless of their gender, spent 60% of the meeting focusing on the male partner.

Women investors are aware of the bias, and they are more likely than men to do something about it: 35% of women said they would switch advisors after such an experience, compared to 30% of men.

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This shows that women today are more comfortable taking control of their finances in ways past generations were not, Hill says.  

“They are comfortable talking about money, they are comfortable making decisions about their money, they are comfortable asking questions and owning decisions around the advice they receive,” she says.

Going forward, she expects more women to take the reigns in financial decision making.

“That is momentum that can snowball, and I think that would be wonderful,” she says.

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