25 June 2020

Women living in couples with a male partner are almost twice as likely as men to take charge of household budgeting (37% vs 22%). They are also more likely to suffer from ‘spending guilt’, according to a new report published today by the Fawcett Society, the leading gender equality charity, in partnership with Starling Bank. 

Two in five (38%) women living with a male partner reported taking charge of most household spending decisions, versus nearly three in ten men (28%). Approximately half of the women surveyed (49%) said they primarily make the decisions on groceries, compared to just 14% of men, and even more women (56%) say they make the decisions on everyday household products all or most of the time, such as toilet paper and bin bags. Additionally, 50% of women with children reported taking the lead on choosing childcare, compared to 14% of men with children, and nearly six in ten (58%) women primarily make the decisions on which presents to buy for friends and family, compared to only 8% of men.

However, carrying the burden of responsibility for financial decisions in the household may also be causing additional stress, with women in couples almost twice as likely as men (37% vs 21%) to feel guilty when purchasing something for themselves. The findings echo research conducted as part of Starling’s Make Money Equal campaign, which looked at the way that the media talks to women and found that 65% of articles define women as excessive spenders, advising them to limit shopping ‘splurges’, save small sums or depend on financial support. 

On larger financial decisions, such as booking a holiday or finding a mortgage, the research shows that two thirds (67%) of both women and men say they make these together. This marks a shift from previous studies,i where men were found to have more influence and the final say over large and more important spending decisions.

The report also highlighted a generational difference in how couples manage their money. It found that 40% of men and women aged between 18-34 prioritise financial independence over sharing money with their partner, compared to just 18% and 28% respectively for those aged over 35. This could explain why the study also found that older couples (respondents over 55) are far more like to have a joint account than younger couples (64% vs 46%).

Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society Chief Executive said:

Women increasingly want and expect financial independence. But couples are still dividing tasks and decision making along heavily gendered lines - with women continuing to do the majority of unpaid care work and housework in male-female households. This has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, with women taking on even more hours of unpaid care and domestic work. At the same time, women are much more likely than male partners to have lost their job or been furloughed. We won’t achieve financial equality for women until unpaid care work is shared equally between women and men.

Anne Boden, Chief Executive of Starling Bank commented:

Equality in household financial decision making remains an issue. Whilst it’s good to see more women prioritising financial independence and having an equal say when it comes to big expenditures, we’re concerned that women continue to take on the burden of responsibility for the ‘traditional’ tasks of budgeting and decision-making for everyday household items. We understand financial decision making is complex and unique to each household, and that the recent coronavirus crisis may well impact these findings, however, we believe the responsibility of financial admin should be spread as equally as possible. We hope these findings encourage policy makers to urgently review existing policies that perpetuate current trends.

To improve equality at home, the Fawcett Society believes Government and policy makers have a strong role to play and would like to see:

  • Default flexible working to make all jobs flexible unless there is a business reason for them not to be.
  • Transformation of the parental leave system to give fathers a longer, better paid period of paid leave.
  • A carers' credit towards workplace pensions, to ensure that women's pension contributions do not end during periods of maternity leave.

Additionally, Government and the financial sector should invest in better financial education for women and men throughout their lives, to build their financial resilience and safeguard against financial insecurity in the future.

Read the full press release

Read the full report

Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash