The March 26, 2012 Time Magazine cover depicts a figure in a skirt aside the feature article entitled The Richer Sex; Women are overtaking men as America’s breadwinners. I found myself staring at the figure, not realizing immediately why it appeared so dissonant with me until it hit me; double barreled.
First of all, the head of the woman is pictured with a Susan B. Anthony dollar coin, whereas the article stated that even today a significant “wage gap persists: women working full time earn a median wage that is 81% of what men make.” So, while the women’s wages have indeed risen from 59% to 81% of what men make for the same exact job with the same exact qualifications, the question remains, how much juggling is really required for women breadwinners to indeed support their families in the lifestyle in which they are accustomed when they’re only earning a fraction of what men are earning for those very same jobs? I’m thinking a LOT!
The second incongruity was that the $1.00 dollar bills are folded into the shape of a woman wearing a skirt. How yesteryear is that? I mean women have fought long and hard to get to the 81% level of males’ wages, and for the most part, they didn’t do it in a skirt; they did it in construction, engineering, as well as teaching and executive management, yet they were not hindered by the confines of a skirt. Was that depiction of a skirt, to intentionally avert the comparison that more “women now wear the pants” in families? Hmmmm.
Regardless of the cover picture, the article brings to light a remarkable sea change, insomuch as the fact that we’ve not seen this kind of seismic shift—whereby if the trends continue by the next generation, more families will be supported by women than by men–since women entered the workforce en masse after World War II, led by none other than Rosie the Riveter.
The US Bureau of Labor’s 2009 study shows that nearly 4 in 10 working wives outearn their husbands; an increase of more than 50% from 20 years hence.¹
¹ Mundy, Liza. “The Richer Sex.” Time Magazine 26 March 2012:30.
The old “deal” of women being subordinate to their husbands providing domestic services and sexual fidelity is officially off. Simone de Beauvoir, the famous French philosopher stated that women were poorer in every sense for ever accepting that “deal”, yet:
1) I don’t think there was ever a choice since society pegged the salaries of women significantly lower and gender-restricted several lucrative industries, and
2) I think that society at large was poorer in forcing individuals into gender-restricted roles that in most cases, didn’t work well, or at all. One wonders how much of this contributed/contributes to the over 51% of first marriage divorces today?
Interesting to me, as a Certified Financial Planner who advocates that couples routinely discuss their money, and major spending decisions, a Pew Research Center study found that when men were the dominant breadwinner, the major decisions were made jointly. Conversely where the woman was the dominant breadwinner, she made twice as many major buying decisions.²
While buying decisions are said to include financial services, it has been my experience over the past 33 years, that women still lag woefully behind in making the investment decisions. And when they do invest, they do so without proper education or training about how to create and monitor a portfolio, but rather with a mantra and investment discipline that matches, of “I don’t want to lose ANY money”. This results in women, even higher earning (and major breadwinner) women still invest more heavily in Interest Only and Bond investments, rather than stock investments. Why does this make a difference you ask? Well, first of all, historically speaking, no other asset class other than stocks has kept pace with the ravages of inflation; no other asset class has produced a return that would not only survive one’s tax bracket bite, yet also outperform whatever the CPI (measurement of inflation) rate was that year in order to buy the goods and services in that and future years. So, why have women eschewed stocks? They have succumbed to their own fear-filled emotions in pulling out of
² Mundy, Liza. “The Richer Sex.” Time Magazine 26 March 2012:31.
the stock market when it ebbs–as the stock market inevitably does in the normal cycle of investing—and then staying on the sidelines for fear of losing more.
Women need to think differently about money, and about investing. And when that happens, women will at least have a fighting chance to build retirement nest eggs, all the while supporting themselves, and perhaps a family as well. Until then, women’s financial needs will largely go unmet, and they will inevitably face a much longer working life than would otherwise be necessary.
The article speaks about men having “no map for the wilderness” of suddenly forsaking everything they’ve been conditioned and socialized to believe about their role in their families and in the larger society. Well while that is a concern, it is certainly LESS of a concern than my concern for women, who will NEED to invest wisely, as they generally take multiple year respites from the work force to have and/or raise children, and whose very retirement plans will need to provide many more years, to match their extended longevity—that is, unless their health declines as has been the case with men dealing with breadwinner stress, which will ultimately shorten women’s lives as well.
Let’s hope we women can use the men’s experience as a warning, and seek medical check- ups on a routine basis, so that we can nip any medical ailment in the bud, and continue to pursue our dreams—whether that’s as a stay-at-home mom, a mom in a breadwinning career, or a single woman in either or both capacities—as I also learned that 41% of babies are born to single women.³
The statistics of the last year have increasingly drawn our awareness to the sea change of women’s roles, and responsibilities; one of which is to attend to their/our finances—even if it is to delegate the core responsibility to a fee-only (objective) financial planner, as if our lives depended upon it, because they do.
We Can Do It Women™!