A Challenge for Men and Women

All of us know that women tend to outlive men. A compilation of life expectancy lists – from the World Health Organization, the United Nations, the Global Burden of Disease Study and the CIA – on Wikipedia show the age breakdowns for what I assume is every, or nearly every, country. While there may be one or two countries where men outlive women on average, I do not recall seeing one on my scroll through all four lists.

Life Expectancy Lists

What does this mean in the context of personal finance? It means that most women will spend the last few years of their lives without a partner and solely responsible for managing their finances. Perhaps I am mistaken – and it wouldn’t be the first time – but my experience has been that men are generally more comfortable dealing with financial matters and in fact, are more likely to be responsible for managing household finances. (It is entirely possible it is a generational thing … I say this as a Gen Xer and child of Boomers.) Millennial ladies, if I am way off base, feel free to chastise me! If anyone can share a link to a good survey/study on the question of ‘who tends to manage household finances?’ that would be great.

Two recent events have brought this thought to the forefront of my mind, hence this post. First, my father passed away last month, meaning that in addition to a change in my mother’s household income, she has to be more attuned to managing her near (daily) and long-term finances. Fortunately, at least I believe fortunately, she has me to assist. The second was driving to work this morning. As I pulled out of my driveway and headed down my street, I saw a recently widowed – her husband passed about a year ago – neighbor out picking up the morning paper; and just as I finished waving to her, I spotted and waved to a second neighbor – who has lived alone for as long (seven years) as my wife and I have lived in our home – walking her dog. I would guess both women are in their mid-60s.

Seeing both women, and thinking of my mother (70) who lives a few blocks away, I was struck by the fact that these three women are managing their own money (or have made arrangements for someone else to manage it) and I wondered how that is working for them. While I am well aware of my mother’s status, of course I have no idea how these other two ladies are managing their money and their comfort level with doing it.

The challenges? If you are a man who prides himself on learning about personal finance and have the primary responsibility for managing your family’s finances, not only include your wife in your planning, take the time to help each of the ladies (wife, daughter, granddaughter, sister, mother, mother-in-law, nieces) in your life learn more about personal finance and become more comfortable with money management. The odds are that in their later lives there will be a period when they have sole decision-making responsibility.

If you are a woman with a significant other, and you are not intimately involved in your household’s financial planning, start improving your financial literacy today and get involved in your household’s planning today. Your future self will thank you.

Blogger-in-Chief here at RetirementSavvy and author of Sin City Greed, Cream City Hustle and RENDEZVOUS WITH RETIREMENT: A Guide to Getting Fiscally Fit.


  1. “If anyone can share a link to a good survey/study on the question of ‘who tends to manage household finances?’ that would be great.” I can share something from a book if that’s OK : ) Katherine Porter’s book Broke: How Debt Bankrupts the Middle Class includes research by Deborah Thorne about gender roles and finances. Here’s a quotation from page 139: “… paying bills is gender neutral and generally equally shared … when household income is limited or inadequate, the financial labor becomes gendered and shifts to women.”
    Despite the fact that the management of household finances is gender neutral, my husband and I fit in with what you describe. I had my head in the sand big time when it came to our finances, and I had to get it out to make our journey out of debt actually happen. And it is happening. It is so important for both spouses to be involved in the management of household finances.

    • Thanks for sharing, Prudence. “It is so important for both spouses to be involved in the management of household finances.” Indeed. I believe my experiences are a reflection of the fact that I am an older Gen Xer and a child of Boomers. Generations where it is probably more likely that the male (husband) managed the family’s money. The situation for younger Gen Xers and Millennials is likely exactly as described by Porter, based on Thorne’s research.

      If anyone is interested in the book, here is the Amazon Link.

      Thanks again, Prudence for sharing your thoughts and pointing out a useful source.

  2. Good comments one and all. Having a spouse with no interest in our finances I feel a good financial advisor (he takes care of 1/2 of the retirement money I do the other 1/2) can be an important part of planning for your spouse’s future needs.

    • Thanks for stopping by, my friend and bring up a point. It is always possible that one spouse, husband or wife, simply is not interested or refuses to participate in the financial planning. In such cases, a third party such as a financial planner/adviser is a viable option. Even though fees are a negative, it is a better option than leaving someone to swim on their own and risking financial ruin.

  3. Interesting concept. I have a word document called If Hannah Dies, so that my husband knows what to do financially if I die. How to set up auto-bills under his name, how to collect life insurance, how to collect social security, a few suggestions for life insurance investments, name of our accountant, etc.

    There is no word document called If Rob dies, because he’s not allowed to die first (unprobable since he is 5 years older and with worse genetic makeup), and because I am more of the financial manager though we share decision making responsibilities.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Hannah and sharing your approach. Like you, I have provided detailed guidance for what should happen, with respect to finances, when I die. Not only does it address relevant information for each respective savings/investment account, it provides suggestions for how each recipient should handle their inheritance as there are different options/tax implications for spouses and non-spouses. I’m a firm believer in providing as much detail as possible and removing any doubt.

      Also, something I have touched on previously, we hold family financial summits (me, my wife, my mother and a brother) twice a year to ensure everyone is on board with all matters financial.

  4. Interesting sharing. Time to gear up and change for the betterment!

    • Indeed. It is in the best interest of the entire family for each member to be financially literate and involved, on some level, with financial planning. Thanks for stopping by, Crafty Girl.

  5. Sorry for your loss James.

    This is an excellent challenge. I believe we have talked before about reaching others, although it may not show in the metrics or by the number of comments on a particular post people are engaged. I’ve had a few offline conversations with connections on Twitter about an article I shared from Retirement Savvy and it inspired them to take control of their financial situation; for one it was cleaning their credit, for another it was to start investing and for another it was to make better spending choices.

    Keep sharing.

    • Thanks, Brian. Fortunately, I am part of a close knit family which has made his passing easier.

      “…although it may not show in the metrics or by the number of comments on a particular post people are engaged. I’ve had a few offline conversations with connections on Twitter about an article I shared from Retirement Savvy and it inspired them to take control of their financial situation.” The posts here tend not to generate a lot of comments, at least compared to some other personal finance blogs I have visited, so it is gratifying to know that others are benefiting from what is being shared, even if they may not be taking the time to leave a comment.

      I plan to keep sharing. I firmly believe the gift of financial literacy is one which costs nothing to share, but offers immeasurable returns.

  6. Great points. I would say that this is true for my wife and I…I’m the one who handles finances. I’m a personal finance blogger, I love everything about the topic! =) While my wife doesn’t take much interest in it, I always try to communicate with her what is going on so that she knows and try to explain to her the decision-making process.

    • Involving her serves not only your combined short-term interests, but potentially, her long-term interests as well. Nicely done, my friend.

  7. An excellent and “timely” post James. For the past 20+ years, I’ve been solely responsible for managing our financial future. It’s just been in the past 3-4 years that Kathleen has started to play a more proactive role and it’s been very enlightening (in a positive way). My mother (college degree but a stay at home Mom since marriage) became a widow at the young age of 47 so I know first hand how imperative it is for our wives to be completely in tuned with not only day to day financial matters but long term as well!

    • Indeed. Since the odds are that the women in our lives will outlive us, or their respective spouses, it is in each family’s best interest to ensure all are financially literate even if everyone does not necessarily participate in the day-to-day nuances of managing the money. Thanks for stopping by, my friend and adding some personal insight.

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