Divorce and Gender Inequality in Finances
By: M. Scott Gordon
Rates of “gray divorce” continue to rise in the U.S., according to a recent article in Bloomberg. Gray divorce is a term that refers to married couples who are aged 50 or older and are deciding to file for divorce later in life. For many older couples, divorce did not seem like a possibility earlier on in the marriage despite varying degrees of unhappiness. Now, for many of those older adults who are filing petitions for the dissolution of marriage, the process of divorce is liberating.
However, as the Bloomberg article suggests, many gray divorces occur among heterosexual couples in which wives played very little to no role in handling the financial aspects of the marriage. As such, when it comes time for the divorce to be finalized, many women need to handle the large financial decisions they had let their spouses manage when they were together. In other words, older women need to begin learning their way around financial matters that their husbands attended to during the marriage. Yet it is not only older women who are at risk of having financial difficulty in the event of divorce. According to the article, gender inequality in financial decision-making spans multiple generations.
Gender Inequality Still Plays a Role in Marital Finances
Is it true that most older women who make up the “gray divorce” statistics did not play a major role in handling family finances? This “gender gap in decision-making,” according to the article, actually remains a major issue in current marriages, thereby emphasizing just how significant that gender gap was in marriages from the 1960s through 1980s. To be sure, a large number of married women still leave major financial planning decisions in the hands of their spouse.
That information comes out of a report from UBS Global Wealth Management, which suggests that older women are not the only ones who are in the more traditional gender roles. Indeed, more than 60 percent of women who are married and identify as millennials—those born between the years 1981 and 1996, according to the Pew Research Center—self-report that they leave financial decision-making tasks to their husbands. That number is even higher than for women in the baby boomer generation, in which only 54 percent of wives report that their husbands make the financial decisions.
Women Who Get Divorced Regret Not Participating in Financial Decision-making
Nearly 80 percent of men in the marriages surveyed indicate that they are confident about their ability to make long-term financial decisions and have enough knowledge about finances to do so. That number represents about double the total percentage of women who said the same about themselves.
A majority of women who are currently divorced or widowed indicated that they have regrets about not being involved in financial decision-making processes in their marriages. According to the UBS Global Wealth Management report, many women who are alone wish they had been more involved in finances during their marriage. Almost all of those women recommend that younger married women stay more involved in financial decisions and investment tasks in their marriages in order to break this cycle.
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