When One Makes More: How to Manage Financial Inequality

For most of us, talking about money-related matters with our significant other can be an exercise fraught with tension, especially if one person earns more than the other. Even in the 21st century, “financial inequality” remains the norm in many relationships, and can negatively affect the conversations we have with our partners or those closest to us about finances, life/work goals and long-term plans.

But let’s look at some facts that could influence our approach to such discussions. When it comes to female monetary power, wealth in the hands of women — whether assets or income — is a relatively new and evolving phenomenon that shows no sign of slowing down. And consider this positive news: According to the BMO Wealth Institute, women own 51 percent of all personal wealth in the United States. What’s more, women are projected to inherit 70 percent of the $41 trillion in intergenerational wealth transfer expected over the next 40 years, according to researchers at Boston College’s Social Welfare Research Institute.

That said, income gaps between partners remain a more common occurrence than income parity. Men still earn more than women, and the difference between what they earn and what women earn is relatively significant. For example: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2015, only 25 percent of female/male couples had annual earnings that differed no more than $5,000. In just 9 percent of cases, the gap between a woman’s higher income and her male partner’s was $30,000 or more; in 35 percent of cases, the gap between a male partner’s higher earnings and his female partner’s was $30,000 or more.

In the changing earnings landscape, we at The Humphreys Group see an opportunity. As women continue to make inroads toward closing income gaps, and as more women become household breadwinners, we believe we can help develop new rules for discussing money matters with the people who are close to us. We can begin to change the tone of these conversations so that both parties benefit, regardless of the amount of a person’s take-home pay.

How do we do this? Through our research and ongoing client discussions, we count ourselves among the financial experts who recommend the following strategies to help improve money-related conversations when inequalities exist:

  • Discuss and acknowledge each other’s values, goals and priorities
  • Schedule time to make financial plans and decisions together
  • Realize the value of the non-financial ways each of you contributes to your lives and households
  • Work to maintain a balance when it comes to household duties and expectations
  • Communicate money concerns with each other and address tensions triggered by financial inequality

You are far from alone if you feel an edge to conversations about money from time to time, especially if financial inequality is a factor in your discussions. But we believe relationships can transcend all sorts of differences and obstacles — not just those related to money — with open, honest communication and understanding.

Contact The Humphreys Group advisors for more insight and information on how to improve your conversations in ways that benefit both your financial relationships and your financial planning strategies.

Diane Bourdo, CFP®
Diane Bourdo, CFP®

Diane Bourdo is the President of The Humphreys Group. Diane has dedicated her life’s work to helping women make smart financial decisions. For nearly 30 years, she has developed investment management and financial planning strategies that allow her clients to create lives that reflect their values. Diane was named an InvestmentNews 2020 Women to Watch and has been recognized in Forbes, SF Chronicle, NY Times and more for her work and writing.

Diane Bourdo, CFP®
Diane Bourdo, CFP®

Diane Bourdo is the President of The Humphreys Group. Diane has dedicated her life’s work to helping women make smart financial decisions. For nearly 30 years, she has developed investment management and financial planning strategies that allow her clients to create lives that reflect their values. Diane was named an InvestmentNews 2020 Women to Watch and has been recognized in Forbes, SF Chronicle, NY Times and more for her work and writing.

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