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Determining Who Rules Family Financial Decisions

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Written by: Catherine McBreen | Spectrum Group

One of my grandmothers was a lovely woman. She was a great cook, loved to sew, had a garden, canned enough vegetables for the winter and basically took care of everyone. She never had a job and fit the stereotype of a 1950s homemaker. But when it came to financial matters she totally deferred to my grandfather. She passed away before my grandfather but if she had not, it would have been very difficult for her to deal with her finances. You may have had or still have clients like this. My other grandmothers worked and were more involved in (and probably in control of) their household finances. (They also weren’t great cooks…similar to me!) How families make financial decisions is critical for advisors to understand and is changing based on age and sometimes based on occupation.

As you can see below, most households make decisions jointly. However, note that the percentage of households in which men make the financial decisions increases with age with the WWII generation being the most likely to identify the male as making the financial decisions.

Related: The Impact of the 2018 Tax Act on Personal Finances

It’s also interesting to note the difference in household decision-making based upon occupation. As you can see below, when viewed by occupation the break out between joint decision-making and the husband making the decision is much more equally distributed.  There are two notable exceptions.  Investors in the healthcare industry and educators are much more likely to be joint decision-making families than other occupations.

Now the above chart might be seen as proof that women continue to suffer discrimination and “the more things change the more they remain the same”.  But there are two important factors to keep in mind when looking at this data. First, because Spectrem focuses on wealthy households our respondents tend to be older. Second, women are more likely than men to claim they make decisions together while men think they make the decisions. What can I say?

It’s important for advisors to be aware of these findings and to delicately determine how a family makes decisions. The best alternative? Include everyone.

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