Category Archives: dual-income households

Women, Decisions and Money

Who controls the finances in your household?

“Women now account for more than half of the workforce. Additionally, men have suffered the brunt of job losses in the recent recession, meaning that more and more women have been entering the workforce and those that were in it already, are now working longer and harder to make up the difference and make ends meet.  Women are now economic engines, and their progress in the labor force is intrinsically tied to our future prosperity as a country.”

In the States, in a day when, according to Valerie Jerret, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs, women account for half of the national workforce, I would think that at least half of them would be the head of their household. But according to statistics compiled by the Health Resources and Services Administration (, only 10%see themselves as the head of the household.

Women, as it turns out, are working longer hours and at a wider gamut of positions to make up for the revenue lost by men without jobs during the latest recession. But they’re still not controlling the purse strings. Women are still the primary care givers and seen as the nurturers, while the men maintain their traditional role as the worker and bread winner ( What happens when those roles intermingle and mesh? From my look-out point I see many families that have begun to blur the lines of traditional male/female roles. Of those families, many either share the burden of managing the family finances, or the women have taken over the task. What surprises me is that in the families where the women don’t work, as is centuries old custom, they also don’t control the purse strings.  

Why does it matter, you ask? Well, the decisions they make matter because they are different. Women prioritize in a different way than men. They tend to give priority to the children more consistently than men do. Men tend to view adult leisure activities as a must-do more often than women. This is true by statistic (see, as well as by practical observation. Research has also found that men tend to be more confident about their financial prowess so they spend more freely. Women tend to spend more cautiously (if they are in charge of household finances – not if they are given a personal budget) since they are more anxious about handling the finances (see: You may notice if you look around you that the women you know are more concerned about the children’s activities and clothes than the men are. You may also note, if they control the family finances, that they are more cautious and more protective of the money they spend. If you do, then you can personally and practically concur with the research that I’ve found.

Last week, Time magazine featured three prominent women in finance, who effectively now run America’s finances, or at least spearhead its recovery.

Among them was Sheila Bair, the chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and one of the first federal regulators to publicly sound the alarm about the collapse three years ago. She sat next to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chair Mary Schapiro, the first woman to hold that post and the deciding vote to initiate the agency’s recent lawsuit against Goldman Sachs. Across the stage sat Elizabeth Warren, chair of the panel bird-dogging the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bank bailout and the chief advocate for new consumer-finance regulations that banks and their allies have spent millions to oppose.

Read more:,8599,1988953,00.html#ixzz0pMUqhly1
The New Sheriffs of Wall Street” (May 2010 issue)

By contrast, risking political incorrectness, NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF wrote last week in a New York Times Op-Ed (May 22, 2010) that  “if the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children’s prospects would be transformed.”  (see: He was talking about a village in the Congo, but he could just as easily have been talking about an inner city American family. Kristoff argues that in traditionally patriarchal cultures them men control the purse strings and often make decisions that are debilitatingly inappropriate for their families. In a Congolese village Kristof meets an impoverished family who’s children have been expelled from school for non-payment. They are the Obamza’s:

The Obamzas have no mosquito net, even though they have already lost two of their eight children to malaria. They say they just can’t afford the $6 cost of a net. Nor can they afford the $2.50-a-month tuition for each of their three school-age kids.

“It’s hard to get the money to send the kids to school,” Mr. Obamza explained, a bit embarrassed.

But Mr. Obamza and his wife, Valerie, do have cellphones and say they spend a combined $10 a month on call time.

In addition, Mr. Obamza goes drinking several times a week at a village bar, spending about $1 an evening on moonshine. By his calculation, that adds up to about $12 a month — almost as much as the family rent and school fees combined.

The story is not unique. A search on “gender attitudes toward finance” reaps a stream of resources comparing emancipated attitudes toward finance with those of traditionalist, and finds that societies with traditional notions of finance as a man’s realm are dis-served. Mostly the women in these societies toil and the children suffer, while the men decide how to squander what little they have as best they can.

If you believe Time magazine, you’d have to believe that women are becoming more accustomed to a role of financier, rather than back seat consumer. But if you look at Kristof’s Op-Ed, you’d have to think that across the world women still find themselves without control on home budgeting. Whereas in the States, more control over finances may be just a matter of asking or taking on the task, around the globe the lack of financial control for women is a product of age-old preconceptions that keep hard working, good thinking women out of the realm of finance.

Unfortunately, the staus quo may dis-serve some of the neediest families around the world and even at home. But attitudes can be changed. Less than a century ago, here in the states, a woman working and controlling the household finances equally with her husband would have been unthinkable. Today it is practical. No reason why tradition can’t assimilate to change in every other corner of the world…as long as we make sure we get out the word that we, globally, expect the empowerment of women to beat its path forward in every corner of the world.


Bullying – tougher on women

Phoebe Prince, a South Hadley High School freshman… hanged herself in January after what prosecutors called an “unrelenting” three-month bullying campaign by six teenagers… A prosecutor…said school administrators and teachers knew about the harassment but did little to stop it.

AP – Stephanie Reitz – April 8, 2010:

This is an excerpt from an AP article posted today regarding the “not-guilty” plea entered by lawyers for 3 women charged in this tragic case, where a 15-year-old girl hanged herself in her own home to escape brutal bullying that had become unbearable. What follows the article are readers’ comments, which tragically illuminate a chronic cycle across this nation’s schools, where children are apparently brutally bullied while school administrators and teachers look the other way.

Why do we expect so little from our school administrators? Why do we succumb to the notion that nothing need be done until tragedy unfolds?

One contributor writes:

My daughter was bullied endlessly and relentlessly at her old school…the school saw it as a ‘girls will be girls’ thing. They didn’t have to see my daughter cry every day and slip into a depression over it, so they basically washed their hands of it… We eventually had to leave the school district to save our daughter.

It turns out that nearly 15% of all school aged children, according to,  report they are either bullying or being bullied at some point or another. That is a very high number given the fact that in 2006-2007 there were 75.5 million school aged children in the US, according to I suspect that if as many students were to report having hearing trouble, or a headache or showing up to school with only one shoe on their feet, there would be a hue and a cry over the “problem”. But when suffering is silent, with no outward manifestation of pain or anomaly in the student’s appearance, no one seems compelled to take notice that the problem exists.

Parents of all children are likely worried about the bullying that takes place in schools across America, whether they suspect their child is bullying or being bullied. Although the ones being bullied, in exceptional circumstances, can attempt suicide, the ones doing the bullying are also at risk. They may end up in juvenile court or with a criminal record that debilitates them from being able to get a proper job and have a chance at a fair future. Bullying hurts everyone. In the case of women, bullying seems to be more psychological than physical. Being bullied also seems to affect female victims more severely psychologically:

Male vs. Female
Bullying takes on different forms in male and female youth. While both male and female youth say that others bully them by making fun of the way they look or talk, males are more likely to report being hit, slapped, or pushed. Female youth are more likely than males to report being the targets of rumors and sexual comments. While male youth target both boys and girls, female youth most often bully other girls, using more subtle and indirect forms of aggression than boys. For example, instead of physically harming [each other], they are more likely to spread gossip or encourage others to reject or exclude another girl.

So girls are harsher towards girls than boys are towards boys. It seems girls uniquely target other girls, rather than spreading their venom to boys. Or perhaps boys are not as likely to react to psychological taunts so the girls get no satisfaction and turn back to taunting other girls. Either way, it seems girls, especially those with low self-esteem or little parental/familial support, can sink hard in the face of bullying.

Children and teens that come from homes where parents provide little emotional support for their children, fail to monitor their activities, or have little involvement in their lives, are at greater risk for engaging in bullying behavior. Parents’ discipline styles are also related to bullying behavior: an extremely permissive or excessively harsh approach to discipline can increase the risk of teenage bullying. 

Here again, the recurring theme that parents must be present in their kids lives presents itself firmly. We live in a society, and frankly an economy, that demands alot of working hours from parents. Almost 80% of American households run a “double-income” family where the luxury of one stay-at-home parent is out of reach. What can those parents do to stay connected to their kids’ lives? According to research discussed on parents  should listen to their children, and spend as much time with them as possible.

Research has shown no discernible adverse effects of a working mother on children. However, in a dual income family… work responsibilities can all too easily overwhelm family obligations. Make sure your children get the quality time that they deserve with you and your spouse. Take your children on vacation with you, and focus on family fun. Take care to address any concerns your children may have regarding the time you spend at work. The most important thing is to make sure your kids know that you are there for them, no matter the work situation.

I recently had a discussion with a friend who also runs a dual-income household. She suggested that as a society we need to come together around some core values that will improve the quality of our collective lives and provide parents with the ability to stay more connected with their children. She observed that “parents work such long hard hours and their kids are without supervision, without adequate education and without role models and without hope”. Her thoughts were that we need more education and a mechanism by which to reach out to kids and get them out of troublesome circumstances. Along with education and awareness and an ability to allow parents, perhaps through better work-place benefits, to spend more time with their kids we could make troublesome conduct less desireable and in time, less common. I think she’s right.

Regulations may be cumbersome to implement and easy to circumvent. But a culture of caring about kids and helping them when they are in need, without having a law or an ordinance to guide us through the humane process of assistance, shouldn’t be too hard to implement. Just lift your head up and see the need around you. Care enough to then lift a hand and help. That doesn’t need a statute. It needs common sense.