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More women than ever before are out earning their husbands: study

But, they're also less likely to embrace their financial power, which could set women back in the long run.
Businesswoman in discussion with client in office conference room
The report also found that women have mixed feelings about being the primary earner in their families.Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

Women are contributing more to their families’ income than ever before.

In fact, according to a new study by UBS, nearly one-third of American women in heterosexual relationships now earn more money than their spouse or partner.

But that same study found that women breadwinners are reluctant to embrace their financial power – and that could continue to hold women back.

UBS surveyed over 800 women and men and found that only half of the primary earning women in heterosexual couples actively engage in short- and long-term financial decisions.

The report also found that women have mixed feelings about the primary earner in their families. Less than half of women said they prefer that role, compared to 87 percent of men who are primary earners. More than half of women breadwinners – 52 percent – said that financial decision-making feels less natural to them, compared to men (73 percent). The study also found that friends and family often assume that men are the primary earners in heterosexual relationships, and one in two women breadwinners said they never corrected them.

“What this study shows is that outdated gender norms are affecting the way women think and interact with money,” said ForbesWomen editor Maggie McGrath on Thursday’s “Morning Joe.” “Women are ceding financial power to their spouse, and that’s problematic because we know 74 percent of women experience a negative financial surprise after the death or divorce of a spouse. When you are ceding financial decisions to your spouse, you are ceding control of your financial future.”

So why aren’t more women breadwinners exercising their power when it comes to making financial decisions?

Researchers of the study noted traditional gender roles have heightened women’s ambivalence about bring the breadwinner, with less than half (49 percent) of women primary earners preferring to be the breadwinner compared to the majority (87 percent) of men.

In addition, most non-primary-earning men (66 percent) wish they were the primary earner and could contribute more. And finally, more women breadwinners take on the bulk of household responsibilities, including childrearing, cooking and cleaning, which gives them less time to focus on financial decisions.

“It’s a generational and societal issue we need to address,” said Huma Abedin, vice-chair of Forbes and Know Your Value’s 30/50 Summit.

Abedin said one of the best ways to close the divide is to have open conversations. She noted she was recently at an event where an investor declared that women need to start talking about how to invest their money the same way they talk about where to get hair colored and their nails done.

“I totally agree,” said “Morning Joe” co-host and Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski. “I think it frightens some women still, and we need to normalize it.”