Female breadwinner growth could slow during the pandemic
Traditional financial roles continue to change, with female breadwinner growth in UK households continuing.
According to new research by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on behalf of insurer Royal London, women now out-earn male partners in nearly a quarter of all households.
This rising dominance of women out-earning men is up from a fifth only 16 years ago.
With the continued shift in a traditional earning dynamic between couples, the common assumption that male partners are the higher earners is fast becoming outdated.
Despite the continued trend, there’s a danger that the coronavirus pandemic will knock progress off course.
During the pandemic, more women than men are expected to experience reduced working hours to cover caring responsibilities, be furloughed or lose their jobs.
Female breadwinner growth
The research found that the percentage of households where the female partner earns more than the male partner has steadily risen over the years.
Back in 2004, 19.8% of UK households had a higher earning female partner.
The percentage rose to 23.3% in 2019, up 18% during this time.
Women earn the same amount or more than their male partner in nearly three-in-ten households.
Men earn more than women in 72.4% of households, down from 77.7% in 2004.
If the current rate of growth is maintained, it will take 62 years before women earn more than men in more than half of households.
Some of the profound changes for society when a greater proportion of women earn more than their male partners include how couples share caring responsibilities for their children and adult relatives.
There is also likely to be changes to how couples manage their joint finances, and to the gender pay gap and pension gap.
The shift in earnings also suggests that demand for wealth products and financial advice will increasingly come from women.
Becky O’Connor, personal finance specialist at Royal London, said:
We know that men tend to earn more than female colleagues in the workplace but the domestic gender pay gap is also important when considering economic equality.
Women becoming breadwinners could be the key to some pretty big changes and the undoing of some harmful assumptions.
These figures suggest women’s earning patterns are breaking out of a vicious circle that has persisted for generations, in which women have traditionally assumed caring roles, so have earned less; then because they earn less, their incomes and careers often take the hit when caring duties arise.
The expected impact of the coronavirus lockdown on women’s work and earnings is an example of this playing out in real time, as women’s work has been lost through job cuts and caring demands. This could have lasting impact and derail the rise of the female breadwinner.
However in those households where women already earn more, it may make economic sense for male partners to take on more of the responsibilities that typically take women out of the workplace. This could mean more children seeing their fathers as carers.
Understanding the dynamic of earnings in someone’s household can also help employers shape HR policies on things like flexible and part-time work for men as well as women.