Women and wealth: A look at generational differences

Women, money and influence

Women have made big strides in taking control of their financial future by earning higher rates of bachelor’s degrees1 and having an increased presence in higher-paying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs.2,3

Yet women still hold a disproportionate number of low-paying jobs – and they have nearly two-thirds of the student debt in the U.S.1

So, while there’s still more work to do, our recent Women and Wealth Insights Study shows substantial attitude shifts about finances between the generations.

Generations Defined7

Source: Dimock, M. “Defining Generations: Where Millennials End and Generation Z Begins.” Pew Research Center, January 17, 2019. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/01/17/where-millennials-end-and-generation-z-begins/

Generation Z:

Born 1997–2012

Millennials:

Born 1981–1996

Generation X:

Born 1965–1980

Baby Boomers:

Born 1946–1964

Silent Generation:

Born 1928–1945

Emotions About Finances Vary

When we asked women about their emotions related to finances, across the board they spoke of self-confidence. Yet, while younger women said they also felt pride, older women conveyed more stress and anxiety.

Millennial women were twice as likely (35 percent) as older women (15 percent) to say they enjoy spending time on their finances.

Boomer Women Had to Self-Educate

One reason for this gap in joy may be related to baby boomers’ lack of access to and education about money when they were younger. Before 1975, married women couldn’t get their own credit cards without permission.8 And given that few women lived on their own before marriage – and their husbands often controlled the household finances – older women were much less likely to cite financial literacy programs at school or their families as how they learned about finances.

44% of women with a private net worth of $100,000+ are self-made.5

Instead, they had to rely more on their own initiative to become financially savvy. When asked how they learned about money, boomer women cited their ongoing curiosity and learning (37 percent) and conversations with a financial advisor or specialist (46 percent) at higher rates than millennial women.

Millennials Embrace Financial Tools

Whether they’re more comfortable with technology or simply more aware of the financial content and tools available, women under 35 are using apps, listening to money-related podcasts and watching money-related TV shows at a higher rate than women 35 and older.

Women Under 35

Women 35 to 54

Women 55 and Older

I use apps to track my finances

64%

45%

21%

I listen to money-related podcasts

41%

29%

22%

I watch money-related TV shows

31%

23%

11%

Data suggests that digital engagement is directly linked to the level of self-confidence people have in their ability to manage finances, so these numbers may be one factor in why women under 35 are twice as likely to say they enjoy managing their finances.

Investment Strategies Vary by Generation

While people traditionally tend to get less risky in their investment choices as they near retirement age, the differences in investment strategy between generations of women are much more nuanced.

The median age of marriage for women rose from 20.8 in 1970 to 28 in 2019.4

Millennials place a big emphasis on socially responsible investing – seeking out companies that align with their values. They also tend to take a do-it-yourself route with target-date and other simple funds, leaning toward conservative options.9 While 38 percent of boomer women say stocks are their favorite long-term investment, about 3 in 10 millennials say they prefer cash.10

Gen Xers are more likely than millennials to use a financial advisor. They expect quick, accurate answers, and they tend to be more conservative than boomers when investing.9

For boomer women, decades of watching the market’s highs and lows have influenced how they invest. They are likely to take a long-term approach, buying and holding onto investments with a patient eye toward the future.11

Millennial Friends Talk About Finances

How women invest certainly isn’t the only easily noticeable difference between the generations of women. While talking about money has traditionally been considered a bit of a taboo in our culture, for younger women it is less so. While only 42 percent of boomer women talk about money with their friends, 68% of millennial women do so.

The number of women-owned businesses has grown 58% since 2007.6

Just who are millennials (both men and women) talking to about their finances?12

  • 46% parents
  • 30% friends
  • 25% siblings
  • 12% colleagues

Older millennials (age 27–36) are four times more likely than people age 53–71 to share their salary with colleagues: 33 percent versus 9 percent.13

This comfort in talking about money may help build more self-confidence and positivity about managing wealth too.

Interested in learning more?

Download the full Insights Study to read additional insights:

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