CORRECTING and REPLACING New Study Reveals What Women Breadwinners Want and Need and How They Are “Leaning In” on Financial Decisions

  • Family, friends pressure women to downplay breadwinner status; 28% say parents disapprove
  • Many lack confidence in wealth management skills, give advisors low grades
  • Almost half want more flexibility from employer to juggle personal, work commitments Family Wealth Advisors Council

SAN FRANCISCO--()--In the paragraph above the "About the participants" boilerplate, Eileen O'Connor's phone number should read: 703-622-3499 (instead of 703-622-3449).

The corrected release reads:


  • Family, friends pressure women to downplay breadwinner status; 28% say parents disapprove
  • Many lack confidence in wealth management skills, give advisors low grades
  • Almost half want more flexibility from employer to juggle personal, work commitments

At a time when women breadwinners are assuming ever more responsibility for their families and finances, a new study of more than 1,000 working women reveals that lingering societal perceptions that men “should” be the breadwinner and “should” make major financial decisions are creating significant stress and tension for many of them.

In fact, 40 percent of the women surveyed acknowledge that they feel pressure from family and friends to downplay their breadwinner status, and 28 percent of married or committed women report that their parents actually disapprove of their role as primary breadwinner.

“What Do Breadwinner Women Want?” is the third in a series of studies conducted on women of wealth by the Family Wealth Advisors Council (FWAC), a nationwide network of leading independent wealth management firms.

“Women are increasingly controlling more of the nation’s wealth, and the rise of the breadwinner woman is causing seismic shifts in our families, our communities and our marketplace,” said Eileen O’Connor, who co-authored the study with Heather Ettinger. “Unfortunately, many women are uncomfortable with this role and do not feel they are getting the level of professional advice or workplace support they need. And although pressure could cause women to ‘lean back’ from major financial decisions, the opposite is happening in that they are ‘leaning in,’ making sound financial advice even more important.”

O’Connor noted that the tension is often heightened in situations where the woman has become the primary breadwinner out of necessity.

“The Great Recession exacerbated things, as many men either couldn’t get back into the workforce or couldn’t get back at the same level,” she said. “That just added to the stress for the woman.”

As evidence of the switch in financial power from male to female, the FWAC report points out that:

  • The woman is the breadwinner in four of 10 American families
  • 95 percent of women will be their family’s principal financial decision maker at some point in their lives
  • Breadwinner women are responsible for no less than 75 percent of all financial-planning responsibilities in their households
  • Breadwinner women are assuming as much as 90 percent of the responsibility for charitable giving, paying for college, retirement planning and overall saving

Want strategies, not products from financial advisors

Even with their increasing responsibilities, the study indicated many women breadwinners lack confidence in their own wealth management skills and are widely dissatisfied with their financial advisors.

Among those who currently work with a financial advisor, 62 percent said they are not as knowledgeable about their finances as they would like to be and 19 percent said they are not knowledgeable at all.

“Of even more concern, the women overall gave their advisor an average of ‘5’ on a satisfaction scale of 1 to 10,” said Ettinger. “That’s a horrible grade, and it reflects the huge service delivery gap that exists for financial education and a ‘safe’ environment for women breadwinners.”

Breadwinner women seek a wide range of services from their financial advisors – such as coordinating with other advisors, and creating strategies for charitable giving and higher education – but frequently do not receive them, the study notes.

Need more flexibility for work-life balance

Ettinger also noted that as women breadwinners wrestle with various combinations of responsibility – for their career, finances, children and aging parents – nearly half (46 percent) don’t feel their employer offers the flexibility they need to juggle personal and work commitments.

While technology that enables them to work remotely is available at nearly 85 percent of their companies, the respondents report that employers still need to make significant progress on other fronts – including gender-blind compensation, flexible work schedules, on-site childcare and offering a stipend for personal financial planning.

Single, widowed and divorced breadwinners need support

The report also emphasizes that the loss of a spouse, whether through divorce or death, is an extremely traumatic experience and causes shifts in financial needs and status. Considering that 80 percent of men die married and 80 percent of women die single, many women will find themselves in the primary decision-maker role at some point in their lives. All single women breadwinners could benefit from sound financial advice, but the situations vary:

  • Widows can be fearful about financial security, having not been a part of their partner’s financial management or planning, and crave safe investments.
  • Divorced women appear to be supporting not only themselves but often members of their extended families as well and often do not get much support from their exes.
  • Divorced women feel the least supported in the workplace, and widowed breadwinners feel the most support. Divorced women are least trusting or knowledgeable of advisors and the value they can bring.
  • An estimated 70 percent of widowed women change their financial advisor within a year of their partner’s death because they don’t have a relationship with the previous advisor.

To learn more about the issues mentioned here or to obtain a copy of the report (and previous reports), please contact Eileen O’Connor via email at or by phone at 703-622-3499 or Heather Ettinger via email at or by phone at 216-431-3836.

About the participants

The 1,074 women in the FWAC Breadwinner Study were personally invited to participate by a FWAC member or a professional who works closely with a FWAC member firm. Participants were drawn from across the United States, representing 38 states and the District of Columbia. Several participants also weighed in from Singapore, China and Australia. While most of the women are in their 40s and 50s, participants reflected a wide age range; 50 percent have children.

About the authors

Heather Ettinger has more than 25 years of experience in the financial services industry and has held leadership roles in client acquisition and service, as well as operations and strategic planning. As a managing partner of Fairport Asset Management in Cleveland, Ohio, Ettinger specializes in helping clients and their families create strategic financial plans to guide them through life transitions, such as the loss of a spouse, a divorce, the sale of a business, retirement and job changes. She is widely recognized for her unique expertise and experience in, and dedication to, helping other women build their financial acumen and wealth, both in her professional practice and community involvement.

Eileen M. O’Connor, MBA, CFP®, is co-founder and managing principal of Hemington Wealth Management, a leading independent, fee-only RIA with $450 million of assets under management. Hemington, located in Tysons, Virginia, has a target market of affluent female investors and in 2015 was ranked as #11 of the fastest growing RIAs in the country. O’Connor brings 25 years of financial services experience to her work and is lead advisor to high-net-worth individuals and families. A nationally recognized authority on wealth management, she has a particular interest in the challenges of women of wealth.

About the Family Wealth Advisors Council

Founded in 1981, the Family Wealth Advisors Council (FWAC) is a national network of independent, fee-only wealth management firms that collectively manage over $3 billion in assets. The firms in the FWA Council share a common belief that our clients come first in all of our dealings. In a world where many large brokerage firms and major banks consistently look for ways to sell their customers high cost products that they may not need, Family Wealth Advisors will only provide advice that meets a higher standard of ethics on behalf of our clients. An important distinction between Family Wealth advisors and many other advisors is that we are held to a higher fiduciary standard. We sell no financial products, have no hidden agendas and are always “on the same side of the table” as our clients.

Professionals in the Family Wealth Advisors Council hold advanced designations and training. Many are considered leaders in the financial planning industry and regularly speak at industry conferences on “best practices” in planning and investment management.


For Family Wealth Advisors Council
Amy McGahan, 216-241-3027


For Family Wealth Advisors Council
Amy McGahan, 216-241-3027