Gender Roles and Big Money Decisions

by TTMK on April 24, 2012 · 11 comments

Some years ago, I was told a statistic by a real estate agent that caught my attention.  She mentioned that 70% of home purchasing decisions were made by women.  This didn’t mean 70% of the decision making process, but rather 70% of final say.

It was interesting to me how gender roles and money could be so clearly evident in such a big purchase.  This wasn’t simply a case of supporting stereotypes on how a guy might go splurge on home electronics while frustrating his wife, or the wife coming home with expensive shoes that raise the husband’s blood pressure.   Rather, this is a big ticket item – probably the biggest purchase anyone will make – where she stated that one person typically had more say than the other, based on gender.

It seemed hard for me to believe, as I couldn’t imagine just handing over such a big decision and saying “Honey, we’ll do whatever you want”.  Not sure what that says about me, but I think big financial decisions need to be made together, as a team. After all, it affects you both. Moreover, you each have a perspective and viewpoint that could help with the process of making the most informed decision.

A guy I know picked up and moved out the area back in the peak of the housing boom.  He relocated because his wife wanted to live closer to her parents, so they could see the grandkids more often.  I asked him what his own parents thought of it, but he sidestepped the issue uncomfortably.  Clearly, she was calling the shots here.

Additionally, he bought a home that was more than twice as expensive as what they had before.   Clearly, this was a big reach, and I know him well enough that he hates to spend money.  He bought the home in the same exact town as his in-laws, in a nice subdivision, all to make her happy.  His words to me were along the lines of (paraphrased), “sometimes as a guy, you just have to focus on making your wife happy”, as well as “of course her parents have to matter more, because no woman wants to have her mother in-law as involved in her life as her own mother”.

Alighty then!

Well, just recently he shared with me that his home lost about 33% in value since they bought it.  He knew he was buying in an expensive area that had seen a huge run up in price, and way beyond the price point of where they were living before.

Yet he felt compelled to give in because he felt that he didn’t want to rock the boat, and thought that it was his duty to make her happy with a lifestyle she dreamed of.  He knew better intellectually, but didn’t take action on it!

To me, this is a perfect example of how people can get stuck in their own perceptions of gender roles, and end up making suboptimal decisions.  I think it’s best to operate together, as a partnership, where each person has equal say. And, very importantly, both people feel comfortably communicating with one another and want to compromise with one another.

Now, I do want to point out that there are plenty of situations where the reverse is true, in terms of women letting men make decisions just because of traditional roles. Some of these can be just as ridiculous or even more so.  For example, letting the guy handle all stock investments because that has historically been more of a male role – particularly in days gone past.  Really?  Your family’s finances are more important than his fragile ego!

Bottom line: work as a team, make big decisions together without letting arbitrary gender roles play too big of a role.

My Questions for You

What do you think of the concept of gender roles and money?  Are some of these very understandable, or simply antiquated?

Do you think that many of these will fade away, or are we hardwired to some extent to play certain roles?

Do you exhibit any of these gender-specific approaches to money roles in a relationship?

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

JAMES April 24, 2012 at 8:13 am

I think we are hardwired to believe the man makes the money decisions. However, I think we need to short circuit that hardwiring. My solution is for both people to write down the positives and negatives of each purchase and use that information to make an unemotional decision. Unemotional decisions usually lead to the best result.

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TTMK May 12, 2012 at 2:52 pm

James – I think that you’re on the right track in terms of taking emotion out of decisions to make the best ones. Of course, being human, that’s tough for people. Or, it’s tougher for some than others, maybe that’s a better way for me to say it. As for decision making, as a guy I do like making decisions but I don’t think that this is really the case these days in general. It seems like each gender has opportunities, so why not be equal in decision making?

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Poor to Rich a Day at a Time April 24, 2012 at 6:52 pm

I think when it comes to a house, a woman may have more to say in the matter as she is the one who relies on it to be efficient enough for the way she cleans and raises the kids in. She can view the space and know immediatly if it is lacking such as in storage space or kitchen counters etc where a man is only looking at the relaxing factors of what a house brings and where he can put his man chair and large screen TV. I could be way off base but this is how me and my husband view houses and we do both share in the decision but I do have more pull due to it is me that cooks, cleans, finances, homeschools and actually use 160% of the space. My husband uses his man chair and his bed. If one of us hates a place though, we keep looking.

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TTMK May 12, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Poor to Rich – I suppose that’s the case in many situations. That being said, I wonder why it is that there’s often an assumption that men are neandrathals who are clueless about what’s needed in a home. I’m not sure I think most guys I know only think of relaxing factors and dragging in his man chair and TV. Now, a few lunkhead guys I know are clearly clueless about family needs in a home, and I can agree that on average most men might not see all such factors. Buy many can 🙂

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Michelle April 24, 2012 at 10:55 pm

Just found you through Short Road and wanted to add my 2 cents. I think my husband and I work very well together as a team because we respect one another and communicate about all financial plans. I think that’s key to a successful relationship. As far as the mother-in-law thing, I don’t think I can safely comment. Ha!

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TTMK May 12, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Michelle – that’s great that you guys work together, and I agree that it’s key to a successful relationship

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SavvyFinancialLatina April 24, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Great post! Gender roles definitely play a big part in finances. I have seen my mother in law choose their lifestyle. I think that they bought a house that was above their income because she wanted to have that house. She also sent her kids to private school, etc. They have had to postpone retirement. Kids don’t fully appreciate the sacrifices parents make for them either.

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Revanche May 5, 2012 at 7:19 pm

One, I think the perception of the gender roles and what is traditional is heavily influenced by cultural and familial norms.
Two, I definitely don’t feel like it’s a healthy idea to loose-rein the decision-making as you’ve described just to make the one or the other spouse happy if the decision itself is clearly not in the best financial interest of the household as a whole. If it makes one spouse happier than the other and doesn’t put their universal goals and stability at risk, then that’s obviously no problem as long as they’ve agreed it’s an acceptable compromise. But I can’t get behind the idea of just giving it up for the sake of “peace” on the surface when it causes turmoil underneath or compromises the end results of your plan. Not saying the family plan can’t be changed, just that it should be changed consciously, together, as partners in communication.

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TTMK May 12, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Revanche – I think your last sentence is a good way to put it when it comes to changes. They need to be made with full awareness and jointly by both partners. Otherwise, it isn’t really a partnership!

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LifeInTransition May 11, 2012 at 11:49 am

Great post! As newlyweds, my husband and I would like to make all financial decisions, big or small, together. I do think that on some things one person would dominate the decision making process. For example, I have no preference whatsoever about what kind of car we have, just as long as it works and fit our family needs and budget. I’ll let him pick the model, make, etc, but in the end, we will both have to be on board.

I guess my parents are completely oposite when it comes to buying houses compared to your friend and his wife. Whenever they narrow their search down to two houses, my dad always wants the bigger, more expensive one and my mom always wants the smaller, cheaper one probably because she does all the cleaning. They always end up buying the smaller one.

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TTMK May 12, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Anthony – agreed, that if one person makes the final decision and the other just complies, it could lead to mutual unhappiness.

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