Rise of the Female Breadwinner

Women out-earn male partners in almost a quarter of households

Rise of the Female Breadwinner

Rise of the Female Breadwinner

Despite significant societal changes, there’s still a sense — on the part of both some men and women — that men should be the providers. Historically there has been a stigma that the male is the main earner of households, which is of course an extremely outdated way of thinking.

The fact is, though, that times are changing and it is commonplace now for women to take over the role of main breadwinner. It is widely recognised that profound changes in family structure and employment patterns have taken place in recent decades.

Women balancing work

Women’s roles have changed, marriage rates have declined — the family optics in many situations today looks far different than it used to. The rise of female breadwinners highlights the fact that, not only are more women balancing work and family these days, but the economic contributions women are making to their households have grown immensely.

The trend is being driven mostly by long-term demographic changes, including higher rates of education and labour force participation dating back to the 1960s women’s movement. But despite the apparent shift towards gender equality in relationship finances, childcare continues to represent a chasm between men and women.

Traditional earning dynamic

Today women out-earn male partners in almost a quarter of households, up from a fifth 16 years ago, according to research[1]. The findings show a shift in the traditional earning dynamic between couples and reveal the common assumption that male partners are the higher earners is becoming outdated.

A rise in the proportion of female breadwinners and women who earn the same as their male partners has potentially profound consequences for society, including:

  • The way couples spread the burden of caring responsibilities for children and adult relatives
  • The way couples manage their joint finances
  • The gender pay gap and pension gap

The shift also suggests that demand for wealth products and financial advice will increasingly come from women.

Strengthen the economy

It does look like there are plenty of couples finding ways to navigate changing roles – realising that they’re not in an earning contest, and it doesn’t really matter in the end who makes more money. They’re a team, and what’s important is working together to meet the needs of their families.

Understanding this 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. Chances are you or someone you know is among these working women who help strengthen the economy, inspire a generation of children and take charge of their family’s financial well-being. It’s a tough job, but the rewards are many.

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Source data:

[1] Annual Population Survey cases where the ONS has information on earnings for both the Household Reference Person (this is the highest-earning, or oldest in the case of equal incomes, person in the household who owns the property or with responsibility for paying the mortgage or rent) and their spouse/co-habiting partner, comparing the earnings of the man and the woman in the household 27.05.20.



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