So much has happened in the year since we published the results of the first Ellevest Financial Wellness Survey last October. Inflation has hit us all hard. Markets have been all over the place. At long last, student debt is being forgiven (some of it, anyway). And employment, while looking better on the surface, remains a major issue for women.
So we wanted to know whether and how women’s attitudes and approaches toward financial wellness have changed, too — especially given the moment it’s having in our culture more broadly. In addition to expanding our query with the first-ever comprehensive measure of women’s financial health in the US (read all about the brand-new Ellevest Women’s Financial Health Index here), we also brought back The Ellevest Financial Wellness Survey, speaking to nearly 2,500 adults nationwide about how they think about money — and what they do with it — in 2022. What we learned gave us hope, but it also showed us how far we still have to go in achieving true financial gender equality. Let’s dive into it.
The big news: Women are prioritizing financial wellness in 2022
Last year, financial wellness wasn’t too high on people’s list of priorities. Most women who took our survey back then ranked it as the least important form of wellness — less important than physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness. (Just 14% said it was important.) Call it an awakening, but this year, they’re singing a different tune: In that same ranking, women are now three times as likely to see financial wellness as critical — now it’s second only to mental wellness:
Mental wellness: 48% (vs 36% in 2021)
Financial wellness 42% (vs 14% in 2021)
Physical wellness 37% (vs 22% in 2021)
Spiritual wellness 22% (vs 18% in 2021)
They’re walking the walk, too, making moves to practice financial wellness regularly. Two-thirds of women say they’ve cut back on spending, for example. (Spending itself isn’t necessarily a problem, mind you; but spending more intentionally? That’s a financial wellness win.) And — be still, our hearts — they’re continuing to invest in their retirement portfolios regardless of the economic storm we’ve been weathering this year. 75% of women who are actively investing for retirement say they’ve continued their contributions despite market volatility — that’s compared to just two thirds of men. (So when you see reports across the wider industry saying “everyone” is pulling their money out of the markets “en masse” … now you know what “everyone” actually means, no matter what the accompanying stock photo suggests.)
We know from experience — and historical data — that staying the course in investing has been a winning strategy in economic downturns. Also not for nothing: Women investors tend to (a) invest more and (b) post better returns (by as many as 40 basis points). So if our survey results are anything to go on, it’s looking like women are positioning themselves well to ride out this tumultuous period and come out on top.
But financial stress still looms large for women
Despite this happy news, money stress still dominates women’s day-to-day lives. A whopping 43% of women actively worry about money at least once a day, and 59% do so at least once a week. In both instances, they’re out-worrying men (36% and 55%, respectively).
Unsurprisingly, however, what kind of money stress women are dealing with depends on their age:
Older women (aka Gen X and Baby Boomers) are more likely to be worried about pure economic volatility — things like inflation (91% of Boomer women vs 66% of Gen Z women), a possible recession (81% of Boomer women vs 45% of Gen Z women), or having to cut back on spending (76% of Boomer women vs 55% of Gen Z women).
Younger women (Millennials and Gen Z), meanwhile, are more likely to worry about how political issues will impact their finances in both the short and long terms — things like reproductive rights (63% of Gen Z women versus 45% of Boomer women), job security (62% of Gen Z women vs 52% of Gen X), the cost of child care (42% of Gen Z women vs 21% of Gen X), housing prices (51% of Gen Z women vs 45% of Gen X women), and women’s representation in government (54% of Gen Z women vs 38% of Gen X women).
But they’re united on one particular worry: how they feel about their financial readiness. We found that men (30%) were more than twice as likely as women (14%) to say they feel financially prepared for a recession. While we know women’s financial confidence is a major issue in play here — it’s possible to be in a good situation but still doubt yourself — another one may be a lack of external support. Nearly 70% of women also say they’ve never met with a financial advisor, compared to just 41% of men — no surprise, considering how overwhelmingly male (read: alienating) the industry is. (Just saying: Ellevest’s team of financial advisors is 100% women.)
Women have more immediate financial priorities
Given the nightmarish legal events of the past year — especially the war on reproductive freedoms — it comes as no surprise that financial priorities vary dramatically across gender. Men, on one hand, feel like they’re able to prioritize their futures — they ranked growing their retirement savings as their #1 financial priority. But women’s priorities lie closer to home: Their top-ranked financial priority is “supporting family,” a category that includes “family planning, child care, taking care of parents or siblings, etc.” (“Supporting family” came in fourth place for men. 😒) The breakdown for women’s priorities:
Supporting family (family planning, child care, taking care of parents/sibling, etc.): 30%
Building an emergency fund: 29%
Sticking to a budget: 26%
Growing retirement savings: 22%
Paying off credit card debt: 22%
Creating a budget/spending plan: 20%
These findings, too, echo what we’ve seen in the broader conversation around the impact of family obligations on women’s economic and social equality: We know that women in heterosexual marriages are increasingly the primary providers for their families, even as men continue to be seen as breadwinners, and that women’s earnings tend to drop or stagnate after they have children, while new fathers see no change. We also know that women are shouldering more of the household responsibilities, especially since the outset of the pandemic when jobs went remote.
And that’s all before considering the grim new realities people who can give birth now face around reproductive health care costs. This is a key finding to keep an eye on, as family obligations — in other words, needing to prioritize supporting others before saving for one’s future — are likely a big factor in the persistence of the gender pay gap.
Another reason women might be deprioritizing their retirement savings? For many, the idea of retiring at all feels like a pipe dream. More than half (54%) of women who prioritize retirement savings just don't believe they’ll be able to afford to retire. And most concerning? Just 36% of women say they’re investing in general, vs 63% of men.
Women put their money where their values are … and they’re ready to walk over them (even in this economy)
Despite everything, women are committed to their values. 62% of women we surveyed said they’re concerned about climate change, and 53% said the reversal of Roe v. Wade earlier this year impacted their financial mindset.
As such, it’s no surprise that they’re also leading the way when it comes to spending and investing ethically and sustainably. 59% of women believe it’s important that companies they invest in or spend money with take a stand for reproductive rights. And a third of Gen Z women (33%) and more than a quarter of millennial women (28%) say impact investing — that is, investing in companies that align with their values — is important to them.
In the same vein, women also have high standards for their own employers, both financially and ethically. This is despite everything going on in the labor market: Even though 1 in 2 women (and nearly two-thirds of Gen Z and millennial women) said they’re worried about their job security / employment right now, 44% of women say they’d leave their current company if the company’s values on reproductive rights did not align with their own. 55% of women (and 62% of millennial women!) say they’re actively looking for a new job with better pay.
There is no wellness without financial wellness
Why might so many women be on the lookout for more $$$? Sure, you could chalk it up to “quiet quitting.” Or maybe it’s about inflation — it’s hit us all hard, and the median income hasn’t budged to reflect that surge.
But the bottom line is the same as it’s always been: More money is more money. And even if they’re worried about their finances, women are asking for what they need. When we asked women how having more money makes them feel, their top two emotions were “secure” and “relaxed.” And 35% of women said having more money made them happier and more confident. That certainly bears out in our previous research: We’ve known for years that saving and investing are the #1 drivers of women’s confidence in their financial futures; it’s a big reason why Ellevest’s core mission is to get more money in the hands of women.
It’s also why we’re committed to elevating and advocating for financial wellness for the long haul. When it comes to money, knowing what you have, knowing where you’re going and taking steps to get there, and feeling good about it are all essential components of a better quality of life.
Read more about our financial wellness efforts, especially the new Ellevest Women’s Financial Health Index, and get started on your own financial wellness journey today.
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