Women almost twice as likely as men to do the bulk of household budgeting and many suffer from ‘spending guilt’

25th June 2020

  • New report Hers and His: Opening up the household budget finds that 37% of women in couples are in charge of household budgeting, compared to just one in five men (22%)
  • Nearly 4 in 10 women living with a partner (37%) reported feeling guilty when buying something for themselves – almost twice the proportion of men (21%)
  • Study also found that financial independence is becoming more of a priority for young people, with older couples far more likely to have joint accounts

25 June 2020, London: Women living in couples with a male partner are almost twice as likely as men to take charge of household budgeting (37% vs 22%). They are also more likely to suffer from ‘spending guilt’, according to a new report published today by the Fawcett Society, the leading gender equality charity, in partnership with Starling Bank.

Two in five (38%) women living with a male partner reported taking charge of most household spending decisions, versus nearly three in ten men (28%). Approximately half of the women surveyed (49%) said they primarily make the decisions on groceries, compared to just 14% of men, and even more women (56%) say they make the decisions on everyday household products all or most of the time, such as toilet paper and bin bags. Additionally, 50% of women with children reported taking the lead on choosing childcare, compared to 14% of men with children, and nearly six in ten (58%) women primarily make the decisions on which presents to buy for friends and family, compared to only 8% of men.

However, carrying the burden of responsibility for financial decisions in the household may also be causing additional stress, with women in couples almost twice as likely as men (37% vs 21%) to feel guilty when purchasing something for themselves. The findings echo research conducted as part of Starling’s Make Money Equal campaign, which looked at the way that the media talks to women and found that 65% of articles define women as excessive spenders, advising them to limit shopping ‘splurges’, save small sums or depend on financial support.

On larger financial decisions, such as booking a holiday or finding a mortgage, the research shows that two thirds (67%) of both women and men say they make these together. This marks a shift from previous studies1, where men were found to have more influence and the final say over large and more important spending decisions.

The report also highlighted a generational difference in how couples manage their money. It found that 40% of men and women aged between 18-34 prioritise financial independence over sharing money with their partner, compared to just 18% and 28% respectively for those aged over 35. This could explain why the study also found that older couples (respondents over 55) are far more like to have a joint account than younger couples (64% vs 46%).

Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society Chief Executive said: “Women increasingly want and expect financial independence. But couples are still dividing tasks and decision making along heavily gendered lines - with women continuing to do the majority of unpaid care work and housework in male-female households. This has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, with women taking on even more hours of unpaid care and domestic work. At the same time, women are much more likely than male partners to have lost their job or been furloughed. We won’t achieve financial equality for women until unpaid care work is shared equally between women and men.”

Anne Boden, Chief Executive of Starling Bank commented: “Equality in household financial decision making remains an issue. Whilst it’s good to see more women prioritising financial independence and having an equal say when it comes to big expenditures, we’re concerned that women continue to take on the burden of responsibility for the ‘traditional’ tasks of budgeting and decision-making for everyday household items.

“We understand financial decision making is complex and unique to each household, and that the recent coronavirus crisis may well impact these findings, however, we believe the responsibility of financial admin should be spread as equally as possible. We hope these findings encourage policy makers to urgently review existing policies that perpetuate current trends.”

To improve equality at home, the Fawcett Society believes Government and policy makers have a strong role to play and would like to see:

  • Default flexible working to make all jobs flexible unless there is a business reason for them not to be.
  • Transformation of the parental leave system to give fathers a longer, better paid period of paid leave.
  • A carers' credit towards workplace pensions, to ensure that women's pension contributions do not end during periods of maternity leave.

Additionally, Government and the financial sector should invest in better financial education for women and men throughout their lives, to build their financial resilience and safeguard against financial insecurity in the future.

View the full report


For more information or interviews contact Fresh Communication for Fawcett Society or Pagefield for Starling Bank:

Fresh Communication 0117 369 0025

Nathalie Golden: 07769 66 66 27

Lisa Sutherland: 07720 711 102

Pagefield: 07846 964 424

Notes to editors

  • The publication Hers and His: Opening up the household budget was initially planned for March 2020, but postponed as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak. This delay and the impact of the pandemic itself may have had an effect on our findings that are not captured in this report.
  • Research was conducted by research agency Survation between 21 October and 1 November 2019 via an online panel. 512 couples across the UK were polled (1,022 respondents overall) aged 18+. The report sets out the findings from male-female couples. Data was also collected from 198 respondents in same-sex couples. Unweighted data was collected by age, sex, region, income, SEG, education, 2017 General Election vote, 2016 EU Referendum vote, ethnicity, disability and religion.
  • While this research provides key insights into the finances of women living with a male partner, this is only part of the picture. This report should sit alongside other research that looks at the financial challenges experienced by other women, including those living alone or with friends, single mothers and LGBTQ women, so that we can truly understand the experiences of all women when it comes to money.

1 These studies include: Pahl, J. (1995). His money, her money: Recent research on financial organisation in marriage; Pahl, J. (2000). Couples and their money: patterns of accounting and accountability in the domestic economy; Thomas, A. et al. (2009). Individuals’ attitudes and behaviours around planning and saving for later life. DWP Working Paper No 72; Schneebaum, A. & Mader, K. (2013). The gendered nature of intra-household decision making in and across Europe. Department of Economics Working Papers, Vienna University of Economics and Business, Department of Economics.

Full data tables will be available at Survation.

About Fawcett Society

The Fawcett Society is the UK’s leading membership charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights at work, at home and in public life. Our vision is a society in which women and girls in all their diversity are equal and truly free to fulfil their potential.

About Starling Bank

Starling Bank is a digital bank based in the UK. Its banking app offers personal, business, joint and euro current accounts on Android and iOS. The Starling Marketplace offers customers in-app access to a selection of third-party financial services. Starling also offers B2B banking and payments services. Headquartered in London, with offices in Southampton and Cardiff, Starling is a fully licensed and regulated bank which was founded in 2014.

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