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The rise of the female breadwinner

12th October 2016 Print

There are currently 14.53 million women in work in the UK, the joint highest level since records began in 1971. The growing importance of the female workforce is highlighted in new research from Aegon which finds two in five (40%) women are now the main breadwinners in their households.

Aegon’s ‘Protection Matters’ report finds that this is higher still among women in more senior roles, with more than half (56%) in senior managerial positions and three in five (61%) female directors providing the main source of income for the family. The position of female business owners is not dissimilar with more than a third (36%) as the household’s main earner.

However, according to the new research, 43% of these female breadwinners have no financial protection policy in place. This means there are over 6 million working women whose family and business finances would be severely tested should the unexpected happen. This lack of protection cover comes despite the majority (62%) of these households, relying on one income to meet day-to-day living costs.

Many women are also placing the pressure to provide for their loved ones purely on themselves, with nearly three quarters (74%) of female breadwinners believing they’re solely responsible for making sure their family has enough income should anything happen to them. This is significantly higher than the 17% of female breadwinners who place joint responsibility on both themselves and their partners.

If these women’s incomes fell unexpectedly, over two in five (44%) would turn to their savings to support themselves and their families. However, just 30% think their savings could last longer than six months and 15% don’t have any savings at all; these estimates are also unlikely to factor in the extra costs associated with long-term illnesses. Macmillan Cancer Support found that those living with cancer have to cover additional expenses which average £570 a month due to costs such as travel, parking and heating. The figures highlight how exposed working women in the UK are leaving not only themselves, and potentially their business, but also their children, partners and anyone else they support financially.

There’s a clear link between earnings and income security. Four in five (81%) women in senior managerial positions have some form of protection policy and 79% of women in director level roles have taken steps to protect their themselves, their families and for some their businesses. This compares to just 51% who work in junior manager professional roles, 46% of women in clerical roles, and only 35% of women in manual roles, indicating that it’s those who need cover most who are least protected.

While this is important as women in senior roles are more likely to be the breadwinners of the family, those in more junior roles lack the buffer that their savings can provide if they can’t work. The proportion of women with no savings falls as they become more senior, just 3% of senior managers and 5% of directors have no savings, but this rises to 9% for junior managers and as high as 17% among manual workers.

Stephen Crosbie, Protection Director, Aegon UK said: “The number of women in work is at record high levels and it’s becoming increasingly common for women to provide the main income in the household.

“As growing numbers take on the role of main family breadwinner, the importance of protection insurance rises. A serious illness or unexpected death can turn life as we know it on its head and alongside the emotional distress, put great strain on family finances. Crucially the money female breadwinners earn is unlikely to just support themselves, but also children, partners, spouses, elderly parents or other relatives. Purchasing protection and providing a financial lifeline for themselves, their businesses and their families in the event of the unexpected happening can take the pressure off the 4 million breadwinners who feel it’s solely their responsibility to make sure that their family has enough income in these difficult and sometimes devastating circumstances.

“There are very few things in life that are certain but you can protect yourself and your family against the worst. A simple discussion with a financial adviser to identify their protection needs could give women the peace of mind and confidence that should the unexpected happen to them, they are prepared.”