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Managing the Family Finances

The younger the couple, the more likely it’s a joint decision

When it comes to dealing with daily household finances such as spending, paying bills and debt, younger couples in America are much more likely than older ones to make decisions as a team, according to a new survey.

Nearly three in four couples (71 percent) ages 35 to 44 say they make financial decisions together. But among couples age 65 and older, only 55 percent say they do the same, according to the survey released June 15 by TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. of Omaha, Neb.

Kevin Koziol, product manager for Ameritrade’s retirement and goal planning, says women entered the workforce in large numbers in the 1970s and 1980s, and as a result took on a more equitable role in their families’ financial matters than did women in previous generations.

“It seems that a lot of women in the 35 to 44 age group are working and are more independent as opposed to those in the 65-plus age group,” he says. “Women in that [older] generation, based on our findings, weren’t breadwinners so they deferred to the husband for making decisions for both of them.”

Younger people talk more

“Communication is the biggest difference among the generations,” Koziol says. “Some of the boomers waited too long to discuss planning and savings. The younger generation seems to be talking more. That strengthens the savings and planning [practices] for that demographic.”

Younger couples tend to make joint financial decisions even in marriages in which one person is the primary wage earner, the survey of 1,058 people found. Of those ages 35 to 44, only 13 percent say the breadwinner alone makes household financial decisions while 28 percent of couples ages 65-plus report the same.

Not surprisingly, 60 percent of those surveyed report that the man is the primary breadwinner at home, compared with 32 percent who identify the woman as such.

Among all age groups, 58 percent report difficulties in saving for retirement. Though they cite different reasons for “being a little or far behind,” 72 percent of those age 65 and up say it’s because they started saving later in life; 56 percent of those ages 55 to 64 cite the same reason. Raising children is mentioned as causing the setback for 56 percent of those ages 45 to 54.

Being debt-free

The study pointed out that being debt-free was more important to older couples—the 65-plus group (51 percent) and the 45-64 group (43 percent)—compared with people ages 18 to 34 (30 percent).

Other findings from the survey include:

  • 61 percent of married men report they would be “very comfortable” managing their finances on their own if they were to separate from their partners; 52 percent of married women said the same.
  • 26 percent of couples age 65 and up say the breadwinner alone makes decisions about paying bills compared with 17 percent of couples ages 18 to 34.
  • 65 percent of women “definitely” expect to be more cost-conscious in 2010 compared with 53 percent of men.


Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the
AARP Bulletin.

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