Money matriarchy: Women are taking control of the family purse strings

Katherine Sangster with sons Archie (7),  Harry (9) and twins Kitty and Elizabeth (1). Picture: Toby Williams
Katherine Sangster with sons Archie (7), Harry (9) and twins Kitty and Elizabeth (1). Picture: Toby Williams
Share this article
Have your say

MONEY matters have historically been seen as a man’s domain, with an old joke being that husbands earned it and wives simply spent it. However, it seems that these days it’s women who are ending up having the last laugh.

Research by the Bank of Scotland has identified a growing number of what they have called “money mummies” in Scotland.

Claire Logie. Picture: Jane Barlow

Claire Logie. Picture: Jane Barlow

These are not women who are frittering away their husband’s hard-earned cash, instead they are taking a firm control of the family purse strings. And, it appears, making a better job of it than the men. The research shows that there is a growing trend among couples under the age of 45 for the woman to handle the majority of everyday finances, such as bill payments.

On top of this, the Bank of Scotland claims there is a link between households where the woman is in charge of cash, and an increase in savings. One of these so-called “money mummies” is Karen Chapman who has three children – Emma, eight, Molly, seven and Maddy, six – with her husband, Paul.

They live in Gullane, East Lothian – in a house where she is firmly in charge of financial matters. “Out of the two of us I am the one who manages all the family accounts,” says Mrs Chapman, 44. “We have outgoings coming out of different accounts – food, bills and another one for our children’s activities and I know exactly how much we have in each one and how much has to come out each month. Mothers generally have a better grasp of what things cost and how much the food bills are every week because we are generally the ones buying it.

“I also think my husband is blissfully unaware of the cost of all the children’s activities. There is ballet and tennis and hockey and Zumba and Brownies and basketball to pay for every term.”

Karen Chapman with two of her daughters Maddy (6) and Emma (8). Picture: Jane Barlow

Karen Chapman with two of her daughters Maddy (6) and Emma (8). Picture: Jane Barlow

Mr Chapman runs his own financial services recruitment company with offices in Edinburgh, London and Singapore.

His wife says that taking care of the finances leaves her husband with more time to spend building his business. “He takes care of the bigger picture, expanding his business for the future while I take care of the home accounts.”

Mrs Chapman worked in financial services before starting a family, and now works part-time in the property department of a 
solicitors. When her children were young she came up with an argument-solving toy called Squibble don’t Squabble, and appeared on the BBC programme Dragons’ Den to showcase her product. She has also invented Chew Chew – a food train which travels around the kitchen table, and she hosts a radio show called Chatty Women at East Coast FM. She says: “I think women looking after the family money is largely a generational thing. Unlike many of our own mothers, many women today have had careers and lived in their own flats before having a family, so from the outset we are clued up about money. Then there is the added pressure of the recession, and everyone I know has had to take stock and work out what is happening to their money.

“I think women also tend to be a bit more cautious with money and want to put something aside for a rainy day – rather than get a new car or take a weekend break.”

Her comments are backed up by research by the Bank of Scotland. It said 87 per cent of Scottish households where women are in charge of long-term financial planning have some money put away, compared to 84 per cent of households where the man is responsible.

The report forecasts that women will gain the upper hand in the “balance of power” in their households across the UK by 2020. Greg Coughlan, head of savings at Bank of Scotland, says: “Younger women in Scotland have definitely taken a firm grip on the purse strings, moving from the traditional role – of managing the day-to-day spending – to planning and selecting where money is kept. This rise of a money matriarchy marks not just a shift in the balance of power in families but may have more positive impacts for the future economy.”

One financial advice company based in Scotland recognised this growing trend years ago. Independent Women, which offers financial advice for women, was set up in 1997 by Lesley Mackintosh after she identified a gap in the market.

Claire Logie, head of strategy at Independent Women, says women controlling the family purse strings is a growing phenomenon. “We call this the quiet revolution,” says Ms Logie. “Generally it is still not acknowledged that women are in charge of family finances, but, in fact, it is far more common that people think.”

The company, which has offices in Edinburgh and Glasgow, takes a modern look at the different stages of a woman’s life – from education, career and family, all the way through to retirement – and the part money and savings will play.

Logie says: “Gone are the days where women sat back and let their husbands manage the money. What we are seeing is that women want to be involved in money choices – whether that’s savings, buying shares or budgeting.

“What we’ve noticed is there is a psychological difference in the way women approach budgeting – how they invest money and the types of shares they want to buy. In life women are generally not more risk- averse than men, but they are when it comes to financial planning. They don’t like debt and they don’t want to put their family with high-risk investments.”

Leigh Sparks, professor of retail studies at the University of Stirling, says “money mummies” are part of modern-day evolution.

“I suspect this is just part of societal change,” he says. “If we think how long women have been in the labour market, it is now standard that young people have grown up managing their own money – it’s the normal way of doing things. It is a logical step that women would continue to do this even when they have had a family.”

However, he does question whether women are doing a better job than men. “I think this savings claim has more to do with the economic climate rather than women putting more money away.

“If men suddenly took charge of the purse strings it wouldn’t surprise me that they would be more aware of what is being spent than in the past. What would be interesting is to see if, when the economy picks up, women continue to make these savings.”