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Feeling the Pressure? Financial Stressors Affecting Women Today & Throughout History

Jennifer Heskey

Jennifer Heskey has written this introduction and guide looking at financial stress throughout women’s history and for senior women today.


For decades, it has been a national trend for women to be more stressed than men. While many people might assume that women’s heightened stress levels stem from their familial responsibilities, it’s actually the relational and socioeconomic context of women’s lives that make day-to-day living more taxing. Still, in 2018, there is gender inequality with women earning less than men and having fewer health benefits and access to financial resources even though there is a large number of women in the workforce. In fact, this number has been on a steady incline throughout the last century, with only 27% of women working in 1940, rising to 52% in 1980, and reaching 73% in 2018. 


While the number of working women has increased, historically speaking, women have not had it easier than men when it comes to finding and securing a well-paid job. This leads to deep-seated financial stressors for women, who are oftentimes juggling dependent children, working outside of the home, and having comparably inadequate support. Throughout history and in today’s age, women are more likely to feel financial pressure as a result of their careers or familial situations, like going through a divorce.


Women Facing the Greatest Financial Stress


It is a relatively new concept that women are now seen as breadwinners, with recent data from the U.S. Census citing 40% of households including mothers who are the sole or primary source of income. Though women weren’t always breadwinners, 30% of women still experience high levels of stress because of their income. A majority of women are happy that gender roles have shifted, allowing women to work independently and establish their own careers, but women still face financial pressures that men do not. In particular, low and middle-income mothers claim to have the greatest financial stress of all working women in 2018.


As a comparison, 55% of women ages 30 to 55 with annual household incomes of $60,000 or less report having “overwhelming” levels of stress from finances. This statistic is a staggering 40% higher than similarly aged men in the same income group. What this shows is that though times have changed, women are still not compensated as ‘breadwinners’ — instead, facing serious financial pressures on a regular basis.


Handling the Financial Stress of Divorce


One of the most stressful situations that women have faced for many years—and the one that has a direct negative effect on women’s finances—is divorce. There is a general misunderstanding that women who receive custody of their children in a divorce will consequently receive child support and have enough money to support the family. However, it is rare, and in most cases impossible, for divorced mothers to live on child support alone, bringing added financial stress to the issue.

From 1965 to 1995, the U.S. divorce rate steadily increased from 2.5 per 1,000 people to 4.4 per 1,000 people. National statistics regarding divorce show 65% of divorced mothers actually receive no child support whatsoever. For women facing a divorce now and throughout history, it is always important to be aware of assets and ways to afford a strong, winning legal team. Otherwise, divorce can be extremely costly for women, and it is always best to be prepared by having full access to funds, credit and key documents.


While many people face financial stress to some extent, women have the added hardship of earning less than men and navigating other financial pressures both now and on a historical level. Heskey is a freelance health and finance writer. This article has been written because of her particular interest in mental health problems caused by financial stress. She is particularly concerned about how  money matters can affect the mental and physical health of older adults, such as those planning for retirement. Jennifer has  teamed up with a small financial advice company to develop a guide covering financial stress for seniors. This can be caused by divorce, healthcare costs, tax bills, and downsizing to name but a few.


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