Women Torn Between Financial Independence and Helping Children

February 16, 2012 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - While women across generations are willing and eager to provide financial support to their family members, they are also placing a strong emphasis on self-reliance, according to a MetLife Mature Market Institute study.

“Women’s Views on Family Financial Obligations: A MetLife Survey of Intergenerational Findings of Baby Boomers and Generations X and Y” found that across generations, women strongly agree that they need to prepare for retirement to avoid depending on family members later in life—89% of Boomers (b. 1946–64), 88% of Gen Xers (b. 1965–1976) and 84% of Gen Yers (b. 1977–1990). However, another tendency that appears to be universal among the women surveyed (almost eight in 10 across all generations) is the desire to be able to give more financially to children or grandchildren.  

Boomers place a strong focus on self-reliance and are more likely to report that they are financially secure than the other generations (60% vs. 47% of Gen Xers and 50% of Gen Yers). If given the choice between spending money to enjoy retirement versus saving with the intent to leave an inheritance, both Boomers (73%) and Gen Xers (69%) were more likely than Gen Yers (54%) to agree with the retiree who is giving small gifts to her children, but is more focused on enjoying retirement.   

Approximately half of the women overall feel they have a strong or absolute responsibility to provide financial support for their children’s education; however Gen Yers were significantly more likely to do so, as reported by 57% of women (compared to 51% of Gen Xers and 45% of Boomers).  

The strong desire to help children financially doesn’t necessarily extend to the grandparent-grandchild relationship. Only 8% of Boomer women feel a responsibility to support a grandchild’s education. However, the feeling of responsibility for grandchildren’s education is on the rise—15% of Gen Yers and 13% of Gen Xers say that providing support for grandchildren’s education is a responsibility.   

As women get older, they indicate they’ve contributed significantly to their children and that the time has come to focus on their own needs for both enjoyment and independence.  

Respondents’ emphasis on self-reliance extends to their reluctance to accept financial help from their children. In times of financial difficulty, an equal percentage of women across all generations would give financial help to parents and/or in-laws, but 45% of Boomers say they wouldn’t accept financial help from their adult children, even if they needed it.  

“What’s apparent from this study is that having a plan for independence is important for family financial security, especially for women as they age; many clearly don’t want to rely on their families,” said Sandra Timmermann, Ed.D., director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

Life Insurance  

Among women, life insurance is viewed as a key component to ensuring their family’s financial security. There are some key distinctions between younger and older women when it comes to the reasons for having or needing life insurance. Generation Y (83%) and Generation X (79%) cite having or needing life insurance to support their children if they die prematurely, followed by a desire to support a spouse.  

Likewise, younger women were more likely than Boomers to say paying for children’s education was a major reason for having life insurance. Boomers (59%) were more likely to say life insurance is to support their spouse if they die prematurely, followed by to cover funeral costs.  

Gender Differences  

Life insurance coverage is higher among older men. Gen X and Boomer men are more likely to report being covered by life insurance, either through an employer or paid for individually (83% vs. 76% of women). Among those who have not purchased individual life insurance policies beyond what their employer provides, men are more likely than women to say they don’t need it since they are healthy and expect to live a long time.  

In general, men indicate a greater feeling of responsibility to protect their families financially from an unexpected death. Men (83%) are more likely than women (73%) to feel a sense of responsibility for making sure their spouse has enough money if they died unexpectedly, particularly among Boomers (84% vs. 71% of women).  

Fathers and grandfathers overall are more apt to wish they could give more financially to their children and grandchildren than their female counterparts (82% vs. 77% of mothers and grandmothers).  

The online survey of 2,123 Americans ages 21 to 65 was conducted from June 29 to July 20, 2011.  

The survey report is available here.