Poll: Women, men disagree on how they divide spending

Who controls spending? 'We do,' say women. Men say, 'Hunh? I thought we shared'

Tony Mecia
Personal finance writer
Rewards expert who writes the "Cashing In" reader Q&A column for CreditCards.com

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 10 business card mistakes that can tank your creditJuan Rodriguez/CreditCards.com


Who makes the spending decisions on buying clothes and groceries and handling holiday shopping? “We do,” women say. But men don’t see it that way at all, according to a new CreditCards.com survey.

By margins of roughly 2 to 1 compared with men, women said that they are the ones in charge of shopping for groceries and other household items (70 percent), shopping for clothes and shoes (73 percent) and doing the holiday shopping (68 percent).

Men disagree. They are more likely to describe those same buying decisions as equally shared tasks than to say that a woman in their household is primarily responsible for them.

CreditCards.com conducted the scientific telephone poll of 673 adult Americans who live in households with more than one adult. We asked them who in their household was “primarily responsible” for spending in six categories. The poll data has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points (see methodology).

Shifting economic trends
Alexa Fox, an assistant professor of marketing at Ohio University, says the results show the effect of shifting economic trends within households. While women have made big gains in the workforce and in raising their incomes, many still have outsized responsibilities at home.

“We are seeing all kinds of roles changing in the family: dads who are getting more involved in raising children and more dual-income households,” she says. “It certainly does make sense that they are splitting some of those major purchases, while women still make some of the day-to-day decisions.”

Fox says she expects those differences to even out over time, as the younger generation reaches the workforce and has different conceptions about money than previous generations.

Poll findings
The CreditCards.com poll found:

  • 73 percent of women say a female does most of their household’s shopping for clothes and shoes; just 23 percent of men agree.
  • 70 percent of women say a female does most of their household’s grocery shopping; only 31 percent of men agree.
  • 46 percent of women say a female is primarily responsible for buying movie, concert or sports tickets in their household; a mere 7 percent of men agree.
  • 44 percent of women say a female is primarily responsible for deciding where to go out to eat; just 9 percent of men agree.
  • 43 percent of women say a female is primarily responsible for their household’s big-ticket electronics/appliances purchases; just 8 percent of men agree.
  • 41 percent of women say a female is primarily responsible for planning travel and vacations; just 12 percent of men agree.

Disagreement over sharing
In our poll, men were more inclined to describe spending as joint decisions, equally shared.

  • Regarding holiday shopping, far more men (41 percent) than women (25 percent) said it was shared.
  • When it comes to buying clothes and shoes, 38 percent of men, but just 23 percent of women said they equally share.
  • Men see themselves pulling their weight on grocery shopping duties: 33 percent of men say they equally share it. Only 23 percent of women see it that way.

What men, women say about sharing responsibility for buying decisions

In other spending areas – planning vacations, deciding where to eat out and buying big-ticket items – there was more agreement. About half of the women and half the men polled said they share responsibility equally.

How one couple divides spending
Asset manager Katie Wilson, 33, of San Francisco says she and her husband, Ted, don’t have a lot of time to collaborate on spending because they both work and raise two young children. They divide up different areas and take care of it: She tends to shop for groceries, holiday gifts and toiletries, while he tends to take charge of buying appliances, gardening supplies and other items for the house.

When their TV became frustratingly slow to turn on last weekend, Ted went to an electronics store and bought a new one with one of their children, while Katie took their other son to the grocery store.

They like to collaborate on big purchases and vacation planning but find they have little free time.

“Generally, having young children, we just execute,” she says. “It’s probably a gender stereotype, but a lot of the women I know, even the ones who work, tend also to run the household.”

The telephone survey was conducted Nov. 17-20, 2016, by Princeton Survey Research Associates International on behalf of CreditCards.com.

PSRAI interviewed a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults living in the continental United States, including 673 who said they live in households with more than one adult. Telephone interviews were conducted, in English and Spanish, by landline (500) and cellphone (500, including 321 without a landline phone). Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error is ± 4.5 percentage points for the subset of 673.

See related: Financial infidelity poll: 6 percent hid bank account from partner

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Updated: 02-15-2019