Women are now the sole or primary breadwinners in more than 40% of U.S. households with kids under 18, and pre-pandemic nearly half of working women earned similar to or more than their partner. And yet, these women may still not think of themselves as the breadwinner of the household or as a wealth builder.


Chief Member Jennifer Barrett, Chief Education Officer at investment app Acorns and author of Think Like a Breadwinner led Chief Members through a workshop to unpack what it really means to think like a breadwinner.

Breadwinning Isn’t About Earning More Than Your Partner

Despite being high earners, women may tend to think like a budgeter, by making decisions through the lens of what they can afford, versus what they want from their life. According to Barrett, becoming a breadwinner is less about earning a certain amount of money than it is about breaking through a number of false beliefs that may keep women from using that money to create the lives they want.

Being the breadwinner "is about being able to provide the life you want for yourself — whether you're single, married, or divorced; whether you're earning more or less." said Barrett. "Thinking like a breadwinner really gives you true agency over your life."

Think Like a Breadwinner

Surveys have found that parents are likely to teach their sons how to build credit, invest, and grow their money, while teaching their daughters how to budget, shop smartly, and track their spending — a holdover from the days when boys were expected to grow up to become the sole earners of a household. Research has shown that early career conversations tend to also be skewed by gender. "People are talking to men about what they'll earn and they don't often talk to us about what we earn," Barrett said. "So with women, it's all about: Get a job you'll enjoy, try to save a little bit of money. With men, it's about: Here's how much you can expect to earn in this career. It's a very different conversation." As a result, women invest less and later than men, which contributes to the gender wealth gap.

Treat Each Paycheck Like an Opportunity for Building Wealth

The average female investor keeps most of her portfolio in cash, which yields lower returns. Instead of thinking about savings and investments as putting something away for a rainy day and/or retirement, Barrett encouraged members to think of every paycheck "as an opportunity to start building wealth" and tackle pre-retirement goals like buying a home or starting a family.

Stop Outdated Gender-Normative Ideologies About Money

These habits and inclinations require a mindset shift, which begins with tackling outmoded notions, like the idea that talking about money is rude or wanting more money equates to selfishness. Barrett addresses the fears of female breadwinner-related relationship troubles that so many headlines warn us about. "The fact is we can't control what a partner feels if we're earning more. A partner could be resentful when we're not earning a lot too because they feel like there's a lot of pressure on them," she said. "But cutting our pay is not necessarily going to save our marriage." Urging members to redefine what partnership  can look like, she said, "If married couples see themselves more as partners in income and housework, and they don't limit themselves to society's constructed gender roles, it eases marriage anxiety, and it makes for happier relationships."

Of course, after a long year and a half of living through disarray on a global level, there are more recent fears that can be compounded with the deep-seated ones that have been there all along. For those of us that feel inclined to put off investing for some time in the future when things feel less volatile, Barrett said: "The biggest message I would say is don't let fears that the market might drop again, or that the market is too high and you've already missed out on the returns, keep you from investing. Because it's a long game, right?"

When it comes to creating wealth that will allow ourselves to have the lives we want for ourselves at any age, it certainly is — and playing small won’t get us the lives we may ultimately want.