Women and Financial Stress: COVID Made It Worse

According to a recent survey conducted by researchers at Montana State University, women reported greater financial stress than men during the COVID-19 outbreak. The survey cited “the nature of women’s employment and gendered societal pressures” as possible reasons that the burden of managing simultaneous, drastic changes in home, school, and the workplace fell disproportionately on women. The survey involved 2,000 respondents in Montana, Colorado, North Dakota, and Utah. Nearly 70 percent of the women surveyed said they were undergoing increased stress, compared with only about half of the men. Additionally, about 60 percent of the women surveyed reported applying for unemployment benefits, compared with about 50 percent of the men.

A story from a respondent in Billings, Montana, helps to contextualize the results. The family had converted a guest bedroom into a home office when the pandemic hit. “We had my son’s computer set up next to mine,” the female respondent says. One of the biggest challenges was knowing the full extent of her eight-year-old son’s school assignments for each day. “It was incredibly stressful, because you were trying to keep up with work and your clients and trying to keep the kids going to maintain some normalcy in their lives, too, because all of a sudden they couldn’t go to their extracurriculars; they couldn’t see their friends,” she says.

Working moms all over the country will quickly recognize the situation: while a majority of the American work force was suddenly forced to figure out how to maintain a business while under stay-at-home orders or other pandemic measures, women took overwhelmingly more responsibility for overseeing children’s remote schooling and other tasks, in addition to trying to keep their work lives going. In a way, the pandemic merely brought into the spotlight the situation working women have been in for decades: juggling the twin responsibilities of career and family, with high expectations in both arenas.

And it hasn’t improved, even with falling infection numbers and the rising tide of vaccinations. In the February 2021 Fidelity Financial Sentiment Survey, 79 percent of women report feeling weighed down by stress and money concerns, up from 67 percent in the fall of 2020.

What can you do to turn these feelings around? One important action is to take yourself off the emotional hook, according to financial therapists. Women tend to feel shame, because they believe they should be better at handling their finances. But no one has ever faced anything like COVID before, so in a sense, everyone is in the same boat. If you feel as if you don’t know what to do, it may help to realize that the rest of the world feels much the same way.

Another important tactic is to get your finances organized. On paper or your computer screen, write down what you have coming in and what you have going out, every month. This will reduce the natural tendency to worry about the same numbers over and over, making them seem bigger than they really are. Once you have the actual figures in front of you, you can form a spending plan. Once you do that, you will start to take back a little bit of the control that you feel you’ve lost. Because most of our financial stress comes from feeling out of control, gaining control over even a part of your financial picture will reduce the stress you are feeling, providing the confidence you need to extend your control a little farther. Bit by bit, you can reduce the stress, channeling it into concrete steps back toward normalcy.

As a fiduciary financial advisor, I help women in transition and other clients make smart decisions for spending, saving, investing, and retirement. If you would value greater clarity about your future resources, click here for a complimentary second opinion on your financial plan and strategy.

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