'Mancession' puts burden on women

(Linda Stern is a freelance writer. Any opinions in the column are hers. You can follow Linda Stern's financial notes on Twitter at

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The current recession has been called a “mancession” because men have lost more jobs than women have, yet some experts contend women are suffering more: The tight money environment is causing them to give up everything from sleep to children as they worry about finances and scale back their lifestyles and family plans.

“This is a transformative recession for women,” says Lisa Caputo, head of Women & Co., a program from Citi. “They are pausing to take stock of where they are and permanently changing the way they are saving and spending. They are protecting their lair.”

Working women say they are delaying having children and planning for smaller families because of the financial burdens imposed by the current recession, according to a study by Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health research organization. Working mothers have been hardest hit, with more than half (53 percent) indicating they work longer hours to make ends meet, compared with just 24 percent of women without children and 33 percent of men, according to a new study from Citi.

While they are holding on to their jobs better than men are -- the unemployment rate in September was 9.6 percent for men and 7 percent for women -- their jobs still tend to be lower paying, lower-level jobs. Women make up 45.5 percent of the labor force, but collect 38 percent of the wages paid.

And, as has been the case for many years, women spend more time doing housework than men do; and they tend to live longer and end up poorer than men do. They also are more likely to be in charge of the family budget than are their husbands.

All together, it adds up to a lot of financial and emotional stress as women need to figure out how to protect their own finances while caring for their families during very tough times. Here are some pointers:

-- Put the family first. The recession of 2009 is the first time that many families are finding themselves with the wives outearning husbands, or even being the sole breadwinners. That can be an emotional adjustment, even for generations raised on the concept of equality. It’s easy to argue about disproportionate workloads or earnings, and financial stress can add to the anger or resentment. Partners should work hard to stay on the same team and discuss ways to continue supporting each other emotionally. Creating practical schedules for housework, childcare and errands can help. Reviewing the spending rules, such as the amount either partner can spend without checking with the other, can help too.

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-- Set good priorities. Current research says families appreciate experiences more than things. So, with family budgets tight, think of ways you can best deploy your resources so you can enjoy your time together. That may mean spending money for a cleaning service and having a stay-at-home game night, instead of spending money on movie tickets and stressing about the housework.

-- Save, save, save. Women need buckets of money to make it to the end of their days. A woman who has recently re-entered the workforce should make sure she’s maxing out her own retirement accounts. If she is not working, and her husband is, she should make sure to contribute to a spousal Individual Retirement Account.

-- Act like the breadwinner you are. Women should make sure they have enough life insurance to protect their families from losing their salaries and home-based contributions. They should not feel guilty about having to be at work, or apologize (even in their own heads) for earning money. They should take their benefits package seriously and make sure they have properly designated beneficiaries for retirement plans and insurance policies.

-- Career build. The middle of a recession may not be the best time to ask for a raise, but it is a good time to network, sharpen skills, and prepare for that next better-paying job. It’s also a good time to practice negotiating, so when the job market improves, you can demand a better position and a higher salary.

-- Invest, don’t just save. Women traditionally handle the family’s everyday budget while men make the mutual fund, stock and bond decisions. That’s not a good division of labor. Both should have some experience with the other piece of their financial life.

-- Help each other. There are a lot of mothers really struggling in this economy, but they can share resources. Single mothers, who have to do it all (and pay for it all) themselves, can lean on each other, living in shared apartments or houses, and trading off childcare, errands, meals and everything else. All can save with some time-honored traditions that never go out of style, like passing down toys and clothes, and taking the kids to the library instead of the book or video store.

editing by Gunna Dickson