National Survey: Women, Financial Stress, and the American Workplace

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A national poll of voters commissioned by American Women [1], demonstrates that women in this country continue to have significant financial concerns; as 41 percent of women are the primary breadwinners in their households, the ability to meet expenses and pay the bills weighs heavily on women, even more so than their male counterparts. 

The experiences of women at work do little to alleviate these concerns, as women are more likely than men to see inequality in pay and opportunity in their workplaces; moreover, many of the most vulnerable women—including single moms—are less likely than others to have access to the benefits they need, such as paid time off and parental leave that would allow them to manage the demands of caregiving and work without jeopardizing their financial standing.  Today’s American workplaces are not keeping pace with the changes in the American family’s structure and caregiving, adding to the stress and uncertainty among American women.

The following are key findings from a national survey of 1,300 registered voters, with a nationally representative base of 1,000 voters and an oversample of 300 women, conducted by  Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.

Across the board, women report money as a top source of stress

While money is a source of stress for both men and women, women express greater concern with 37 percent of women picking monthly bills and expenses as one of their top sources of stress, compared to just 26 percent of men.  Worries about finances surpass concerns about their personal health, career expectations, and relationships.

Figure 1: Top Sources of Stress, by Gender

Concerns about bills and expenses emerge as a top source of stress among most groups of women, particularly unmarried women (40 percent), women under the age of 50 (45 percent), and African American women (42 percent).  But there are other concerns that impact women 

as well:

  • Nearly one third of women over the age of 50 (32 percent) choose their personal health as a top source of stress, and 24 percent feel stressed about their family’s health. 
  • Women living in households with annual incomes greater than $50,000 are more likely than those with annual incomes of less than $50,000 to focus on future financial security through saving for retirement, with 28 percent of higher income women citing saving for retirement as a top stressor, compared to 18 percent among those lower income households.

Women perceive greater disparities in pay and opportunity between men and women in their workplaces than their male colleagues

Women see a real gap between men and women in their own workplaces; they are less likely than men to believe they are paid equally for the same job and have the same opportunities as men in the workplace.

Two thirds of men (68 percent) believe that the men in their workplace are paid the same as their female coworkers doing the same job, compared to 53 percent among women. Feelings about workplace equity go beyond pay; women are also more likely to believe that women do not have the same opportunities as men to succeed in their workplace (65 percent) than their male colleagues do (80 percent). 

Figure 2: Views on Equal Pay

  • This is not a partisan issue, with little differences among either men or women across the political spectrum.  Among self-identified Democratic women, 54 percent perceive pay inequality in their workplace, compared to 51 percent among independent women and 53 percent among Republican women.  Among men, 67 percent of Democratic men and 68 percent each of Republican and independent men think that men in their workplaces are paid the same as women.
  • Generational differences do exist, with Baby Boomer women, who were at the vanguard of the women’s rights movement, most likely to see inequity (41 percent of women over 50 believe women and men are paid equally for the same job compared to 65 percent among women under 50).  Older women are also more pessimistic about opportunity in the workplace (54 percent of older women think women have the same opportunities as men, compared to 75 percent of younger women).

Figure 3: Workplace Equity, by Gender and Age

Benefits like sick leave and vacation time and assets like retirement savings are less available to those who need it most               

Lack of access to paid leave and time off needed to care for themselves and their families add to the stress and financial instability felt by women today. Overall, seven in ten women (69 percent) report receiving paid vacation time from their employer, and two-thirds (64 percent) say they have paid sick days that they can use for a minor illness or to care for a mildly ill child. However, just forty-four percent of women report having paid family leave to care for a seriously ill loved one, compared to 52 percent of men. Only four in ten women (43 percent) reported having paid maternity leave at their current job, compared to 47 percent of men who have paternity leave.

Figure 4: Access to Workplace Benefits

Women also face greater uncertainty about their financial stability and retirement. While there is no real disparity on savings accounts—66 percent of women and 69 percent of men report having one—women are less likely to have a retirement account like a 401(k) or an IRA.

  • Forty-nine percent of women have an IRA, compared to 55 percent of men. Similarly, half of women have a retirement account like a 401(k), compared to 61 percent of men – an 11-point disparity.
  • While 22 percent of men lack any type of retirement savings (IRAs, 401(k)s, or pensions), 28 percent of women and 31 percent of the Rising American Electorate (unmarried women, African American, Latinos, other people of color and people under 30) hold no type of retirement savings.


Despite progress among college graduates and those living in higher income households, American women continue to face more financial challenges than men, and less opportunity in the workplace.  They experience more stress related to bills and monthly expenses than men, and believe that they do not have the same opportunities for financial success as their male colleagues.  With an increasing number of women serving as breadwinners for their households, addressing this economic vulnerability is more important than ever. 

[1] Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research conducted a national survey of 1,000 registered voters and 300 female voters for a total sample size of 1,300. Half of the respondents were reached on a cell phone. The survey was conducted from March 11-17, 2015, and carries a margin of error of +/- 2.7 percent. Margin of error is higher among subgroups. 

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