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Saturday, May 25, 2024

What do women want financially?

What do women want financially? It depends which generation you ask, according to Empower’s latest research on Financial Happiness.

For financial happiness, Millennials — a subset of the 1,274 women surveyed—reported needing 4x the wealth of their Gen Z counterparts: Millennial women put the price tag at $1,314,805 in net worth, while Gen Z women say they’d need just $306,858. Older generations including Gen Xers and Boomers put the number at $861,285 and $738,473, respectively.

Today, women control a third of total U.S. household financial assets – more than $10 trillion – and that number is expected to almost triple by 2030.1 As wealth grows for women, so too will the need for pursuing and owning financial happiness.

"Money is such an intimate piece of your life, whether you want it to be or not,” says Courtney Burrell, a financial professional with Empower. “Financial advice is really life advice: figuring out how to use your money in a way that enhances your day-to-day and helps you live the best life possible."

For women, financial happiness isn’t just about reaching a specific net worth – it’s achieved through independence (46%) and money milestones like paying bills on time (71%), living debt-free (68%), affording everyday luxuries without worry (59%), and owning a home (46%).

Key takeaways on women’s financial happiness

  • Independence, and a little treat here and there, are strongly linked to feelings of financial happiness. Almost half (46%) of female respondents consider not having to rely on anyone else financially “very important” and place great value (59%) on being able to afford everyday small luxuries. 
  • For very few, salary isn’t an important determinant of financial happiness. 27% of Boomer women said having a high salary was not important at all when it came to their financial happiness, which stands out compared to other generations.
  • The younger the generation, the more women who experience sleepless nights worrying over money. 60% of Gen Z women lose sleep over their finances, followed closely by Millennials (51%), Gen X (35%) — and to a lesser extent — Boomers (24%).
  • Gen Z women are hit the hardest by financial stressors. Almost half (44%) of Gen Z women say their stress around money isn’t manageable and report experiencing financial stressors at higher rates than other generations. These stressors include student loan repayments (55%), higher home prices and mortgage rates (70%), spiking rent prices (73%), and job layoffs (54%).

Read more: Dive into the full Financial Happiness report

Financial happiness in the here and now

A notable trend among Americans (29%) is splurging on everyday luxuries that spark immediate joy – even those outside of their budget: Nearly a third of men (32%) report splurging on items they can’t afford compared with 27% of women.

Still, for women, financial happiness is defined by everyday spending flexibility: 59% of younger generations say they’re willing to pay $7 for a daily coffee because of the joy it brings. 

Financial freedom, please step up

Women across generations prize financial happiness. Indeed, Empower data shows that more than two-thirds of women have clear financial goals (64%) and over half are confident in their financial plan (59%).

What’s more, almost half (46%) of female respondents consider not having to rely on anyone else financially “very important,” compared to 39% of male respondents. For older generations of women, that number rises to 52%, suggesting that financial freedom in later life is more important than ever. This is likely due to health care needs, fixed incomes, and legacy planning. Plus, women in the U.S. outlive men by an average of 5 years.

When asked, hypothetically, ‘What would you give up if it meant that you could achieve financial happiness?’ many would be willing to go to considerable lengths.

Giving up social media ranked high on the list across generations (71%), as did forgoing tickets to a major event (79%), working out (65%), and drinking coffee (54%).

What’s more, Gen Z women would give up love (43%) or their phones (38%) — in that order.

What keeps women up at night?

The younger the generation, the more sleepless nights spent worrying over money. Sixty percent of Gen Z women lost sleep over their finances, followed closely by Millennials (51%), Gen X (35%) — and to a lesser extent — Boomers (24%).

"Gen Z has the unique perspective of coming of age in a world that's more connected than ever before,” says Burrell. “Everything is instantaneous for that generation, and because of that they are constantly bombarded with information – be it from social media or elsewhere.”

This might be why Gen Z reports being hit the hardest by financial stressors. Almost half (44%) of Gen Z women say their stress around money isn’t manageable and report experiencing worry at higher rates than other generations (31% of Millennials, 29% of Gen X, 14% of Boomers).

These Gen Z stressors span:

  • Student loan repayments (55%)
  • Higher home prices and mortgage rates (70%)
  • Spiking rent prices (73%)
  • Job layoffs (54%)

Retirement ready

Nearly half of women (47%) feel they haven’t gotten the financial advice they need, including 59% of Gen Zers and 56% of Millennials. Fewer women feel financially prepared to retire (36% vs 46%), have clear financial goals (64% vs 72%), and feel confident in their financial plan (59% vs 70%) than male respondents. Plus, 67% of women (vs 58% of men) said saving enough for retirement contributed to their financial stress.

Burrell offers insight to women interested in improving their finances: "Let's see our financial independence and saving toward the future as non-negotiable. Instead of seeing expenses and savings solely as money spent, think of them as investments in our future."

The path to financial happiness

Women’s financial happiness is intrinsically linked to their financial freedom. What would it take to achieve it?

Burrell suggests taking control of your financial life with small steps and tapping into the power of advice.

“Every day, you get to choose where to put your money – across spending, saving, and investing decisions,” she says. “Find your financial allies, identify what you value – what your driving force is – and use that to help guide your moves.”



The Empower “Financial Happiness” study is based on online survey responses from 2,034 Americans ages 18+ fielded by The Harris Poll from August 7 to August 14, 2023, and using data from the Empower Personal Dashboard™. The survey is weighted to be nationally representative on the following dimensions: age, gender, education, race, region, income, size of household, marital and employment status. For this study, the sample data is accurate to within + 2.9 percentage points using a 95% confidence level. The information in this article is based on a subset of the sample data which breaks down survey responses by sex and generation. 

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1. McKinsey. “Women as the next wave of growth in wealth management.” July 2020.

The Currency editors

Staff contributors

The CurrencyTM, a publication from Empower, covers the latest financial news and views shaping how we live, work, and play. We keep you current on ways to plan, save, and invest for life.

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