Women principal wage earners have jumped in number, but families are exposed to financial distress as income protection cover levels remain low
Female breadwinners have increased by a third since last year, according to research seen exclusively by Moneywise, as who earns the majority of the household income shifts between the sexes.
But the rise has not brought about a switch in who gets insured.
Despite the increased value of their financial contribution, women are much more likely to be unprotected against illness, redundancy or other causes that mean they are unable to work.
Just one in 20 (6%) women have income protection insurance, compared to one in ten (10%) men, according to the research by Lifesearch, a financial advice firm.
One in every eight men have critical illness cover in case of a life-changing sickness, but only one in 10 women have the same. Both types of insurance pay out, under different circumstances, to replace loss of earnings.
Experts say that as more women take on the role of providing the primary household income, the need for them to establish a financial safety net rises. Women who have taken out cover agree.
Natasha Lee, 39, a nail and beauty blogger from North Wales, says her family would be unable to manage without her business. She has both income protection and critical illness cover, and says women are failing to realise their financial worth.
“It always shocks me how women don’t think to cover themselves and if they do, they are far too underinsured based on the value of their many jobs and responsibilities, not just cover loss of wages,” says Ms Lee.
A mother of three, she became self-employed to juggle work and childcare for her two younger children, James and George, who have autism.
Lee says: “Raising children with additional needs really drove it home to me just how difficult life would be if I was not only unable to work, but couldn’t carry out my family role.
“Work out how much it would cost to hire someone to do all the little things you do day to day – carer, personal assistant, budgets, banking, washing, cooking, cleaning, ironing, admin – it’s astonishing what it amounts to. Add on top lost wages and it’s really scary.”
The 2019 Health, Wealth and Happiness report by Lifesearch uncovered almost half (45%) of female breadwinners say they also do the majority of the chores in cohabiting households, versus just one in eight (12%) male breadwinners.
Among male principal earners, 13% said if you earn more money you shouldn’t have to do as many household tasks.
Yet hard-grafting female breadwinners are sinking an extra 7.5 hours a week into household chores, the same as working day a whole extra day.
Rising numbers of self-employed workers lack the safety net provided by an employer.
There were 4.93 million self-employed people in Britain in August – 15% of all those in employment – 162,000 more than a year earlier
Lee says protection insurance is even more important to her as a self-employed business woman.
“I’m very away that if I can’t work for any reason, I can’t earn money, and bills won’t get paid. That’s a scary concept and something I intend to avoid,” she says.
“I think about my boys and my husband, and what their lives would be like if something happened to me. I’d want to do everything I can to help them, even when everything else is out of my control. Getting cover is an investment in your peace of mind and the future security of your family.”
More female breadwinners means there has been a rebalancing of the UK's gender value and net worth scales.
Women's average running value (a figure based on net worth but excluding property) is £30,000 more than it was last year, according to the Lifesearch research. Women's total value (net worth including property) has risen over £60,000 in the same timeframe.
Emma Walker of Lifesearch, which carried out the research, says: “It’s great that more women are seeing their earnings rise. But protection insurance isn’t just about loss of income and paying the mortgage. It’s covering the cost of all the extra things we do.
“Protection just as important as car insurance because the consequences of not having it can be even worse.”