Proper communication is widely attributed as a trait of a healthy marriage, but it appears something has been lost in translation. When asked about investment decisions, 38 percent of married women surveyed declared themselves the primary decision-maker—but merely 5 percent of their husbands agreed, according to a study by BMO Private Bank.

When the roles are reversed, the numbers are similarly disconnected. “The most striking finding of this study is that there is a huge disconnect in perception of who is the primary decision-maker in the household,” explains BMO VP and senior financial planner Kimberly Bridges. “Overall, what we see is that roughly two-thirds of men reported themselves as the primary decision-makers, but only a fraction of the women are saying their spouse or partner is the primary decision-maker.”

David Ott, Acropolis Investment Management cofounder and partner, says investment-related decisions are “slightly tilted toward men” in his professional experience. “It’s common for only one spouse to be making most of the decisions, and I would say that my client base is probably 60 to 65 percent male—but I do think that is generational,” explains Ott, noting that most of his clients are in their early 60s. He says he believes the younger couples he works with have a greater decision-making balance.

In the same BMO study, Bridges mentions that more men reported confidence in their ability to handle their investments. “That tells you we need to do something to build the confidence of women,” she says. “We need to recognize that when we are working with couples, we can’t assume they’re on the same page. In fact, this research illustrates that there is a big difference between what the men think and what the women think in terms of how decisions are made.” To help decipher the communication disconnect, Bridges recommends bringing in a third party. “The financial adviser can help them get on the same page.”

At the end of the day, some people—gender aside—simply are better at numbers. “What I see in households is that—like anything else—everybody has different talents,” explains Moneta Group principal Nancy Georgen, who notes that she is the primary decision-maker regarding investments not because her husband is incapable of doing so, but because it is her career expertise.

“If you were to ask me how much equality there is, I’d say the majority of my clients are equally involved with financial decision-making,” Georgen says. “It’s just that the men are still more comfortable making decisions and stepping up to the lead role. My belief is just that it’s education—as I see more females get to know finance, out of necessity or just because they’re more involved, I see them stepping up and taking a more active role.”

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