Rich Joined in Marriage as Millionaire Women Bring Equal Wealth

Jun 20, 2014 10:51 am ET

June 20 (Bloomberg) -- It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife, at least according to Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Two centuries later, the women are likely to be just as wealthy, a survey by U.S. Trust shows.

Fifty-two percent of rich women came into their marriage or live-in relationship with equal or more assets than their spouse or partner, the Bank of America Corp. unit said in a study released today. Respondents had at least $3 million in investable assets.

“Women are both wealth creators and wealth inheritors,” Chris Heilmann, chief fiduciary executive at U.S. Trust, said in an interview. “They are bringing assets to a relationship.”

Women are contributing assets from their careers, inheritances and divorce settlements, Heilmann said. Thirty percent of women said they had entered their relationship with equal financial assets and 22 percent said they had more than their spouse or partner, according to the survey.

There is still a gap when it comes to pay, the study found, as only about a third of female respondents said they are their households’ primary earners or contribute an equal amount. The median earnings of women who worked full time was 77 percent of that for men in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Women being on equal footing with men in their finances or financial assets is rather rare,” said Deborah Soon, senior vice president of strategy and marketing at New York-based Catalyst Inc., which researches women in the workplace. Women usually get career promotions later than men, which means they lose the value of compounding and fall further behind in building wealth, she said, and they miss opportunities when they leave a job to raise children.

Executive Imbalance

Women make up 4.8 percent of chief executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners and 16.9 percent of board seats in Fortune 500 companies, according to Catalyst.

The annual nationwide survey of 680 non-U.S. Trust clients was conducted in February and March. About 43 percent of respondents were women and about a third of all those surveyed had more than $10 million in investable assets.

Respondents were asked about marital status, holdings and income. About 547 were married or living with a partner and that group was then asked who brought more assets to the relationship and who was the primary earner. U.S. Trust didn’t have comparative data on these questions from last year, Heilmann said.

Stashing Cash

Millionaires still have a high allocation to cash, according to the survey, with women more inclined to keep it that way. Sixty percent of respondents said they had at least 10 percent of their money in cash even as yields on savings and money market accounts hover near record lows. Last year, 56 percent of those surveyed said they had a large amount in cash.

Investors poured money into assets perceived as safe such as bonds and cash after the 2007-2009 financial crisis, when the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index of big U.S. stocks lost more than half its value from peak to trough.

People who fled equities remain risk averse or fear they missed gains that won’t continue, Heilmann said. The S&P 500 surged 47 percent in the two years ended Dec. 31 as markets rebounded.

U.S. Trust is part of the global wealth and investment management unit of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America. It oversees about $378 billion in client balances and serves those who usually have at least $3 million in investable assets.