We tend to think of husbands as the family members with the
greatest need for life insurance. But the death of a wife can be
every bit as financially devastating for those who are left
The main purpose of life insurance is to replace lost income,
and two-income households have become commonplace in the U.S. Like
husbands, wives need life insurance to make sure that their deaths
don't create an economic crisis for the people who depend on
The problem is that telling your spouse or domestic partner that
they need to buy a
life insurance policy
can be a difficult task. That's because many people dislike
contemplating their own death, says Kate Levinson, author of
"Emotional Currency," a book about women building healthy
relationships with money. They may resist discussing the topic.
Even if they work full time, wives remain the primary homemakers
for most families. Many don't realize how much their families have
come to rely on their efforts at home and in the workplace.
"It is relatively new that so many women are making more
income," Levinson explains. "Their families depend upon their
income as well as the work [they do] running the home."
What to say
Telling your wife she needs life insurance requires sensitivity,
since no one likes to be reminded that their death is inevitable.
Here are some ways to approach the subject:
- If your wife works, point out that her earnings are vital to
household finances. Explain that finding a way to replace her
income would be extremely difficult without life insurance. The
Mother's Day Index
took an informal look at federal labor data and found that hiring
someone to do the work that mothers typically perform around the
house could cost $60,381 per year. That's more than typical
middle-wage families can afford.
- If you have children, remind her that the cost of higher
education is increasing. A life insurance policy could help
ensure that her children are able to attend college or receive
other career training.
- Stress to her just how uncertain the U.S. economy is. Making
sure that she is adequately insured will create economic
stability for your household and bring her peace of mind.
- Getting your wife to face her own mortality may require
"breaking through resistance," says Levinson. She advises men to
emphasize that either partner in a relationship could die
unexpectedly. Preparing for this with a life insurance policy is
the best thing you can do for your loved ones.
- Tell her not to count on outliving you. Nancy Fagan, a
divorce mediator in San Diego, observes that women often delay
buying life insurance because they assume they will outlive their
husbands, "and it doesn't always happen that way. Wives do die.
They should think about the children and what would happen if
their husband isn't earning enough money to take care of
The gender gap
Although men historically have earned more than women in
comparable jobs in the U.S., the gap is narrowing. Sixty-six
percent of women age 18 to 34 years old say being successful and
having high-paying jobs is "one of the most important things" or
"very important" to them, according to a recent Pew Research Center
women's career expectations
. In comparison, only 59 percent of young men feel the same
The Pew group found that women have made significant workplace
gains since 1970, when just over 38 percent of the U.S. labor force
consisted of women. In 2010, women made up almost half of the labor
force (46.7 percent).
"Women are really, really closing the gap," says Margaret King,
director of The Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis in
Philadelphia. As a result, husbands are growing more financially
dependent on their partners. At one time, middle-wage families may
have been able to economically justify skipping a life insurance
policy for Mom, but those days are over.
women generally have lower amounts of individual life insurance
than men of the same age, reports LIMRA, a research group that
tracks insurance trends. On average, women have $129,800 of
individual life insurance. In contrast, men have $187,100 in
In addition to replacing income, people typically buy life
insurance to pay mortgages, cover funeral expenses and fund
children's educations. The amount of life insurance that a woman
needs depends on such factors as salary, age, the number of
dependents she supports and the family's debt.
how to do a "needs analysis" before you buy life
Struggling not to lose ground
The American middle class has been losing economic ground for
decades. Ginita Wall, director of the nonprofit Women's Institute
for Financial Education, says it's hard for any middle-wage person,
male or female, to earn enough money to support a home and children
without the help of a domestic partner.
"Traditionally all of the [personal finance] articles have been
geared toward the male needing life insurance," Wall says. "These
days there often is not one major breadwinner. It's two people and
sometimes the women are earning more. To protect the income stream
if they are both working, they both are going to need life