Client Marital Status and Career Outlook Central to Risk Tolerance

Research from Northwestern Mutual suggests a client’s thoughts about marital status and career ambition are among the strongest determinants of risk tolerance and general financial attitudes.

Single men and women have distinctly different lifestyles and financial planning perspectives from their married counterparts, according to the 2016 Northwestern Mutual Planning and Progress Study, and the differences have a big influence on financial services preferences and needs.

“As demographics shift and lifestyle trends continue to evolve, single households are now 45% of the U.S. population, and growing, according to Census Bureau data,” says Rebekah Barsch, vice president, planning and sales, Northwestern Mutual. “Understanding the unique needs of this vital segment should be a key priority for the financial services industry.”

Overall, single men and women are generally less satisfied with their financial circumstances than married Americans. More than half of single women (55%) and nearly half of single men (49%) are unhappy with their financial situations compared to one-third of married women and even fewer married men.

“Singles are nearly twice as likely as married people to feel ‘not at all’ financially secure (38% of single men and women combined versus 23% of married men and women combined),” Northwestern Mutual observes.

As a result, financial anxiety runs higher among singles than among married people. More than four in 10 single men and half of single women say they feel either a moderate or a lot of anxiety about their personal financial security, “a notably higher percentage than married individuals (35% married men and 41% married women).”

NEXT: Gaps in financial planning cause concern 

This low level of financial confidence may be a function of gaps in planning, the Planning and Progress research suggests.

“Two in three singles are not confident that their financial plan can withstand market cycles,” for example, “half of all singles (49%) have not spoken to anyone about retirement—double the percentage for married individuals (24%).” Two out of three singles do not have regular access to a financial adviser.

Crucial to consider—despite shared financial concerns single men and women have little in common when it comes to other aspects of their lives, according to Northwestern Mutual.

“Single men appear to be more focused on professional success, opting for ‘satisfying career’ as an attribute of the American Dream more frequently than single women and married people,” the research shows. “Moreover, single men were twice as likely as single women to choose ‘freedom to pursue my dreams’ as the top benefit of financial security.”

For single women, on the other hand, the most pressing priority appears to be relief from financial obligations, with six in 10 (compared to 46% of single men) choosing “peace of mind from not worrying about day-to-day expenses” as the leading benefit of financial security.

“Notably, despite the financial pressure, single women are generally more positive about various aspects of their lives,” Northwestern Mutual also observes. “Three-quarters of single women (74%) are happy with their social lives compared to two-thirds of single men (66%) and they also indicate a higher level of satisfaction with their family life and physical well-being.”

Additional research findings are available at