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Nearly six in ten (58%) women across 12 countries believe themselves to be financially independent, and the highest percentage of financially autonomous women are in France, according to a survey conducted by Synovate.

The survey asked both women and men from around the world about the roles women play in their household finances, as well as whether they feel in control of their own cash, if they think they are financially independent, and whether they think women are better with money than men.

Among countries surveyed, French women have the highest reported levels of independence, at 80%, Synovate said. British women (76%) and South African women (69%) rank second and third.

Women in Bulgaria (37%) and Indonesia (47%) are the least likely to consider themselves financially independent, the survey found. Overall, the developed economies surveyed were significantly more likely to have women who consider themselves financially independent than the emerging economies (68% vs. 51%).

Results from the US show that nearly two-thirds (64%) of women in America feel financially independent. Claire Braverman, Synovate’s SVP of Financial Services in the US, said that these results are particularly surprising.

“While 64% of American women feel financially independent, that leaves more than a third who do not, especially for a nation that prides itself on an independent spirit,” Braverman said. “It may be that American women have higher expectations of what financial independence actually means. In part, there are a lot of women in marriages and partnerships who willingly cede monetary control, and there are an alarming number of women (often single mothers) in risky financial situations.”

What Financial Independence Means

The survey? asked women to choose what the term ‘financial independence’ meant to them. The top three answers across all 12 markets surveyed were:

  • ‘Financial independence is about not being dependent on my husband or partner for money’ (41%).
  • ‘Financial independence is about living debt free’ (30%).
  • ‘Financial independence is about being able to afford the things I want without worrying about the cost’ (18%).

French were most likely to equate financial independence with not having to rely on a partner for money (68%), followed by Dutch and British women (both 51%).

In contrast, living without debt is key for 42% of Malaysian and 40% of Mexican women who chose this as their top definition, the survey found.

A standout 42% of Bulgarian women think financial independence means being able to afford what they want without worrying about the cost. This is more than double the number who chose that definition in most other markets, and is likely because the prevailing family model in Bulgaria is for both partners to be breadwinners and equally responsible for running the household, Synovate said.

Financial Responsibilities of Men vs. Women

The survey also explored men’s and women’s attitudes about male roles in household finance, and found that an overall 43% of women agreed that ‘a man should be responsible for the mortgage / house payments’. When the same question was posed to male respondents, 53% agreed, demonstrating that men are more likely to consider themselves more responsible for this part of the household budget.

Notable findings in several countries:

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  • In Indonesia , 83% of men and 82% of women agree that a man should be responsible for the mortgage / house payments.
  • In the Netherlands, only 15% of men and 7% of women agree with this statement.
  • In the UK, 48% of men vs. 15% of women agree.
  • In France, 47% of men believe they are responsible for mortgage and house payments, but only 18% of women agree.
  • In Australia, 34% of men and only 12% of women agree.

The survey also asked if respondents think that providing for the family is a man’s responsibility. Overall, 58% percent of men and 38% of women agreed. The two Asian countries surveyed were most likely to agree, with an overall 87% in Indonesia and 73% in Malaysia putting the onus on men.

Similarly, when asked whether a man should be responsible for looking after the financial needs of his wife or partner, the more traditional cultures were most in favor. Overall, 51% agreed, made up of 57% men and 45% women. A near-universal 95% of both genders agreed in Indonesia and is likely because of lingering cultural beliefs, said Synovate.

Women More Responsible with Money

Just more than half of all respondents (both men and women) agreed that ‘women are more responsible with money than men,’ Synovate said, though responses differ significantly by gender: 61% of women think they are more responsible with money but only 40% of men agree.

The highest level of agreement was found in Mexico, with an overall 72% (82% women and 62% men) agreeing that women are more responsible.

These Mexican findings, Synovate stated, are likely because of cultural patterns. “Mexican women commonly play the role of home administrators, handing out money for utilities, rent, credit cards, school and medical fees and so on,” said Evelyn Jabiles, managing director of Synovate in Mexico. “They know what’s coming in, and what’s going out and tend to think of men as ‘big spenders’ and somewhat irresponsible.”

Credit Card Acceptance Evolving

How people feel about credit tends to evolve as credit card use matures in a country. Overall, 42% of female respondents use part of their monthly income toward credit card payments.

The highest credit card use is in Canada at 77%, France at 72%, and the US and Australia, both at 71%. The lowest use rates are in Indonesia (2%), Bulgaria (12%) and Malaysia (19%).

The Synovate survey also asked people whether they agreed with the statement ‘Having more than one credit card can lead to financial debt’. The percentage of women who agree with this statement is highest in Mexico (70%), where credit cards are perceived as extra money rather than a line of credit, and where interest rates on such cards are extremely high.

Additional survey findings:

  • 47% of women believe that women spend more money than men – and 56% of men agree with them. Synovate said that chances are high that much of this ‘big spending’ is done on behalf of the family.
  • Brazilian and South African women are among the most likely to take actions to become financially independent or stay that way. Some 83% of Brazilian women and 71% of South African women make their own financial plans and /or budgets.
  • 80% of respondents believe it’s important to know about financial products and services offered by banks and insurance companies. The highest number of respondents agreeing with this were in South Africa (95%), the US (91%) and Canada (91%).
  • 13% percent of women across the markets surveyed buy lottery tickets or enter raffles and competitions in an effort to become financially independent or maintain that status. Women who wager were most likely to be found in Australia (35%), and in the UK (31%).

About the survey: The Synovate survey on women’s financial independence was conducted in December 2008 across 12 markets and with nearly 4,500 female respondents. Some of the questions were also posed to around 4,500 men. The markets covered by the survey are Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, South Africa, the UK and the US.

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