How to Tell Your Wife She Needs Life Insurance

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 behind.

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 them.

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 2012 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 them."

The gender gap

Although men historically have earned more than women in comparable jobs in the U.S., the gap is narrowing. 66% 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 report on women's career expectations. In comparison, only 59% of young men feel the same way.

The Pew group found that women have made significant workplace gains since 1970, when just over 38% of the U.S. labor force consisted of women. In 2010, women made up almost half of the labor force (46.7%).

"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.

Yet 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 coverage.

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.

Here's how to do a "needs analysis" before you buy life insurance.

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 insurance."

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