Most men and women approach finances and investing differently.

And the same is true when it comes to managing household debt; a recent Manulife debt survey found they can’t agree on who shoulders the responsibility of keeping a lid on their debts and spending.

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In cases where they don’t feel responsibility is equally shared, both men and women are more likely to indicate the responsibility lies with them rather than with their partner.  Slightly over half (56%) of men and a third of women (36%) say they primarily manage debt.

Conversely, only 10% of women and 4% of men admit their spouse manages their debt.  This disparity may reflect a lack of communication, and also points to one of the main reasons homeowners are finding it challenging to become debt-free.

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“These results indicate many couples might not be discussing debt with one another,” says Doug Conick, president and CEO of Manulife Bank of Canada.

The survey also found people in their fifties are more likely to report shared responsibility for debt management (52%), while those in their thirties are more resistant to discussing debt and creating shared plans (43%). 

Also, women were more concerned about debt and less confident about their ability to eliminate it. Slightly more women (81%) than men (75%) said reducing their household deficits is a top financial priority.

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“In many households, there’s a discrepancy in attitudes, perceptions and expectations between couples with regards to debt,” says Conick. “This is likely because they’re either managing their own personal debt separately, or just aren’t talking enough to one another about finances.”

On the bright side, though, both genders agree being debt-free at retirement is crucial. More than half of women (60%) and almost half of men (42%) would find it stressful and detrimental to their retirement goals.

“Given our current low interest-rate environment, an easy way for many homeowners to reduce interest costs might be to simply consolidate their debt at a lower rate,” says Conick.

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Other survey highlights include:

  • More than three quarters of Canadian homeowners (77%) say they’d like to reduce their debt in the next 12 months, but only 56% say they’re likely to achieve this goal.

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  • Nearly a quarter of respondents (24%) report an increase in debt over the past 12 months, and a further 15% report no change in their debt levels over the last year.
  • Regionally, homeowners from BC (56%) and Atlantic Canada (54%) are the most likely to report a reduction in 2013.  Homeowners in Manitoba and Saskatchewan are the most likely to report an increase in debt (30%).

In terms of cutting expenses, only 12% of homeowners would be willing to cut back on phone, internet and cable services. People are most willing to cut back on household furnishings and appliances (42%), and on dining out (41%).

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