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  • Latinas are known for their spirit of service, adopting a loving and caring role while working tirelessly to help provide, lift, and support their family, often in creative ways. Tweet This
  • "What can I do today to find the resources that I need? In the end, we forget about ourselves. Taking care of everyone, but then we are not taking care of ourselves." Tweet This
  • A significant number of Latinas and their families are economically insecure and are disproportionately impacted by poverty. Tweet This

As a child growing up in the Dominican Republic, I recall sitting around our dining room table with all my sisters and my mother, our hands folded in prayer. Prompted by my mother, my oldest sister prayed fervently for the meal we were about to eat—except that there was no meal. My father had been delayed overseas on a missionary trip, and resources were scant. But my mother never lost faith in God’s provisions for us. As soon as my oldest sister said, "Amen," a knock came at our door from a friendly neighbor, who had her hands full of warm, prepared food. She said she felt urged to bring us the meal. 

How my mother managed to remain steadfast by simply holding on to her faith all those years is beyond my comprehension. I never heard her complain or express misgivings about the scarcity of resources she had to provide for us. I played and frolicked without a care in the world, not being aware of the responsibilities or financial burdens my parents suffered as they lived a life of faith. Because my father frequently traveled for months at a time overseas on mission trips, my mother was left to fend for five daughters on her own. One would think she would have struggled with anxiety all those years, but if she did, we never knew. Instead, we only saw prayer and resourcefulness. 

To an extent, what I lived is a shared experience for many Latinas. The Latino population has grown exponentially since the 1970s—about 30 million Latinas live in the United States, accounting for 18.1% of all women. More than half of Latinas are second-, third- and fourth-generation Americans, and while many seek to build generational wealth, many face significant challenges. A significant number of Latinas and their families are economically insecure and are disproportionately impacted by poverty. Moreover, COVID-19 was especially hard for Latinas, with many exiting the workforce. 

Latinas are family-focused; they are known for their spirit of service, adopting a loving and caring role while working tirelessly to help provide, lift, and support their family, often in creative ways. Therefore, Latinas are a point of entry for bringing marriage and family programs to their families and network. Many are increasingly adopting leadership roles in corporations, board-capacity, and not-for-profits. As we better understand their needs, financial attitudes, and behaviors, marriage and family programs can be enriched.

With this in mind, I asked Latinas representing different occupational sectors to respond to recent research on the Economic Distress Model, Latinas, and relationships, in two focus groups, one online and one live. The research, analyzed by Dr. Jesse Owen et al. from the University of Denver, gleaned data from Family Bridges, the nonprofit I founded, as a part of a longitudinal study with eight churches in the Chicagoland region that run the comprehensive AVANCE program, which trains lay leaders in comprehensive relationship education programs and encourages them to bring these programs to the community. Dr. Owen and his students reviewed the first wave of the data, specifically, the Economic Distress Model concerning Latinas. It included 1,293 women, 98% of whom identified as Latina, ranging from 17 to 77 years old. Also, 70% of the women had one to three children, 64% were married, and 16% were married by common law. 

Previous research on the Economic Distress Model says that financial hardship will lead to economic strain, which will then create negative interactions in the family. Economic stress typically means more emotional distress, and this will result in less relationship satisfaction and adjustment—for instance, more arguments and disagreements between couples. However, the results in Dr. Owen’s recent study with Latinas showed different outcomes. 

When Latina women in Dr. Owen's study sensed that their money was not being well-managed, they reported that their relationships were negatively impacted. However, a unique contribution from this study is that even though their relationship satisfaction was lower, they still coped and communicated with their partners rather well. This means that despite financial strain on the relationship, these women’s perception of their coping and communication skills with their partners was not negatively impacted. Interestingly, coping and communication were both associated with positive relationship adjustment. 

The study1 sheds light on the unique experiences of Latinas and financial hardship. Financial strain may not necessarily mean a disruption in how women interact with their partners, yet the impact of financial strain is still very real as indicated by their lower relationship satisfaction. The limited resources families have to manage their basic needs may be a possible factor impacting relational distress, but more research is needed to learn more about this phenomenon.

Why is it that, unlike other subgroups studied in Economic Distress models, for Latinas in this study, communication and coping were not associated with financial distress as is typically the case?

In the recent panel we hosted, Latinas discussed their thoughts about this question, and their suggestions drew awareness to the need for more research to further understand the dynamics at play. Below are seven themes drawn from their answers, in addition to those proposed by the researchers, that add a level of depth worth exploring.  

1. Mindset and Cultural Messaging 

Several women on the panel discussed the script or cultural messaging received by Latinas' families of origin, which informs their practices. These messages often shape and inform how they manage their money. The messages and cultural scripts can be positive, but they can also be limiting as Anitza San Miguel, one of the panelists, suggested: "Limiting beliefs ingrained in our minds, our mindsets, where we grow up, that can help us inform where are the challenges for Latinas." Another panelist, Yoli Valencia, added, "We didn't talk about dinero. I had to go outside my family to learn." 

Another woman in a different group explained that her parents had separate financial accounts in her home. Her mom did her own thing, and so did her father. Thus, she and her husband have the same financial setup. The question is whether the cultural or familial messaging about money, finances, and family life shape Latinas' expectations over how their relationships are established and set up. 

2. Religious Beliefs

Hispanics are frequently recognized for having a strong faith background, a theme that frequently came up among panel participants. Notably, one of the participants, a CPA working as a wealth advisor, observed the differences she has seen over the years between believers and non-believers. She indicated that she had seen a scarcity mindset in non-believers that is very different from believers. She might have a client with millions in his assets but that client is still overly cautious about his expenses and charitable contributions, and seemingly not easily appeased with usual solid plans presented in relation to expected outcomes or projections. 

On the other hand, her clients who are believers have a different approach. While they may be going through difficult situations (i.e., disability, sickness, economic hardship), there is an underlying peace that no matter what, things will be taken care of. Worried for them, she would ask, "Why are you making those [financial] choices? You need to be doing this; you need to be doing that?" She concluded, "for Latinas who embrace a strong faith background, we understand the source of our wealth. It doesn't just come from us, it comes from above." 

The question for future research is, do religious beliefs serve as a protective factor for Latinas in their relationships, particularly as it relates to money?

Latinas are family-focused; they are known for their spirit of service, adopting a loving and caring role while working tirelessly to help provide, lift, and support their family, often in creative ways.

3. Resourcefulness Due to Financial Trauma

Many of the Latinas in leadership who participated in the discussion shared their journey of reaching the American dream and reflected on how their attitudes about money could be linked to their experiences as children raised in homes struggling with financial hardship. One of the panelists shared how she was homeless as a child, and said when her mother worked, went to school, and was busy caring for her and her siblings, she knew better than to ask for essentials even when she had fundamental needs, like holes in her socks. Her mother pulled through, ultimately getting a law degree. She explained that she learned how to build wealth as a 19-year-old and is one of the few Latinas in the financial industry. 

Another participant in a different group stressed that experiences of being "without" drive her to work hard, persevere, and do everything in her power to avoid financial hardship in her family. Thus, she doesn't passively wait for things to happen or for a spouse to become responsible with finances. Instead, she makes sure she takes as many side jobs as possible to ensure things continue going smoothly. The question to explore, then, is whether financial hardships experienced in childhood inform how Latinas navigate the tensions faced in their relationships.

4. Entrepreneurial Spirit

According to the National Women's Business Council, there are over two million Latina-owned businesses in the country, a growth of more than 87% since 2007. Comments by Ismelda Rodriguez's, one of the focus group participants, align well with the surge of Latina-owned companies observed in the country. Ismelda noted how Latinas provide for their family locally and send money to extended families in their country of origin:

You support your kids, at the same time as your parents and grandparents. People keep sending money to other countries. Latinas splitting that dollar to many, many amounts. You do it by selling palettes, tamales, and hustling to take care of the kids and husbands. 

Many others repeated this sentiment: 

Latinas are very entrepreneurial, and if you have a need, you work hard to get it met. You figure it out. If you are already working full-time and can't get more hours, you start your own business on weekends and evenings.  

Further studies could focus more on money and relationships and look specifically at this entrepreneurial spirit and how it influences both. 

5. Serving Others at the Cost of Self

Anitza, another participant, shared an analogy widely resonating with other members of the focus group during one of the discussions, underscoring the spirit of service that drives the passion and "ganas" (willpower) that many women have: 

We are like an octopus…there are a lot of things going on in the cocina (kitchen) and we are just paying attention. We have to go here and there…What are those extra incomes, and in some ways  my pay scale is limited but what are other extras doing? The question is, how am I going to get the money? What can I do today to find the resources that I need? In the end, we forget about ourselves. Taking care of everyone, but then we are not taking care of ourselves.

Many agreed that as Latinas seek to improve the well-being of their family, neighborhood, and community, they stretch themselves thinner and thinner, often losing sight of self-care and paying the consequences later. 

6. Machismo/Marianismo 

Gender roles were raised during one of the discussions. Participants shared how traditional gender roles, such as machismo, could also affect how finances are handled in the home. Latinas may feel uncomfortable objecting or speaking up and saying what they need. They may create more conflict and tension if they are assertive about their financial concerns. Thus, they will tolerate or acquiesce to the circumstances they are under to not add more stress to the relationship. The question for future studies is whether gender roles and even the acculturation process impact Latinas' attitudes about money and how it impacts relationships. 

7. Equal Pay 

One of the issues raised by the women in the panel was equal pay. As it relates to the Economic Distress Model, the participants were asked whether the lack of positive momentum and movement in financial attainment otherwise gained through employment fed a sense of "destino" (destiny) or tacit acceptance of economic hardship, an ongoing struggle impacting expectations. Yoli Valencia explained that Latinas have the lowest wages of any major race/ethnicity and gender group, and they were severely impacted during the pandemic. If Latinas can't possibly reach the bar to be paid according to their contributions in an equitable manner, then it was understood that despite their best efforts, outside forces were at play. Understanding that greater economic forces outside of their control create a passive acceptance of their economic hardships therefore helps buffer them from relational distress. But fighting the status quo is something that fired up many Latinas during the discussions.

As Yoli said:

When I walk into commercial real estate, something that fuels me is not being treated equally. I continue to fight and make sure we are opening doors for people like my daugther who come behind us and so they can be encouraged to pursue their dreams. 

Another panelist agreed, concluding, "I love being a cycle breaker. I love being on the forefront, making waves for those behind us."


These seven themes shared by the women in the forums we hosted draw attention to the cultural dynamics that play a role in marriage and family life when it comes to finances and communication. The unique needs identified by Latinas during lively discussions highlights the value they place on family well-being and financial education. Many relationship education providers are curious about how to coordinate and implement programs reaching Hispanic couples. Here are some ideas based on our study:

  1. Invest in transcreation, not just translating. Transcreation involves considering the values, needs, protective and risk factors of the target audience and considering how these are infused within the script of the content conveyed. 
  2. Include Hispanic leaders within the leadership team as programmatic decisions regarding development and implementation are being made. 
  3. Invite couples to share honestly about the financial challenges they commonly face. Address the strengths as well as the areas of growth. 
  4. Invite participants to share their thoughts and insights as it relates to their experience.

Alicia La Hoz is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and the Founder and CEO of Family Bridges.  

1. This study, which has been submitted for publication, has several strengths and limitations. First, it only utilized one wave of data, thus making our findings correlational (not causal). Second, it only examined the FESM with Latinas. Future studies should examine the dyad to determine how these results might be consistent or different.Third, it only utilized self-report measures. While self-report measures are common for this type of inquiry, other indicators of financial strain might help unpack the complexity of this construct. Ultimately, we hope that more couples will be willing to discuss their finances, a common stigmatized aspect of life to discuss with others. Moreover, it would be important for relationship education programs to discuss the strengths of these couples in how they cope and communicate about their financial strain.