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Female-Headed Households Still Struggle to Achieve Homeownership

According to a new study from Urban Institute, decennial census and American Community Survey data revealed the homeownership rate of households headed by women have reached 63% — just 5 percentage points below the men’s rate.

New research shows this gap has narrowed significantly since 1990, when the homeownership gap between households headed by men and households headed by women was an average 20 percentage points. This decline can be partially explained by the fact that women are now more likely to participate in the labor market and more likely to have bachelor's degrees.

Key Findings:

  • Some 43% of married households identify as female-headed households. Married households are more likely to be homeowners (80% of female-headed married households and 81% of male-headed married households are homeowners), so this shift clouds the real change in the gender homeownership gap.
  • Among single households, especially those with children, female-headed households still struggle to achieve homeownership. Among never-married households, a 6 percentage-point female-male homeownership gap held steady between 1990 and 2021. Despite making up a higher share of college graduates, single female household heads still have substantially lower incomes and are more likely to raise children than single male household heads.

Meanwhile, women have made moderate, but visible progress in the housing market. The study also found that a substantially higher share of never-married female household heads have children, yet only 25% of them are homeowners.

The rise in female-headed married households

In 1990, 33% of households were headed by women; now, it’s more than half. This change is mainly driven by the share of female-headed married households, which rose to 43% in 2021, up from only 8% in 1990.

Meanwhile, for never-married household heads, the female share has stayed almost the same — about half — and for households headed by those who are divorced, separated, or widowed, the share of female household heads has declined from 73% to 66%.

Head-of-household changes explain almost two-thirds of the gender homeownership gap decline

Married households have the highest homeownership rate. If the share of female household heads of any marital status remained steady from 1990 to 2021 and only the homeownership rate for each group changed, the male homeownership rate would be 74% and the female homeownership rate would be 60%.

This hypothetical gender homeownership gap would be 14.2 percentage points, almost three times higher than the current gap of 4.7 percentage points. About 63% (9.5 percentage points, the difference between the hypothetical and current gaps) of the 15 percentage-point decline in the homeownership gap can be explained by the change in the marital composition of male-and female-headed households.

For never-married household heads, the gender homeownership gap has stayed largely the same. Both never-married male- and female-headed households experienced an 8 percentage-point increase in homeownership rate between 1990 and 2021, and the homeownership gap between the two groups remained 6 percentage points.

Despite higher educational attainment, single female heads are less likely to be homeowners

The share of never-married female household heads with bachelor's degrees is greater than the share of never-married male household heads with bachelor's degrees. Despite this educational achievement, we’ve yet to close the male-female income gap. The inflation-adjusted income gap increased from about $4,500 in 1990 to $8,700 in 2021.

Additionally, a substantially higher share of single moms than single dads means many single women could face greater difficulty saving for a down payment because of the greater expenses of supporting their families. Lower earnings and the costs of caring for children may be one of the reasons for the ongoing gender homeownership gap among never-married households.

Closing the gender homeownership gap requires more work

The rise in the share of female household heads and the decline in the gender homeownership gap signal progress, but a closer look at the data suggests more work is needed to further close gender gaps in the housing market.

Gender differences in financial knowledge and confidence could also play a role; a lower share of millennial and Generation Z women report feeling less confident about their financial knowledge than men (58% versus 69%). These women also reported less access to financial advice and support compared with men (47% versus 65%).

According to the National Association of Realtors, the share of single women homebuyers has continued to rise and currently accounts for 17% of all homebuyers compared with 9% of single men. Previous Urban Institute studies falso ound women are also more likely to make on-time mortgage payments, making them attractive future homebuyers to the lending community.

To read the full report, including more data, charts and methodology, click here.

About Author: Demetria Lester

Demetria C. Lester is a reporter for DS News and MReport magazines with more than eight years of writing experience. She has served as content coordinator and copy editor for the Los Angeles Daily News and the Orange County Register, in addition to 11 other Southern California publications. A former editor-in-chief at Northlake College and staff writer at her alma mater, the University of Texas at Arlington, she has covered events such as the Byron Nelson and Pac-12 Conferences, progressing into her freelance work with the Dallas Wings and D Magazine. Currently located in Dallas, Texas, Lester is an avid jazz lover and likes to read. She can be reached at [email protected].

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