National Association of Realtors February 5, 2024
In 1981, Dolly Parton topped the billboard charts with "9 to 5." That year, the National Association of REALTORS® first started the Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, and a stunning finding was made: single women outpaced single men in the housing market. In fact, single women were second only to married couples. Today, both Dolly Parton and single women home buyers are a force. Single women are surpassing all odds in the housing market and purchasing homes with lower household incomes in an increasingly unaffordable housing market. Let's take a look at how they stack up compared to their single male counterparts.
What is striking about single women home buyers is that it was not until 1974 that women were legally protected to obtain a mortgage without a co-signer. Before the passage of the Fair Housing Act's prohibitions against "sex" discrimination in housing-related transactions and the protections of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, it was commonplace for a widow to need a male relative as a co-signer. Under federal law, women had no legal recourse for this or any other lending discrimination.
In 1981, 73% of home buyers were married couples, 11% were single women and 10% were single men. Today, those shares stand at 59% married couples, 19% single women, and 10% single men. The highest share of single women buyers was in 2006, when the share stood at 22%. Between 2016 and 2022, the share of single women will be between 17% and 19%. In 2010, the share of single men rose to a high of 12% but has stayed between 7% and 9% of buyers in recent years.
In recent years, an easy explanation for the rise in single women buyers was the drop in the share of Americans who are married. Using Census data(link is external), in 1950, 23% of Americans ages 15 and up had never been married. In 2022, that share stands at 34% of Americans. That translates into 37.9 million one-person households in the US today—29% of all households.
Why are women buying homes and men are not? For that, it is best to turn to who is buying and the composition of their household. Both men and women are most likely to say they are purchasing for the desire to own a home of their own, but significantly more women purchase to be close to friends and family. Men are more likely to report buying because of a change in family situation, such as a divorce, death, or birth of a child. When collecting if a buyer is single now, a data point not collected is if the buyer was once married and is now widowed or divorced. Still, in both scenarios, the proximity to friends and family may be important to women. Interestingly, men are more likely to cite retirement as a reason to purchase at 7% compared to women at just 4%.
One potential reason single women outperform single men purchasing homes is due to who is living in the home. Single women are more likely to have children under the age of 18 in the home and more likely to purchase a multigenerational home. Women may value the stability of homeownership in both scenarios. For instance, she knows where a child will attend school and would not need to risk moving homes and moving schools if the rent increases. She also knows what her home expenses will be, while she may have young adults who boomeranged back or could have elderly relatives in her home.
The second major question posed is finances. Women home buyers typically purchase a home as a first-time buyer at a household income of $69,600 compared to single men at $83,800. While male incomes do not match that of married couples or unmarried couples, their higher incomes do allow them more buying power than single women buyers. This is especially important when thinking of the difficulties of housing affordability. This may be one reason why the age of a single woman as a first-time buyer is a median of 38 while men have a median age of 33 as first-time buyers.
Given lower household incomes, women do make more financial sacrifices when purchasing. Forty-five percent of women make financial sacrifices compared to 40% of men who purchase homes. Common financial sacrifices include cutting spending on non-essential goods, entertainment, clothes, and even taking on a second job. These sacrifices only underscore how important homeownership is to women as these sacrifices outpace those of male buyers. As noted in a previous blog, women are also more likely to move in with friends or family before purchasing to avoid paying rent. These sacrifices may add up and happen over a number of years, which also may contribute to the slightly higher age.
One notable difference is the source of down payment. Savings and sale from the last home are the most common sources for both single men and single women. However, there are two notable differences. Men use savings at higher rates while women use sale of their last home at a higher rate. Men are also more likely to sell stock or bonds, use their IRA, cryptocurrency, or take a loan from their 401k/retirement at 20% compared to women at 15%. Whereas 13% of single women use a gift from a friend or relative for their down payment compared to 11% of single men.
Regardless of how these single women are entering homeownership, they are finding a way and doing so at a significant pace. For more on these trends and others, check out the full Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers report.
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