When it comes to feathering the nest, it seems women rule the roost
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While women have made great social and economic strides, it seems we can’t fight biology. In the case of home ownership, that’s a good thing: The instinct to feather our nests is one reason single women are purchasing homes at twice the rate of single men.
Although home buying decreased during the recession, the ratio of single female to single male buyers has remained constant since the late 1990s, says Walter Molony, spokesperson for the National Association of Realtors (NAR).
About 1-in-5 homeowners are single females, making them the second largest home buying demographic after married couples, he says.
Five reasons single women are buying more homes than men:
Do the math: Women delaying marriage plus rising divorce rates equals a growing pool of single women home buyers. As more young women pursue educations and careers before tying the knot, the average age of first marriage for women has risen 20% since 1980, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2011, 53 percent of single adults were female.
With single women taking charge of their own finances, they’re realizing the long-term value of buying over renting. “The economic upside of owning only enhances the view that marriage is no longer a pre-requisite to buying a home,” states a report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.
Before the 1970s, it was extremely tough for women to get credit. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 was a game changer, requiring lenders to make credit available, “without regard to sex or marital status.”
“Once upon a time, you’d market a home only to a family,” says Steve Melman, Director of Economic Services for the National Association of Home Builders. “Only the husband’s income even counted.”
Today home builders actively target single women home buyers. “Just think of how far we’ve come in 40 years,” he says.
The rise in single women homeowners owes as much to changing economics as it does to social progress. After all, you can’t buy a home unless you can afford one.
Thirty years ago, women were 41% of college graduates, compared to 54% today, says Peter Francese, founder of American Demographics Magazine. During the last decade, women’s aggregate income rose 10 percent, and women now hold 52% of white collar jobs, he adds, making it easier for them to purchase homes.
Meanwhile, men’s wages stayed flat: “The value of brawn just keeps dropping like a stone,” Francese says.
Single women are more likely to live with children – a primary reason for owning a home. Women are primary breadwinners in 60% of unmarried households, Francese says.
With younger women still acquiring income, the median age of single female homeowners was 48 in 2011, adds NAR’s Molony, including divorced moms with assets from a previous house. About 56 percent of single women homeowners are repeat buyers, he says.
Two-thirds of female baby boomers are also grandmothers, and many buy homes near their grandkids, says Francese. With longer life spans, single female homeowners are also common among pre-boomers over 65.
“With very, very few exceptions, the female of every species makes the nest,” says Francese. “It’s a very successful survival strategy.”
After all, one reason dinosaurs died out was that they simply buried their eggs and walked away, he says. In our case, women’s penchant for economic stability – and the 18 years we spend sheltering our children in homes – helps our species thrive.
Excepting the occasional man-cave, women make most home decisions among married couples, and are generally more financially savvy than men, says Francese. Why should their single counterparts be any different?
What About Men?
Is the surge of single women home buyers bad news for men? “No,” says NAR’s Molony, because men just make different choices. “Young men are more interested in consumption,” he says. “They really don’t get serious about real estate until they’re settling down.”
That leaves the door wide open for a growing population of single women who not only have a strong desire to feather their nests, but the opportunity and means to finally do so.
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