Women's History Month

Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month, which offers a great time to discuss how access to homeownership and financial independence has changed for women over the last few centuries in the United States. The annual observance began in 1978 as a weeklong celebration of women’s contributions to culture, history, and society in Sonoma, California. A few years later in 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared the week of March 8th National Women’s History Week, before it eventually became a monthlong celebration in 1986.

Important Laws and Changes

Women have faced an uphill battle in business in the United States since the country was settled. A few notable acts in the 19th century and 20th century significantly helped advance women’s rights in this area, including the Married Woman’s Property Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

  • The Married Woman’s Property Act passed in New York in 1848. As a result, a woman was no longer held liable for her husband’s debts, could enter contracts on her own, had the ability to collect rents and receive an inheritance in her own right, and could file a lawsuit on her own behalf
  • In 1938, the federal minimum wage was established with the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act, helping eliminate many pay differences between men and women
  • The Equal Credit Opportunity Act passed in 1974 and prohibited credit discrimination based on gender

Women and Mortgages

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion, and other protected classes. However, it was not until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act passed in 1974 that it became more feasible for single women to become property owners. The 1980s were marked by high mortgage rates, which prompted many women to attend college and delay marriage and homeownership. Despite the delay, single women surpassed single men in homeownership (11 percent to 10 percent) in 1981. The pay gap between men and women tightened over the following decades, and by 2021, 19 percent of homebuyers were single women.

Household Financial Decisions

One stereotype worth challenging is that men make the financial decisions in the majority of households. While this may have been true among previous generations, it does not accurately describe the way household finances are handled by younger couples. Married women 45 and younger are twice as likely as older married women to make the financial decisions in their families. According to Kirstin Hill, the difference is partly due to women marrying later in life, as it is common for both partners to continue managing at least part of their finances separately. Two additional factors she notes for the change are the level of formal education younger women receive and the fact that many serve as the primary breadwinners in their households.

Financial Tips for Young Women

With this information in mind, below are five pieces of financial advice from Jill Gianola and Margaret Price to help empower young women financially.

  • Take advantage of employer benefits such as 401k match and health insurance if they are available to you
  • Build an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses
  • Make necessities a priority, but leave some space for things you enjoy
  • Learn more about tax credits that will help you cut your spending
  • Pay off debt and invest in retirement at the same time

Women’s History Month is a great time to reflect on the positive changes that have occurred throughout the 20th century and 21st century, but it is also a time to think about the progress that can still be made. Educating children on financial matters from a young age is one of the best ways to further close the gender gap in areas in which women have historically been left behind.

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