Jan 25, 2024 - News

Why single women are winning San Francisco real estate

Share of housing units owned and occupied by single women, 2022
Data: LendingTree; Map: Alice Feng/Axios

Single women now own more homes than single men in California — and overall homeownership is majority female in the U.S.

Why it matters: Sixty years ago, women couldn't even get a credit card or a mortgage without a male cosigner. Now, even in the Bay Area's tight housing market, the share of single women homeowners eclipses that of single men.

State of play: The gender pay gap and inequitable caregiving responsibilities have historically served as barriers to homeownership for women.

  • In recent years, however, the U.S. has seen a rise in the number of women homeowners — and a substantial shift toward women-led households, Urban Institute researcher Jung Hyun Choi tells Axios.
  • Census data show that over 11% of homes in California are owned by single women, compared to about 8% by single men.

Zoom in: In the San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley metro area, around 46% of single women own their homes compared to 36% of single men, home improvement site Porch found in a 2022 analysis.

  • That's among the most significant disparities across all U.S. metro areas.
  • The San José-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro area recorded an even more significant gap: a 49% homeownership rate for women versus 38% for men.

Still: Women's median annual earnings in San Francisco are estimated to lag $13,000 behind men's — and the gap widens for women of color, per the American Association of University Women.

  • A 2022 Zillow study notes the disparity means the average man in San Francisco can afford roughly 6% of the city's homes compared to under 2% for women.

The big picture: Solo women mortgage applicants made up 18% of the market in 2023 — a share that's slowly grown since mortgage platform Maxwell started tracking applicants' gender and marital status in 2021.

  • Maxwell's annual report shows that Gen Zers and millennials made up the largest share of single women mortgage applicants in 2023.

By the numbers: In 1990, less than a third of total households (married and single) were headed by women. In 2021, the majority (51%) of households were reported to be headed by women.

  • That increase was driven mainly by married households, Choi says.
  • In married households, 43% claimed to be headed by women in 2021, compared to just 8% in 1990.

Of note: In most age groups, women outnumber men. "This is more a reflection of strength in numbers than economic vitality," Pew researcher Richard Fry tells Axios.

Yes, but: Opportunity isn't equal. Single Latina and Black women have the lowest homeownership rates of any group in the U.S.

  • Single women with children also face low homeownership rates compared to other groups, including single men with children, Choi's research shows.
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