Where are all the female property owners?
It’s not just about the gender pay gap
Securing a roof over your head is expensive. Through renting or buying, in some parts of the country we’re parting with more than 60 per cent of the average salary to cover essential housing bills.
Throw in the thorny question of gender and it all gets a little tougher. The gender pay gap, which remains stuck at just under 12 per cent across full and part-time, is the obvious reason there’s a knock-on gap in the number of women able to rent or buy a home on their single salary alone.
Figures released earlier this year by the Women’s Budget Group and the Women’s Housing Forum found, for example, that there are now no regions in England where the average home to rent is affordable for a woman on median earnings.
Among men, the average home to rent is affordable in every region except London and the southeast.
For would-be buyers, women need an average of twelve times their annual salary to be able to buy a home in England, while men need just over eight times.
In some ways then, it’s inevitable that the strong majority of statutory homeless people in the UK are women. And while single women make up just a quarter of all families with dependent children, among homeless families, the figure rises to two thirds.
In other words, though men and women tend to buy or rent homes as couples, if women aren’t in a relationship or that relationship breaks down, they are far more likely to struggle.
You can be well educated, have a strong career, achieve your goals and enjoy your independent life as a woman it seems, but if you want your own space you still need a partner. Ideally a male one.
“This report highlights the link between providing women with safe, secure, good quality, affordable accommodation and the wider fight for women’s equality,” says Denise Fowler, chief executive of Women’s Pioneer Housing and co-chair of the Women’s Housing Forum.
“Without a safe secure affordable home of her own, no woman can achieve her potential. I hope it will be a call to action across the UK.”
But the barriers to female property ownership aren’t just about income versus the local housing market. New research seen exclusively by The Independent suggests the process itself is more problematic for women than men.
Data from specialist bank Aldermore shows that while women are more invested in the property ownership dream, 64 per cent of women find the house buying process difficult compared with only 46 per cent of men.
In fact, overall, women are significantly less likely to even think about applying for a mortgage to fund their homeowning dreams than men. Barely three in every ten women first time buying hopefuls think they’ll ever achieve their goal, not least because women are less likely to receive financial or other support from family or friends than men.
Sue Hayes, managing director for retail finance at Aldermore, says: “It is concerning to see the barriers to homeownership having a greater impact on women. We need to address financial inequality in our society to help tackle gender disparities so that becoming a homeowner is achievable for all.”
There’s also a whiff of something else in amongst all these figures though.
It took until the late 1970s for the practice of demanding a male guarantor on a female’s mortgage application to die out in the UK. They were secondary to men in the eyes of lenders regardless of their income, largely because so few women received long term, full-time salaries.
And while its remarkably difficult to find out what proportion of mortgage applications made in the UK today are for single individuals or couples of any gender combination, the Women’s Budget Group estimates that women are the ‘household reference person’, the lead applicant on an application in only 31 per cent of cases where someone is buying with a mortgage according to the latest Census data.
Yes, women typically earn less across the general population, but those figures are skewed by the incomes of older women, not those buying their first homes.
Within households, a third of women in relationships are now the main breadwinners, and hundreds of thousands more are earning comparable incomes to their partners. And yet women still appear to be the default secondary party when it comes to dealing with financial providers.
But how far should the wider gender equality debate inform the mortgage world? How helpful is it?
Julia, a 34-year-old currently in the process of purchasing her first home in London as a single applicant, isn’t sure. “Buying a home is really hard,” she said. “I was surprised by how hard the whole process was.
“If you are a single applicant trying to buy a property on just one income, if you don’t have support in general from family, it’s really hard for anyone. Male, female, whatever you are.”