While renting has some perks — like low maintenance costs and the flexibility to move almost anytime — not all people rent by choice. In fact, a recent Credit Sesame survey of more than 1,000 renters found that roughly half of them only rent a home because they can’t afford to own.
But the responses weren’t evenly distributed — the survey found that women are more likely to be shut out of buying a home. Just 28 percent of the women surveyed said they rent by choice — compared to 38 percent of men — and 55 percent of women said they rent because they can’t afford to buy close to where they work.
So what’s causing this buying gap? Turns out, there are a number of reasons women are not becoming homeowners.
THE GENDER WAGE GAP
Let’s address the elephant in the room: women are still earning significantly less than men, which can make buying a home more difficult. Research from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) found that women are still paid just 80 percent of what their male colleagues make. And while the gap is narrowing, it won’t close until 2052, projects AAUW.
The gap impacts women in every state and virtually every occupation, reports AAUW, and it gets worse with age. Besides hindering women’s abilities to afford a home, the wage gap also makes it harder to get approved for mortgages, because lenders look at income as an important marker of a borrower’s reliability.
DIFFICULTY SAVING FOR A DOWN PAYMENT
Since women earn less than men, it’s no surprise that saving for a down payment on a home is more difficult — 42 percent of female respondents to the Credit Sesame survey claimed struggling to afford a down payment as the top reason they weren’t homeowners, compared to 38 percent of men.
In some areas of the U.S., the gap is even larger. The survey found that 55 percent of women in the Midwest listed saving for a down payment as the reason they can’t buy, compared to just 38 percent of men. This could be because the pay gap in the Midwest tends to be higher than average: women in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri, for example, earn just 75 to 79 percent of what men do, reports the AAUW.
LINGERING STUDENT LOAN DEBT
It’s common sense that buying a home requires good financial health. And wiping out debts — especially student loan debt — is often crucial before you can buy. In a separate study, Credit Sesame found that women carry an average of 21 percent more student debt than men.
That’s likely due to the pay gap. Women earning less are less likely to afford larger payments that would pay off more of their principal debt each month. Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, CEO of AskTheMoneyCoach.com and Credit Sesame’s money expert, explains, “The tendency among a lot of women is to think of student loans as a ‘good’ form of debt because getting a degree can often help you land a better-paying job.”
She said this leads to women paying back their loans passively, just covering the minimum from month to month. But by paying more slowly, women end up paying more in interest over the lifetime of the loan. This effect is especially pronounced for women of color, particularly black and Hispanic women, according to research from the AAUW.
LOWER CREDIT SCORES
Maintaining good credit is crucial for buying a home, not only because it can be a sign you’re in good financial health, but because it can save you money on a mortgage by securing more favorable loan terms.
It makes sense, then, that low credit is a barrier to homeownership. Research from Credit Sesame shows that women tend to have lower scores than men on average — *621 for women versus 630 for men. According to Stacy Wakefield, vice president of Credit Sesame, “While your income is technically not a part of your credit score, it does impact how much money banks will lend to you. Credit scores are generally higher when you have more available credit.”
Women’s higher average debt loads may account for some of the credit disparity, since carrying a lot of debt can reduce your credit score. And gender income disparity means that women might have less disposable income, which could lead to them using more credit to cover expenses, contributing to lower scores.
When it comes to home ownership, there’s also a male versus female risk gap. According to the Wall Street Journal, women tend to be more conservative and risk-averse with their investments than men, and report having a lower tolerance for risks with their investments.
A similar trend holds true when the investment is a home. The Credit Sesame survey of renters found that 22 percent of women said they were “extremely concerned” about housing affordability, compared to just 19 percent of men. That may mean women are more reluctant to take on the significant debt of homeownership, especially in hotter markets with high selling prices.
To combat this, Khalfani-Cox recommended that women educate themselves about money matters beyond the basics. “When women bone up on economic topics and learn about various financial products and services and how they work, it increases their confidence to delve into those arenas,” she said.
Wakefield agreed, saying, “Financial education geared at women is critical to making progress. In the financial tech industry, we’ve also seen companies like Ellevest spring up recently to specifically help women catch up to men in their retirement savings.”
CONFIDENCE IN THE HOUSING MARKET
In some cases, the barrier to homeownership for women isn’t necessarily about income or financial health — it’s considering a home an investment at all. A 2016 survey conducted by ValueInsured, an insurance provider that services home buyers, found that just 47 percent of women think the housing market is healthy, compared to 68 percent of men.
Women are also less likely to see home ownership as a safe investment — 61 percent compared to 76 percent for men — and are less confident they can sell a home for more than they paid.
Combined with the added costs of owning a home, a less-than-rosy view on the investment potential could be enough to make renting look like the smarter option.
*Data from consumers who track their credit scores and reports using Credit Sesame.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.