Working Towards Wage & Wealth Equality for Women
Women do not make as much money as men. This fact enters our daily discourse frequently — when it’s raised by political candidates, when female celebrities protest being paid less than their male counterparts, and when women of all ages and education levels try to make their paychecks cover the costs of life and family.
While we know the wage gap is significant, the gap between genders when it comes to wealth doesn’t get nearly as much air time — even though it’s far greater. As a result, proposed solutions tend to focus more on income than on wealth. This leaves out a key part of the economic security equation for women.
Wages may be critical to women’s daily survival, but it’s the compounding gap in accrued wealth that hobbles women’s long-term financial well-being.
Income Gaps and Wealth Gaps
Consider this data from a 2015 brief prepared by the Asset Funders Network. While never-married women who work full time earn 95% of what never-married men earn, this same group of women only owns 16% of the wealth comparable men do. The picture is even more sobering for women of color, with single Black and Hispanic women having less than a penny for every dollar of wealth owned by single White men.
Let that sink in for a moment. Consider what it means for women — married, single, with or without children — and consider what it means for those working to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. While the gender wage gap is thankfully diminishing, we are failing to help women convert equitable salaries into economic security.
This gender wealth gap exists due to complex reasons, but we can distill them down to three main factors:
- the income gap,
- women’s increased likelihood of being custodial parents, and
- women’s lack of access to wealth-building advantages, such as employment-related fringe benefits, government benefits, and favorable tax breaks.
So women earn less and accrue much less even while their families are more likely than ever before to rely on their reduced economic resources. Two-thirds of mothers are either their family’s sole breadwinner, the primary breadwinner, or a co-breadwinner.
Without a financial cushion to fall back upon — i.e. wealth — women and their families remain in a precarious financial position.
Seeing is Believing
The California Budget & Policy Center recently produced an eye-opening tool that illustratively ranks women’s well-being in California, county by county, across the dimensions of health, persona
By showing how each of California’s 58 counties promotes women’s well-being, this index highlights where we need to improve. While it does not yet capture data on the wealth gap, it remains a powerful tool we can use to increase our awareness, focus our energies, and redouble our efforts.
What We Can Do
Raising awareness of the women’s wealth gap is a first step.
The mayors of San Francisco and Oakland, in partnership with the Women’s Foundation of California, are convening a Bay Area’s Women’s Summit in June to focus on women’s economic empowerment. I will be speaking about the gender wealth gap during a session on economic security, and at another summit organized by the Women’s Funding Network in New York City in July. I am working with the Bay Area Asset Funders Network to organize a local Funders Forum to feature the gender wealth gap. This issue will also be featured at CFED’s Assets Learning Conference this fall.
I hope to see you at those events so we can exchange ideas and build collaborative momentum.
The Walter & Elise Haas Fund’s economic security portfolio already supports relevant work through grantees including Oakland Promise, AnewAmerica Community Corporation, Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, and La Cocina. I am also involved in an early initiative led by Heather McColluch, founder of Asset Building Strategies, to advance policy and practical solutions that address the women’s wealth gap.
As we increase our focus on this issue, we aim to bring promising new efforts to the forefront and to highlight broader strategies to increase equity for women.
Blog, Economic Security, Reflection, Anew America Corporation, Asset Building Strategies, Asset Funders Network, Bay Area's Women's Summit, California Budget & Policy Center, CFED, La Cocina, Oakland Promise, Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, Wage gap, wealth gap, Women's Foundation of California, Women's Funding Network