While women have made significant strides towards equality, there is still an undeniable gender wealth gap. This disparity is often solely understood in terms of the “pay gap” between men and women, but new evidence is drawing attention to another aspect of the problem: the gender gap in property ownership.
CoreLogic’s recent report on this subject, Women and Property: State of Play Report, analysed rates of ownership among men and women in Australia and New Zealand using a snapshot of housing data at January this year. The research found 26.2 per cent of properties analysed in Australia had female-only ownership, compared to 29.9 per cent of properties being owned by men. 43.9 per cent of properties analysed in Australia were owned jointly by at least one male and one female, suggesting women have at least part ownership of 70.1 per cent of properties, compared with men having at least part ownership of 73.8 per cent of properties.
Across New Zealand, 20.3 per cent of properties analysed were owned by females, compared with 22.9 per cent with male ownership. Despite having a lower rate of exclusively-female ownership than in Australia, 56.8 per cent of properties analysed in New Zealand were owned by both male and female owners. This means women have at least partial ownership of 77.1 per cent of properties, which is higher than the ownership rate for women across Australia.
The report also looked at property owned by just one person, and again found women were underrepresented. In Australia, census data suggests women head 63.5 per cent of single-adult households, but represent just 42.8 per cent of sole property owners.
The fact that women have lower earnings than men on average almost certainly plays a role in their lower rates of home ownership; the Australian gender pay gap was recorded at -13.4 per cent in November 2020, while in New Zealand it was -9.5 per cent as of June 2020. With this earnings gap, CoreLogic estimates it would take women on average an additional 10 months to accumulate a 20 per cent deposit for a median value home in Australia compared with their male counterparts.
Beyond the national level, CoreLogic also analysed the data at a regional level across the two countries. In both countries, women tended to have lower rates of home ownership in markets associated with mining and agriculture, potentially due to these industries being male-dominated.
A striking finding for rates of ownership across Australia was a positive correlation between exclusively-female property ownership, and typical dwelling values. This included the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, where property owned only by women made up 34.8 per cent of properties analysed, compared with 31.7 per cent of properties being owned by men. High dwelling price regions are also associated with higher levels of income. This may reflect findings of previous research around women and property, which suggests that women may have higher propensity to buy property, provided they have the means.
The consequences of the property gap
Property ownership is a powerful means of wealth accumulation and a pillar of retirement. Outright home ownership reduces costs at a time when individuals generally have lower income, and can reduce the incidence of poverty in retirement. At June 2019, Stats NZ reported that households who owned, or partially owned their home had a median net worth of $558,000, compared with $39,000 for those that did not. Housing can also provide equity to help service health care or aged care costs, and support intergenerational wealth.
The role that home ownership plays in wealth and security reflects a broader ‘self-provision’ policy agenda across Australia and New Zealand, which relieves pressure on government funding of retirees and the ageing population. But if there are barriers to home ownership for women and low-income cohorts, the movement towards self-provision will progress unequally.
Our findings, along with previous research into female home ownership, suggest the ability to own one’s home is largely linked to income. This reinforces the need to provide savings and investment solutions for those on lower incomes that can help them achieve the wealth accumulation associated with property ownership. It also highlights the need to maintain or increase provisions for those who do not have access to the property market, including those aimed at women who may have recently exited property ownership as a result of a relationship ending, and an increase to pension provisions for those who have been unable to afford a home.