Building women’s economic security and closing the gender wealth gap should be a national imperative in the years ahead because the economic security of women is not just about women—it’s about the prosperity of children, families, communities, and the national economy. In the past forty years, women’s economic contribution to their households has increased exponentially. In 1976 one in twenty women was the sole breadwinners in their households; by 2013, it was one in four; and today, women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of families with children.
Women’s ability to earn, save, and invest plays a critical role in the well-being of their children; the strength of their communities, and the economic prosperity of our nation. Yet, today, private sector practices, public systems, and policy barriers are limiting the capacity of women—and especially women of color—to reach their full economic potential.
A national movement has mobilized to break down barriers and advance economic opportunities for women through advocacy for pay equity, affordable childcare, and work supports like paid sick and family leave. These efforts are critical to addressing income inequality for women, but they are not enough to build their long-term economic security because the definition of the problem is too narrow. 4 Income inequality and a lack of work supports are key drivers of gender inequality, but other factors are at play. Today, the women’s wealth gap is far greater than the income gap. While women earn about 79 cents on the dollar compared to men, they own only 32 cents; and women of color own only pennies on the dollar compared to white men and white women.
Wealth is different than income. Wealth is a store of resources to be used for emergencies. It includes savings for college or a secure retirement; resources to be leveraged into investments, like a home or a business; and it can be passed on to the next generation.
Addressing the gender income gap is part of the solution to building women’s economic security, but it is not enough. Instead, a more comprehensive framework is needed that identifies income and wealth inequality in both the description of the problem and search for solutions.
Closing the Women’s Wealth Gap—What It Is, Why It Matters, and What Can Be Done About It aims to inform a national discussion about the women’s wealth gap, and to catalyze movement towards policy and practical solutions that build wealth for low-income women and women of color. The report begins with an overview of what wealth is and why it matters; it summarizes some key data on the causes and effects of the wealth gap; and it points to promising policy and practical solutions, proposed or underway at the national, state, and local levels. The data and findings included in this paper are not the result of new research; instead, the paper highlights ideas and insights of a committed cadre of researchers and advocates to draw attention to the issue and lift up solutions.