Tag Archives: homeownership

How the 1% meme obscures global inequality

One irony of the 1% meme — the myth that women only earn 10% of the world’s income and own 1% of all property — is that it presents as a statement of global gender solidarity, while undermining true understanding of global inequality.

In my first post on this, I pointed to how a few relatively rich women (that is, all US women), disprove the 1% meme’s message that women share a condition of economic deprivation:

In the U.S. in 2009, the 106 million women have incomes averaged $29,700 each. I think that’s $3.2 trillion. The whole world’s gross domestic product — a rough measure of total income — is $58.1 trillion. So, it looks to me like U.S. women alone earn 5.4% of world income today.

Later, I showed that American women — in fact, single American women alone — own more than 1% of the world’s wealth.

What about home ownership?

Homes are the main repository of wealth in middle class America. I haven’t found a study on the gender composition of home ownership. Partly, as with land ownership, it’s impossible to say because so many homes are owned by various collectivities — mostly married couples, banks and the state.

But the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey questionnaire asks which homes are owned by their residents (with or without a mortgage) versus rented. And it identifies the person in each household “in whose name this house or apartment is owned, being bought, or rented.” That person is called the “householder.” In an owned home, it’s reasonable to say that person is the owner. If the person is married, I assume the couple owns the home together. From the 2010 ACS, then, here is the breakdown of who owns the 75 million “owned” homes:

This shows that women are the homeowners (living alone, or living as a householder with no spouse) in 24% of owned homes, compared with 15% for men. If we assume the married-couple owned homes are equally owned by men and women, then women own more homes in the US than men do.

When well-meaning feminists spread the meme that women only own 1% of the world’s property, in the name of global solidarity, they conceal the vast inequality between women in rich versus poor countries.

There is economic inequality between men and women, but gender is not class. And woman does not equal poor.

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Home, school?

Homeownership and college education were booming trends after the mid-20th century, together ballooning the U.S. middle class — and distinguishing that class from those below it. As the century ended, haves had homes and college educations, and have-nots had neither.

The news about real estate markets reminds me that the connection between home wealth and college attendance was sometimes direct, as when experts advised parents to use home equity loans to send their kids to college (advice you don’t hear so much these days). But even without home equity loans, the wealth stored in middle-class homes — for most such families their largest asset — underwrote millions of college educations. I guess you could say the federal policies promoting homeownership were big boons for the higher education industry, not just the GIs and mostly-white suburbanites who landed inside the picket fences.

With economic shifts requiring more education for success, an increase in demand contributed to the rise in college costs. But to this non-expert it appears rising home values (and increased access to home ownership) were a factor as well.

Sources: Federal Housing Finance Agency; Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Given the compound fracture apparent in these trend lines, must something give? Maybe fewer people will go to college. Or we could increase access to student loans and grants, so the state would cover more of the cost, and widen the access to higher education. Or — just thinking out loud here — someone might look for a way to at least slow the increase in college costs.

Please feel free to set me straight on what’s missing here.

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