Panel Paper: Gender Wealth Gap in the United States, 2008-2013

Friday, November 9, 2018
8216 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Laurel Sariscsany, Columbia University

In the US, the ratio of female to male median earnings is at a record high 80.5%. Studies suggest women and men will reach earnings parity in 2059. However, earnings and income are likely not the only financial resource in which there are gender disparities. Despite a decreasing gap in wages by gender, preliminary research indicates that the gap in wealth by gender in the U.S. not only remains substantial but is on the rise. Chang (2010) theorizes this is a result of men’s greater access to mechanisms, which allow them to convert income to wealth and women’s far greater likelihood of receiving subprime loans, subprime mortgages, having higher levels of student debt, and higher levels of consumer or credit card debt. The latter of which is particularly true among women of color.
Research on the gender wealth gap in the US is limited. The research that is available in the US has primarily focused on unmarried households. This is chiefly a result of data availability. The vast majority of surveys which measure wealth ask the head of household to report household level assets and liabilities. The omission of married household is a critical oversight as approximately half of all marriages now end in divorce. Only a small minority of states (nine) are community property states, in which assets accrued during marriage are split evenly in divorce proceedings. The only research that is available analyzing the gender wealth gap among married household, conducted in Germany, finds that the gap is nearly twice as large in couple-headed households as compared to single-headed households. In Germany, women in couple-headed households, on average, own only 37% of total household wealth. This may indicate that research in the US greatly underestimates the gender wealth gap by excluding married households.
This paper addresses this limitation in research utilizing the 2008 Panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). SIPP interviews all household members 15 years or older. This differs from other surveys which typically only interview the household head. As a result, assets and liabilities can be measured at an individual level among married and unmarried households. This paper descriptively examines the gender wealth gap in the US, changes in the gap between the years of 2008 and 2013, and how the gap differs by household structure, age, parental status, and race. Additionally, the paper analyzes the portfolio composition of adult men and women and the relative gender wealth gap by each asset and liability. Similar to what has been seen among gender wealth gap research among unmarried households, results are likely to indicate the gap has risen among all household structures in recent years. Additionally, I theorize the gender wealth gap will be substantially larger among married households as compared to unmarried households as has been found in Germany. Results will provide insight into sources of economic power differentials by gender other than wages as well as the need for policies aimed at building assets among women.