The rich list, redrawn

Given that women are as likely to be born to wealth as men, and that women in the US are paid 78 per cent, on average, of what men earn, you might think that the wealth gap between men and women would be relatively modest and closing, at least in the west. You would be wrong.

Shortchanged: Why Women Have Less Wealth and What Can Be Done About It, a new book by Mariko Lin Chang, presents data, drawn from US government statistics, that take the gender agenda beyond the workplace.

Chang, a former associate professor of sociology at Harvard University, uncovers some uncomfortable truths with a slick combination of qualitative and quantitative analysis, which shows how fair pay does not lead to equal bank balances.

Her findings include:

  • “Never-married women working full-time have only 16 per cent as much wealth as men in the same position.”
  • “Single mothers have 8 per cent of the wealth of single fathers.”
  • “The typical woman has just 36 cents for every dollar of the wealth of a typical man.”
  • About one out of three single women and one out of four single men is “wealth poor”, with zero or even “negative” wealth.
  • “Since 1998, the women’s wealth gap has been increasing.”
  • Half of all US households are headed by single people (never married, widowed or divorced).
  • To help raise awareness and continue the debate beyond her book, Chang provides data and other information on her website.

It is difficult to find comparable data for the UK. The Office for National Statistics published a substantive report in 2008 that examines wealth distribution. Individual household wealth is calculated and estimated, but an individual woman’s personal share of that household wealth is not separated.

James B. Davies’ Personal Wealth from a Global Perspective, now two years old, appears to be the definitive work in this field and includes a chapter devoted to women’s wealth. Carmen Deere and Cheryl Doss, the chapter’s authors, point out the importance of asset ownership, rather than just rights to income from it, which often depend on marital and family relationships.

Chang argues that wealth is a broader, and more potent, measure of economic success than earnings. She shows how pay parity does not necessarily lead to asset parity and how our focus on equal pay and family-friendly policies do not in themselves lead to greater financial security for women.

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