The Gender Housing Gap Widens: Single Women Now Priced Out of 12 More Cities Than Men

Key Takeaways:

  • Single women would have to spend 49% of the median national income to cover monthly mortgage payments for a starter home, compared to 32% of income for single men
  • Women can afford to make solo purchases in 17 of the country’s 51 most populous cities, while men can afford it in 29 locations
  • Detroit, Tulsa & Oklahoma City are the three most affordable urban centers for single female buyers
  • Gender housing gap decreases in and Washington, D.C.; widens in Boston, San Jose, Long Beach, Calif. & New Orleans
  • Housing cost and income imbalance remains extreme in top markets like New York City, San Francisco & Miami, despite a slight downtick
  • Single women cannot afford to buy in 34 cities today — 10 more than just five years ago
  • Share of monthly housing costs doubles for single female buyers in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Las Vegas

As home prices continue to accelerate across the country and the onset of the pandemic further widened the gender pay gap, we again explored the housing gender gap in 51 of the largest U.S. cities, focusing sharply on gender disparities in the homebuying market.

Specifically, we compared U.S. Census data on the local median income of single men and women to the local median sale price of starter homes (defined as studios and homes or condominiums with one bedroom). To determine which cities were not affordable for singles, we applied the widely accepted standard of spending no more than 30% of an individual’s monthly income on housing expenses, such as mortgage payments.

As it turns out, since 2017, the number of cities where neither men nor women can buy a home independently has grown from 14 cities in 2017 to 22 today. Additionally, women are now priced out of 12 locations, two more than just five years ago.

Singles Now Priced Out of 22 of the Largest Urban Centers, 8 More Than 5 Years Ago

When looking at overall national figures, single buyers seem to be priced out of solo home purchases — especially women. More precisely, a single woman interested in a starter home would have to spend 49% of her monthly income to cover mortgage costs, while single men would have to spend 32% — meaning men could only buy a home independently with significant financial sacrifices.

Exploring the differences in singles’ buying power, current figures show that in 22 of the 51 largest U.S. cities by population, people earning the local median income cannot afford to buy a home alone, eight more than just five years ago. Moreover, the percentage of an individual’s income needed to cover monthly mortgage payments has also risen in the majority of the country’s largest urban centers.

Plus, cities that have been historically more affordable — such as Memphis, Tenn.; Cleveland; and Colorado Springs, Colo. — are also experiencing sharp home price increases that affected the purchasing power of all singles. As a result, of the 51 most populous U.S. cities, singles can afford to buy a home only 17 locations, compared to 26 cities just five years ago.

Single Women Can’t Afford to Buy a Home in 34 Cities, 10 More Than Just Five Years Ago

While the rapid growth of home prices has affected all single buyers, women overall have been affected at a stronger rate. Specifically, single female buyers were priced out of 24 cities in 2017, but today, women cannot afford to buy independently in 34 cities – 12 more than men.

Granted, California’s dizzying home prices have created a landscape in which neither single male nor single female buyers can purchase a home in most of the state’s largest urban centers. For single women buyers nearly all of the state’s cities remain unaffordable: San Francisco, San Jose, Long Beach, Oakland and San Diego would all require more than half of a woman’s wages to buy a starter home.

Sacramento, Calif., would require 35% of the female local median wage to cover a starter home’s mortgage, while men can still afford a home here with 29% of their wage. Likewise, Chicago; Denver; Fort Worth, Texas; and Seattle remained just on the right side of affordability for single male buyers, with housing costs ticking up slowly. However, that small increase is pricing out single women from additional markets too, including Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Dallas; Phoenix; and Tucson, Ariz.

Houston; Memphis; Milwaukee; and Nashville became unaffordable for men too in the last five years, but price increases affected women even more. Nashville, in particular, has surged to price out women, now requiring 47% of the median local female income to buy a starter home. And, down in Houston, costs have nearly doubled, going from 32% to 55% for women.

In the meantime, the disparity between wage growth and the verticality of the housing market has also pushed a number of formerly affordable locations into unaffordable territory for singles. For instance, in Las Vegas, the share of income required to buy a starter home has nearly doubled, going from 22% to 42% for men and from 28% to 54% for women.  In Colorado Springs costs more than doubled, going from 16% to 35% for men and from 25% to 53% for women.

Gender Housing Gap Widens in Boston, Sam Jose & NOLA; Decreases in Washington, D.C.

Home prices continued to far outpace wage growth in many top urban centers. For instance, in Boston, single women would now have to spend a whopping 98% of their monthly income to cover housing expenses — up from 91% five years ago.

What’s more, the housing gender gap has actually widened in some cities. For example, in Long Beach, Calif., men needed 43% of their monthly income for mortgage payments and women 55% in 2017. Today, that ratio stands at 54% for men and 83% for women. Similarly, in San Jose, Calif., housing costs for women grew at twice the rate compared to men’s housing expenses. Notably, the gender housing gap widened in New Orleans because unaffordability eased for single men, but remained the same for women.

Conversely, the gender housing gap tightened in Washington, D.C.: While women still need to spend 42% of their income on a starter home, single male buyers now need to spend 36% of their income, up from 32% five years ago.

Country’s Top Markets Remain Highly Unaffordable, Despite Slight Downtick in Unaffordability Pressures

The country’s top economic centers remained highly unaffordable for singles looking to buy a home, despite the pressure of housing costs easing slightly in the last five years.

For instance, the NYC real estate market remains the most unaffordable for singles looking to buy a home, even if today’s figures are down from 2017’s when 94% of men’s income and 126% of women’s income was needed. Currently, it would take 88% of the median male income to afford a starter home in NYC and women would have to spend more than an entire month’s income — 117%, to be precise — to cover mortgage costs for a studio or one-bedroom unit in NYC, still vastly overpriced for singles.

In Los Angeles too, women would have to spend more than their entire monthly wages – 103% – to cover housing costs, whereas single men would have to pay 79% of their income, just 1% less than five years ago.  To the north, women in San Francisco needed to spend 95% of their monthly income on mortgage costs for a starter home in 2017, compared to 70% for men. Today, that ratio stands at 84% for women and 61% for men — still decidedly out of range for singles earning the local median wage.

Miami, too, remained out of reach for single buyers, but became less unaffordable for higher-income women. More precisely, single women in Miami needed 85% of their income to cover 2017 housing costs, whereas they would need 66% today. Similarly, the share of income needed for mortgage payments in Austin also declined noticeably, going from 41% for men and 51% for women in 2017 down to 31% and 41%, respectively, today.

Single Women Can Afford to Buy in Just 17 Large Cities, Led by Detroit, Tulsa & OKC

While single men can still buy their first home in 29 of the 51 largest cities, single women can do so only in 17 of the country’s most populous urban centers, mostly in smaller locations with fewer job opportunities. For example, Fresno, Calif., is now the only larger California city where women can make a solo purchase, but even here they’re on the edge of unaffordability, spending 28% of their income on the average starter home.

In Florida, single women can still afford to buy in Jacksonville, spending 27% of their monthly income, which suggests that they will likely be priced out in the near future. In the Southwest, Albuquerque, N.M., (28%) and Mesa, Ariz., (27%) remain the only larger housing markets open to single women, but both have become less affordable since 2017. Meanwhile, Omaha, Neb., stayed in affordable territory and Baltimore remained unchanged compared to 2017.

Detroit remained the #1 most affordable housing market for both men and women — but costs have risen here too, going from 4% to 11% for women and 10% for men today. Furthermore, Tulsa and Oklahoma City are now the second- and third-most affordable large cities for single buyers, with the share of income needed to cover mortgage costs barely ticking up to 14%.

In neighboring Texas, single women can buy independently in San Antonio, El Paso and Arlington, with Arlington currently the fourth-most affordable city for single women to buy in. While men would have to spend less than 20% of their wages to secure a starter home in the Lone Star State, women need to reserve up to a quarter.

Columbus, Ohio, remained just under the affordability threshold, requiring 28% of monthly female wages, up from 21% five years ago. The uptick also caused the gender housing gap to widen since men’s mortgage costs increased from 17% of income needed to 22%. And while Indianapolis was the third-most affordable city for single female buyers in 2017, requiring a mere 10% of the local median female income for a starter home, today, they need 28%.

Single Women Increasingly Less Likely to Buy a Home Independently as Gender Housing Gap Widens

Overall, as inventory has proceeded to tighten and home prices continued to rise over the past five years, single buyers are now increasingly less likely to be able to afford to buy a home independently, with eight more cities pricing them out. And, although single men can’t afford 22 of the country’s 51 largest urban centers, the gender pay gap is increasingly burdening women, who are now priced out of 34 cities.

Not only that, but of the 17 cities where single women earning the median wage can still afford to buy a home independently, seven cities still require more than 25% of their income, suggesting that if current trends continue, single women will be able to buy a home independently only in a handful of the country’s most populous urban centers. Moreover, considering that men were priced out of eight additional locations since 2017 and women 10, the gender housing gap only seems to be widening.

For the full picture of the housing gender gap in the 51 largest cities in the U.S., explore the interactive table below:

CityStateFemale Home Affordability Male Home Affordability Female Monthly Payment As % Of Income Male Monthly Payment As % Of Income
New YorkNew YorkNoNo117%88%
Los AngelesCaliforniaNoNo103%79%
BostonMassachusettsNoNo98%78%
San FranciscoCaliforniaNoNo84%66%
San JoseCaliforniaNoNo83%54%
Long BeachCaliforniaNoNo73%54%
OaklandCaliforniaNoNo68%57%
MiamiFloridaNoNo66%47%
San DiegoCaliforniaNoNo60%43%
HoustonTexasNoNo55%40%
Las VegasNevadaNoNo54%41%
New OrleansLouisianaNoNo54%41%
PhiladelphiaPennsylvaniaNoNo53%43%
Colorado SpringsColoradoNoNo53%35%
NashvilleTennesseeNoNo47%39%
PortlandOregonNoNo47%37%
MemphisTennesseeNoNo43%35%
WashingtonDistrict of ColumbiaNoNo42%36%
AustinTexasNoNo41%31%
MilwaukeeWisconsinNoNo41%31%
ClevelandOhioNoNo41%33%
SeattleWashingtonNoMale40%29%
DenverColoradoNoMale40%30%
Fort WorthTexasNoMale39%27%
MinneapolisMinnesotaNoMale36%30%
CharlotteNorth CarolinaNoMale35%26%
SacramentoCaliforniaNoMale35%29%
ChicagoIllinoisNoMale34%26%
PhoenixArizonaNoMale33%26%
DallasTexasNoMale33%25%
TucsonArizonaNoMale33%26%
Kansas CityMissouriNoMale32%24%
AtlantaGeorgiaNoMale31%23%
Virginia BeachVirginiaFemaleMale29%19%
ColumbusOhioFemaleMale28%22%
IndianapolisIndianaFemaleMale28%22%
AlbuquerqueNew MexicoFemaleMale28%21%
FresnoCaliforniaFemaleMale28%20%
JacksonvilleFloridaFemaleMale27%20%
MesaArizonaFemaleMale27%19%
San AntonioTexasFemaleMale24%18%
BaltimoreMarylandFemaleMale24%20%
El PasoTexasFemaleMale23%15%
OmahaNebraskaFemaleMale22%16%
RaleighNorth CarolinaFemaleMale22%17%
ArlingtonTexasFemaleMale22%17%
LouisvilleKentuckyFemaleMale18%13%
Oklahoma CityOklahomaFemaleMale14%10%
TulsaOklahomaFemaleMale14%10%
DetroitMichiganFemaleMale11%10%

Methodology

Home prices were determined by considering median sale and asking prices for starter homes (defined as studios and one-bedroom homes), eliminating all package deals.

Average monthly payments were calculated on the assumption of a standard, 30-year mortgage, with a 20% down payment and a fixed yearly interest rate of 4.5%.

Affordability in the starter-home market was defined per the industry standard that sets the upper limit on monthly mortgage payments at 30% of monthly income. Everything above this threshold was considered unaffordable.

Data on median incomes for men and women was sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 statistics.

We analyzed the top 51 largest cities in the U.S., excluding St. Louis; Tampa, Fla.; and Wichita, Kan., due to incomplete data.

Eliza Theiss

Eliza Theiss

Eliza Theiss is a senior writer reporting real estate trends in the US. Her work has been cited by CBS News, Curbed, The Los Angeles Times, and Forbes among others. With an academic background in journalism, Eliza has been covering real estate since 2012. Before joining PropertyShark, Eliza was an associate editor at Multi-Housing News and Commercial Property Executive. Eliza writes for both PropertyShark and CommercialEdge. Reach her at [email protected]