NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Misconceptions, Financial Truths About Female-Headed Households

January 14, 2004

There are two major misconceptions about households headed by women, says the Consumer Federal of America. One is that in comparison to typical households, female-headed households are disproportionately women living alone. The other is that they are disproportionately elderly.

But according to the Federal Reserve's 2001 Survey of Consumer Finances in 2001, the most recent data available:

  • About 34 percent of all women living on their own had dependent children, compared with 37 percent for all households.
  • In a majority (72 percent) of female-headed households, the head of the household is under the age of 65, compared with 78 percent among all households.
  • In 2001, the median income earned by a female-headed household, $20,000, was about half of the median income among all American households, $39,000.
  • The typical female-headed household had drastically fewer assets, with a median net worth of $27,850, compared with a median net worth of $86,100 among all households.
  • Self-supportive women are less likely to save than other households, with only 32 percent saying that they have a regular savings plan, compared with 41 percent of all households, and 30 percent of women on their own do not save at all, compared with 21 percent of all households.

Saving behavior in women's households is consistent with their spending patterns, with 53 percent reporting that they spend all or more than their incomes, compared with 41 percent among all households. Finally, twice as many female-headed households (41 percent) had incomes in the lowest quintile (bottom one-fifth).

Source: Dow Jones Newswires, "Female-Headed Households May Earn Less Than Others," Wall Street Journal, January 13, 2004; Press Release, "Research Shows That Women On Their Own Face Financial Challenges," January 12, 2004, Consumer Federation of America.


Browse more articles on Economic Issues