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FOR more than a decade single women in the United States have been outpacing single men when it comes to buying homes, a trend that has been attributed to their increasing financial independence and their desire to cast off the timeworn Prince Charming rescue fantasy.
But as single women have grown to be an indisputable force in the housing market, a compelling question about single men has arisen: why are single women twice as likely to be home buyers?
A study published last month by the National Association of Realtors shows a continuing disparity, with single women accounting for 21 percent of recent home buyers and single men accounting for 9 percent.
The share of single male buyers has remained steady at around 10 percent since 1993 but has never eclipsed the percentage of single female buyers. (Respondents to the survey who defined themselves as single were divorced, widowed or separated or had never been married.)Single women account for 21 percent of recent home buyers.
Certainly the buying gap between the sexes cannot be attributed to men's inferior earning power. Women in the United States earn about 76 cents for every dollar that men make, according to the Census Bureau. Few senior executives at American companies are women. And not one woman is at the helm of a Fortune 100 company.
The answer to the home buying question requires more than an analysis of dollars and cents. Myriad factors may contribute to the disparity, including the fact that women tend to live longer than men and that they often get custody of their children after a divorce, though with any trend that highlights differences between men and women, conjecture can degenerate into stereotypes.
Still, there seems to be a consensus among brokers and buyers who have witnessed the trend that single men, even those whose college diplomas are yellowed with age, gravitate to a lifestyle not unlike that enjoyed by fraternity brothers: relatively free of commitments and rife with male companionship.
They consider buying a home detrimental to their independence, as it tethers them to one location, squelching any youthful fantasy of a nomadic existence. Indeed, for many single men without children, buying a home is a commitment akin to getting married — and they are content to put it off.
Single women on the other hand seem more interested in establishing a sense of security, or "nesting," as several brokers and buyers put it. They consider buying a home an act of independence. It is an asset, a symbol of their financial strength and proof that they need not wait for a man of means to provide them with the security they crave.
This is not a battle of the sexes. It is a battle of semantics. Both men and women view their decision to buy or not buy as a declaration of independence, though they have cultivated very different definitions of "independence." And as women have more financial advantages than in the past, they are able to realize their desires — and perhaps make up for lost time.
Barbara D. O'Connor, a broker at Baird & Warner in Chicago, said "I think women, when they get to a certain age, they don't think they're going to get married," she said, "so they purchase for life."