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A woman of property: Significant stats and fun facts about women in real estate

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Credit: Getty Images/Maskot

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Women have an illustrious history in the real estate industry — but it’s not a very long history. In fact, in the U.S., female aspiring homeowners weren’t even allowed to finance purchases on their own until the 1970s. Thankfully, women have achieved high levels of real estate–related success since then, both as homeowners and as industry professionals. Here are some of the most interesting stats, outrageous facts and impressive figures in the history of women in real estate.

  • Before 1974, women were not legally permitted to obtain a mortgage without a male cosigner. Today, women actually outpace men in getting mortgages: 19 percent of today’s single homebuyers are women, compared with just 9 percent single men, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). In fact, single women have bought more homes than single men every year since at least 1981.
  • Some 64 percent of all Realtors today are female. In 1908, when NAR was founded, that percentage was zero — the group was 100 percent male. The first woman was admitted to its membership in 1910, however, and by 1975, a third of its members was female. (In other words, a woman was allowed to sell a house long before she could borrow to buy one.) NAR named its first female president in 1992.
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The Wagner-Steagall Act of 1937 made possible affordable public housing developments, like the Ten Eyck Houses in Brooklyn, New York.

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  • The primary author of the Housing Act of 1937 (aka the Wagner-Steagall Act), which provided subsidized residences for low-income citizens for the very first time, was Catherine Bauer (1905-1964). An outspoken advocate of affordable homes for all — her book “Modern Housing” remains an oft-cited classic in the field — Bauer advised three different presidents and an array of federal agencies on urban planning for 30 years.
  • Today, many women work in the home title industry as well. However, that wasn’t the case until the 1920s — in fact, when the American Land and Title Association (ALTA) was first established in 1907, it was called the American Association of Title Men. They changed that in 1923, and ALTA had its first female president in 2000.
  • By comparison, relatively few women work in the field of home construction: 9.9 percent (and just 11 percent work in construction overall, according to the Bureau of Labor’s 2021 statistics). However, female representation is growing: The first chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction was founded in 1953 by 16 women in Fort Worth, Texas. Today, NAWIC boasts more than 115 chapters all over the U.S.
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While women make up only a fraction of the construction workforce, their wages in the field are comparable to men’s.

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  • Much has been made of the pay gap between men and women in the workforce, but in the field of construction, that gap is nearly nonexistent. According to NAWIC, female construction pros earn 99.1 percent of what the guys make.
  • Unfortunately, an equality gap does exist in the field of mortgage lending. According to a study by mortgage startup Own Up, women pay more for their mortgages in 49 of the 50 U.S. states. (We see you, Alaska!)
  • Women have more of a presence in designing buildings than constructing them: They represent nearly one-third (32 percent) of architects, according to the Bureau of Labor. That’s only slightly up from 24 percent in 2004, when Zaha Hadid became the first female to win the Pritzker Prize (architecture’s equivalent of an Academy Award and Pulitzer Prize rolled into one).
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Award-winning architect Zaha Hadid in her office, ca. 1985.

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  • Still, the pace of progress may be quickening: The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) reports that 2 in 5 new architects are women — and that women consistently qualify for their licenses quicker than men, completing education, experience and examination requirements in 12 years, vs. 13 years for the guys.
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Pioneering interior decorator Elsie de Wolfe (far right), ca. 1905.

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  • When it comes to real estate interiors vs exteriors, the gender figures are flipped. An overwhelming 83.8% of interior designers and decorators are women. In fact, the person credited with inventing the field was female: Elsie de Wolfe, an actress who at the turn of the 20th century hung out a shingle styling herself a professional decorator. Big on light, patterned designs and soft, warm colors, she styled the homes of everybody in high society for the next few decades: the Morgans, the Vanderbilts, the Fricks and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
  • One of the richest women in real estate — and the sole female among the Forbes 400’s real estate billionaires — is Jane Goldman. She heads up Solil Management, which owns a portfolio of 400 commercial and residential properties around New York City. Her net worth is around $3 billion, Forbes estimates.
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Patricia Harris was the first African American woman to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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  • Three out of 17 Secretaries of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have been women — including the current head, Marcia L. Fudge. The first was Carla A. Hills, who served from 1975-1977, followed by Patricia R. Harris, 1977-1979. Harris, who was also the first African American woman appointed to the post, reformed the department, shifting its focus to fighting housing discrimination and funding the revitalization of inner-city neighborhoods.

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Written by
Michele Petry
Senior real estate editor
Michele Petry is a senior editor for Bankrate, leading the site’s real estate content.
Edited by
Senior homeownership editor