In the important new book, No country for old maids? Talking about the ‘man drought‘, one of the issues author Hannah August puts her brilliant mind to is the disadvantages faced by single women in obtaining housing. She discusses “singlism”, a word coined by American social psychologist Bella DePaulo to describe discrimination against single people. In New Zealand, she notes, this discrimination “can most obviously be seen when it comes to housing”.
We know that personal discrimination – based on gender, ethnicity, income, family make-up – affects people’s access to housing, whether buying or renting. However, August is describing the existence of another phenomenon, an “embedded discrimination”, which is that we have a system in which it is much harder for single people, and single women in particular, to buy their own home. And unfortunately, in New Zealand, the alternative – renting – means living in insecure housing which is often in poor quality.
When it comes to homeownership, single people do not have the advantage of a double income to draw on when getting a mortgage. As August points out, in the 2013 census, just fewer than 40% of partnered people aged 25-34 owned homes, but only 9.9% of single people owned homes. Treasury analysis of 2007/8 figures shows that fewer than half of partnered 35-44 year olds who did not own their own home could have afforded to buy a home. Fewer than 15% of single people could have done so. In Auckland, under 40% of coupled people, or under 10% of single people, who did not already own homes could have afforded to buy. In August’s words, “The figures are bad, but they are worst for single people.”
Single women are particularly disadvantaged because, as August points out, “the fact that New Zealand’s gender pay gap hovers persistently at around 10 per cent means that single women typically have less income to pay for housing and amenities than do single men”. And as Max Rashbrooke draws attention to in his own new book, “this lifetime of lower earnings translates into much lower savings and wealth accumulation”. Many people draw on their Kiwisaver retirement savings to buy a house, but women have less to draw on: the average balance for women in ANZ’s Kiwisaver accounts is, at $8,818, almost 28% lower than the $11,396 for men.
This isn’t fair. So what do we do? Work to reduce the gender pay-gap, is one thing. And make things better for people who rent. As August puts it in an interview:
“One of the reasons we need to talk about long-term renters rights is that we’re seeing a drop in partnerships for both women and men, and so you will be seeing people who are sharing flats into their thirties and forties, and how do we make that sustainable?”
It’s an idea whose time has come, and one that I think will see more and more of, particularly as organisations like Wellington Renters United start to provide a voice for renters.
 August, H. (2015). No country for old maids? Talking about the man drought. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books. P.70
 Callister, P., & Didham, R. (2014). The New Zealand “Meet Market”: 2013 census update. Wellington: Callister & Associates. Retrieved from http://callister.co.nz/the-nz-meet-market-2013-census-update.pdf
 Law, D., & Meehan, L. (2013). Housing Affordability in New Zealand: Evidence from Household Surveys (New Zealand Treasury Working Paper 13/14). Wellington. Retrieved from http://www.treasury.govt.nz/publications/research-policy/wp/2013/13-14/twp13-14.pdf
 August, No country for old maids?, p.71
 August, No country for old maids?, p.73
 Rashbrooke, M. (2015). Wealth and New Zealand. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books. P.40
 Parker, T. (2015, July 29). Why women are $60k behind men on retirement savings. New Zealand Herald. Retrieved from http://www.nzherald.co.nz/personal-finance/news/article.cfm?c_id=12&objectid=11488298
 Whelan, M. (2015, August 7). All the single ladies. The Wireless. Retrieved from http://thewireless.co.nz/articles/all-the-single-ladies