Taking aim at the net worth of the married

[Confidential to Alicia: I will respond to your post later this week! I already have a Weds post scheduled, so probably Friday will be a good day for it.]

So, for tl;dr reasons I went back and looked at Cindy from Growing Her Worth’s first post, in which she linked to this terrifying article about how single people (especially women) need to be insanely frugal in order to ever even dream of retiring.

As it happens I haven’t written nearly as much about issues of single-woman finance as I’d intended to when I picked my blog name. But it’s not like I never think about them. I actually think (and worry) about them all the time. There are a slew of issues: no help with the rent (unless you live with a roommate, as I currently do), no backup if you get sick or are unemployed, etc. However, what caught my eye was the net worth chart. Citing the Census Bureau in 2004, she gave a median net worth of $30,026 for single women, compared to $144,580 for married couples. For ages 55-64 (that is, approaching retirement) the median net worth numbers were $62,140 for single women (oof) and $268,835 for married couples (still not great, but much better.)

I was all fired up to set some new goals for myself based on this information when I realized that the financial picture in the U.S. has changed just a little bit since 2004. It took some digging around, but I finally ended up looking at the Census Bureau’s data from 2011, which is available in some detail on their website.  There have been some net worth studies since then — like the one summarized at the Times, here, but when I looked at the data I didn’t see it broken out either by gender or by married/single (maybe I just missed something?) The upshot is that the 2011 numbers are probably a bit high, as net worth has been declining for everyone but the wealthiest. But I’ll roll with 2011 for the moment.

Median net worth numbers of interest to me, as of the 2011 census:
Married-couple households, 35-54 y.o.: $116,170
Married-couple households, 55-64 y.o.: $239,847
Female householder, 35-54 y.o.: $9640
Female householder, 65 years and older: $104,000

A couple of notes: That’s a huge decline in median female wealth. I assume most of it is attributable to housing issues (either drop in home value, or foreclosure, since I know single mothers were very hard hit by cruddy mortgage issues.) The wealth drop wasn’t nearly as bad for older single women; in the 55-64 age range, median net worth was almost identical between 2004 and 2011. Of course, that’s without accounting for inflation, so I guess there was still a serious drop.

OK then — how am I doing? I’m 35 years old and my net worth ought to hit $10,000 in mid-November (there’s a slim chance of getting there by the end of October, but I think that’s unlikely; it should be very close, though.) So, I’m right around the median for single women, and since I’m on the very low end of the age range there, I’m probably doing rather better than the median for 35-year-old women. However, obviously that leaves me in terrible shape, so I’m not going to get all happy.

I think instead I should take aim at the married couples. Damn it, why should I let not having had the good sense to either get married, or pursue some career that paid, hold me back? At my current rate of net worth growth, I should be able to hit $116,000 in about four years, by age 40. (Oh my God, I’ll be 40 in four years. I am so not ready for that.) Ideally, of course, I’ll get a better-paying job soonish and be able to increase it faster!

6 thoughts on “Taking aim at the net worth of the married

  1. Haha, love your oh-so confidential message at the top 🙂 Whenever you get around to it, it’s cool – I just thought it was fun!

    It’s interesting to me that there is such a difference in the numbers between single- and married net worths. What were the stats like for single-men? I know that’s not your focus, but I’m curious if it is a gender divide, or if it’s more of a single vs DINK thing.

    40 is the new 25, by the way 😉

    1. I’d better hope 50 is the new 30, I think! 🙂

      I think the raw numbers are masking some real differences within groups. For married couples — for a whole lot of reasons, marriage is now much more common among higher income/college-educated groups. So you’re seeing the impact of shared costs (two incomes, one house) but also you’re seeing a growing divide between people that just earn more in the first place (and are much more likely to be married) and people that are lower-income and more likely to be single.

      I would actually like to know what the difference between the median net worth of a single college educated woman, and the median net worth of a married couple also with college, is. That is, once you control for education level, how much of the difference disappears.

  2. Huy Tran says:

    I couldn’t find it on the census data(I may have missed it as well) but for the first article, single men have even a lower net worth of $28,100(about $2000 less) across all households but higher for ages 55-64 $69,350 (about $7000) more.

    I think it’s more of a DINK thing. I would have been surprised if there was a significant difference between single men and women.

    Good post. It’s nice to reflect on net worth from time to time to see how you’re doing compared to other people. I’m glad you’re realistic about your goals and not super happy being at the median for a 35-year-old woman.

    1. Yeah, I didn’t really look at the men’s numbers, but that’s interesting. Thanks! I think on the lower end of the income spectrum, men’s and women’s incomes have been equalizing for some time, but unfortunately not for a good reason — instead of women earning a lot more, men have been progressively earning less as manufacturing jobs are replaced by contingent and service work. It sucks.

  3. DebtFreeJD says:

    Really interesting post! I had no idea there was such a difference here.

    1. Yeah, it’s pretty striking, isn’t it? It’s a combination of factors. Single women are often (thought not always, as in my case) single *mothers*, which retards earning potential a lot; they tend to work in low-income occupations in the first place and to have trouble hanging onto those jobs because of childcare issues anyway, and they frequently aren’t getting child support so they’re paying for most of their children’s costs, where married couples would share that expense. And like I said, I know that bad mortgage practices hit lower-income single women (especially African-Americans) very hard, and I’m assuming that’s where a lot of the net worth drop between the recession and now is coming from.

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