Theses Doctoral

The Gender Wealth Gap in the United States

Sariscsany, Laurel C.

Wealth has been found to be associated with financial wellbeing in ways not captured by income as well as increased social connections, improved physical and mental health, and increased emotional, cognitive, and behavioral development among children. Preliminary research indicates that a gender disparity in net worth exists in the U.S. However, research in the U.S. thus far has been limited to unmarried households. Research conducted in Germany finds that the gender wealth gap is substantially larger among married households as compared to unmarried households. Using the 2008 panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation, this dissertation is the first to examine whether the same is true in the U.S.

This dissertation is comprised of three papers: Paper 1 descriptively examines the individual wealth holdings of men and women among married, widowed, divorced, and never married individuals. Results further consider the intersectionality of gender and race in relation to asset ownership and liabilities. Paper 2 provides the first examination of the determinants of the gender wealth gap in the U.S. among the married as well as the unmarried. Blinder-Oaxaca decompositions are conducted in order to examine how much of the gender wealth gap can be explained by labor market characteristics, education, demographic characteristics, and receipt of benefits. DiNardo, Fortin, and Lemieux decompositions are additionally conducted to determine if determinates differ across the wealth distribution. Paper 3 is the first attempt to merge the gender earnings and net worth disparities literature. Weisbrod & Hansen (1968)’s augmented earnings measure is utilized to combine net worth and earnings into one annual measure. Annual earnings, net worth, and augmented earnings are descriptively compared.

Paper 1 multivariate results indicate that divorced and never married women own less than $0.30 of wealth for each dollar owned by comparable men while married women own $0.92 for each dollar owned by married men. Black women experience a substantially larger gender wealth gap. Paper 2 finds that the gender wealth gap among divorced and unmarried individuals is not explained by the characteristics listed above and is instead primarily attributable to differences in the rewards or penalties men and women receive for characteristics. Among married individuals, the gender gap can be explained largely by differences in characteristics, particularly labor market characteristics. Paper 3 finds that the gender gap in augmented earnings very slightly increases the disparity as compared to earnings alone.

Results indicate that the gender wealth gap among married individuals in the United States is substantially smaller than among unmarried individuals. Paper 2 indicates that for the most part, married couples share assets and debts. The remaining differences in wealth may then be a direct result of the division of labor as determined by the labor market characteristics. Racial differences in the gender wealth gap are stark and particularly concerning. Lastly, Paper 3 indicates that although the augmented earnings measure increased gender disparities only slightly, it suggests that the gender wealth gap captures additional aspects of disparities not captured by earnings. Future research is needed to determine the impact this disparity has on wellbeing.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Thesis Advisors
Garfinkel, Irwin
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 22, 2020