Single Female Seeking Home Ownership, Part 1

Mar 23, 2006 |Candice Watters

Of course, for many women, it is a wise financial move to buy rather than rent. But if marriage is your goal, it isn't your only investment option.

This just in, more single women are buying their own homes, blared the TV during a recent segment of Fox News' "Your World with Neil Cavuto." Cavuto was looking for a debate: "More single women are buying homes, but some family groups say that's not all good," he teased. "Stay tuned for more." To face off were New York Real Estate broker Barbara Corcoran and Professor/Author Dr. Charmaine Yoest.

Corcoran's point of triumph was that the numbers had flipped. There were now more single women than single men buying homes, and wasn't that great news! she openly gloated. It was evidence of girl power; a sign of their financial success, she said. As this was a financial show, I could understand reporting this uptick in female buying power. What seemed out of place was the feminist undercurrent.

At first I thought, sure, for many women, it is a wise financial move to buy rather than rent. But I seriously doubted Corcoran's belief that they're doing it as a statement of feminist superiority. It's not in our nature as women. Maybe a hardened few do, but I suspect most single women who buy their own homes do it out of an inborn desire for security and sense of place; a need to have a base from which they can move out into the world and retreat back to again.

Corcoran said the happiest women she sees across the closing table are single moms. Her interpretation? The single woman is proud of her achievement and happy to be doing this on her own. Given that statistically, single moms comprise the poorest among us, couldn't one also deduce that a single mom buying her own home is beaming, not because her husband or boyfriend abandoned his responsibility to her and their children, not because she's a model of feminist independence and power, not because it feels good to finally be doing what used to be something only men did, but because she has managed to climb out of or avoid the poverty that plagues so many in her condition? This is not a sign of reaching the pinnacle — her life's goal — but of avoiding her worst nightmare.

And what of Yoest's rebuttal? It was her concern not that single women are buying homes, but that women are staying single longer. Good point. Until recently, women didn’t stay single long enough to be in a financial position to by their own home. They married earlier than they do now; before reaching their full earning potential or even independence.In the 1960s a college-educated woman in her late 20s or early 30s and still single would have represented a minuscule 1.6 percent of all women ages 25 to 34. In the entire country that amounted to 185,000 women. Today college-educated singles make up 28 percent of all women ages 25 to 34, and their population is 2.3 million. Debbie Maken, Getting Serious About Getting Married: Rethinking the Gift of Singleness. Copyright 2006, Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL. P. 57. Most lived with their parents till they married. If the singles I know are representative, it's safe to say that women who find themselves still single by the time they're able to afford their own home are not triumphant, but frustrated. Though they derive pleasure from the achievement of home ownership, it's no consolation for the fact that they did it alone.

Yoest said that attributing a woman's happiness to solo home ownership, not home ownership itself, is to misunderstand most women. She said it's better when women buy homes with husbands because both benefit from the partnership of marriage. Though she's right that marriage partnerships make for better economics — it's long been shown that married men with children earn more on average than other demographic groups — I thought her lack of enthusiasm for single women buying their own homes sounded outdated. These women are not giving up their dreams of marriage just because they're buying homes, I reasoned — houses and husbands are not mutually exclusive.

Or are they? A new book by Debbie Maken has me rethinking my assumptions. In Getting Serious About Getting Married, Maken explains that yes, single women used to live with their parents until they married. But it wasn't just because it was economically practical — parents also wanted to protect and motivate. They understood that their daughters needed protection from men who would certainly take liberties if given the opportunity that living alone provides. They also knew men were motivated to marry when access to the object of their affection was strictly limited.

In most cases it wasn't just family rules that kept women at home. Community-wide standards, expectations and sometimes even statutes required it. These were marriage-minded people and they knew that living apart from family was counter-productive; it not only lessened a woman's prospect of marrying well, it provided "the anonymity needed for the continuation of secret sin."

When you don't have parents or parental figures limiting the time you spend with your sweetheart (as well as supervising how you spend that time), you're likely to spend too much time with too little (commitment) in return. As Maken writes, "just as familiarity breeds contempt, access breeds complacency. Our solo living arrangements send a signal to men that they can have access into our lives and apartments at any time." In the past, "men married because they realized that their access to women was going to be constantly monitored by their parents."

It sounds positively arcane to our modern ears! But when I'm honest, I have to admit that when I lived with three single roommates, secret sin was a lot easier to enjoy and sustain than when I lived with my parents. Even though we were all believers, and even though we had house rules, without the possibility that my Dad might enter the room at any moment, temptation was hard to resist.

If you live on your own, your modesty and sense of propriety may protect you. But in the face of temptation, that's all you have. And having been tempted, I know such personal piety only goes so far. How much more firmly a woman's purity is guarded when she lives under the protection of a family — a family with her best interests in mind. Not only does she have her modesty but also the rules of their home, their accountability and their physical presence.

I realize living at home, with relatives or with another family, after college sounds distasteful, even offensive, and more so the longer you go without marrying. In a culture that prides itself on independence and defines success by financial wealth, it's downright sacrilege. But when did what our culture say is most important become the standard? I get uncomfortable and defensive when I read Acts. All that business about selling everything and sharing the proceeds in common, what kind of retirement plan is that? But my discomfort is not justification for throwing out the biblical principles I don't like. Jesus warned us that following Him wouldn't be easy; that it would make us stand out — "aliens; strangers in a strange land." Doing what's right is often hard.

Before you dismiss this idea of family living as financially foolish, socially limiting and embarrassingly outmoded, remember why women did it. Their goal was marriage. They wanted a husband and children. And living at home seemed to expedite the process. Recognizing that today the age of first-time marriage is as old as it's ever been in history (27 for women, 29 for men), I think it's safe to say our forward-thinking approach isn't working.

Not only does a family home provide protection from unscrupulous, unmotivated men, but also creates opportunities for service and responsibility that foster mature character. It's nearly impossible to create such conditions when you live by yourself or even with likeminded roommates.

I lived with a family during my time on Capitol Hill. They had two adopted children who were 4 and 2 when I arrived. The 4-year-old communicated through signs and walked with great effort due to a rare form of Cerebral Palsy. Being a part of this household required a bit more of me. I had routine cleaning chores, babysat weekly and after a long day at the office, typically changed quickly and came out to play with the kids. It was good to be needed, even when I didn't want to be. And immersion in the challenges and rewards of family life made me that much more desirous of my own husband and children.

If marriage is your goal, limited access with accountability — not home ownership — will help you achieve it. Yes, homeownership can be a great investment. But it's not your only investment option. And wealth at the expense of your desire for a husband is rarely a gain.

Part 2: Single Female Seeking Home Ownership »

Copyright 2006 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.

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