Single women have a greater-than-ever workforce presence but are not enjoying the same economic gains as single men and married couples. (Illustration credit: Kate Brennan)

More women are single than ever before, a new report says — and all those unmarried ladies are making a significant impact on the U.S. economy. 

A record 52 percent of women were unmarried in 2021, according to the report released Wednesday by Wells Fargo, becoming a rising force in the labor market and earning college degrees and buying homes in greater numbers. Considering that just 7 percent of women were unmarried in 1900, the change over the last century or so is “rippling across the economy and leaving a mark on the labor market, wealth and spending,” according to the report.

But – there’s always a “but” – the report also revealed that although single women have a greater-than-ever workforce presence, they are not enjoying the same economic gains as single men and married couples. The Wells Fargo report revealed that last year, never-married women – a group that has grown by 20 percent in the last decade alone – earned just 92 percent of what never-married men earned. Additionally, they are reported to have 29 percent less wealth.

Why, you ask, are women still at an economic disadvantage despite all the progress they’ve made? Sarah House, senior economist at Wells Fargo and lead author of the report, has the answer. 

“The wage gap [between men and women] has remained stuck over the past 15 years,” she told The Washington Post. “Single women are filling a void in a very tight labor market, but they are still earning less than single men.”

The wage gap – along with most issues affecting women in the workforce – can be partly attributed to society’s inherent view of women as caretakers, regardless of the professional success they achieve. According to The Single Parent Project, roughly 85 percent of single-parent families in the U.S. are run by mothers. And according to House, the incomes of single mothers are largely spent on necessities. 

Data from the Wells Fargo report shows that single women with children had a median net worth of just $7,000 in 2019, compared to $65,000 for single women without children. Meanwhile, single men with children sacrificed just $2,000 of their overall wealth.

The report noted that women not only take on the brunt of child and elder care responsibilities, but also face “lingering instances of outright or unconscious bias.”

Years of financial inequity make it much harder for single women to set up a retirement fund or build a financial safety net, as the Wells Fargo economists wrote that single women are stuck in a more “financially fragile position” than other population groups. 

Data from the Federal Reserve shows that single people have a median net worth nearly four times smaller than that of married couples – a statistic that may lead some observers to blame a single woman’s “financially fragile position” on her relationship status, rather than unconscious gender bias. However, a joint income is not a viable solution to the larger issue of the pay gap, which “persists across men and women regardless of marital status,” according to the report. 

As the wage gap continues to plague the labor market, data will show us over and over again: single women are not suffering financially because they are single – they’re suffering financially because they are women. ◼️