Change the narrative*

*about inequality in women’s wealth and opportunity

The Gender Wealth Gap: How did we get here?

Wealth inequality for women in Philadelphia has grown through systems of wealth extraction such as structural racism, racialized patriarchy, and racialized capitalism. These systems have resulted in the top 1% of the population holding 47% of the nation’s wealth and their wealth continues to grow exponentially by extracting from the rest of us.

This extractive economy which is deeply harming millions of human beings across the globe, is upheld and normalized by narratives that stigmatize and blame individuals for their current financial position. Scroll down to learn more about these myths and what you can do to challenge them.

Structural Racism

Structural racism is a legacy of legalized white supremacy. Laws and systems put in place with the intention of keeping power in the hands of white people have led to generations of disenfranchised people of color in this country.

Racialized Patriarchy

Patriarchy places power in the hands of men and disempowers women. Racialized patriarchy separates people into a hierarchy using both gender and race, having the most consequential impact on women of color.

Racialized Capitalism

This idea states racialized exploitation and capital accumulation are mutually compounding, placing women of color in the most difficult position in our capitalist economy.

Understanding their wealth journeys

In order to better understand the particular ways inequitable systems lead to wealth accumulation for few and wealth extraction for many, the Gender Wealth Institute launched a survey to understand the wealth experience of women in our communities. From our survey group, we interviewed six women (Faith, Ivy, Taina, Tamara, Tracey and Ingrid) to explore the context and nuance of their wealth journeys and lift up shared themes for further exploration.


Myth 01

Getting a College Degree is an Equalizer for Women

Not adding up

Even as higher education is opening the door to higher paying jobs, these jobs are not providing a wage that meets or exceeds the cost of inflation, reducing the ability of many women to afford basic needs. The primary cause is the machine of capital extraction that is at war against workers, always working to drive down labor income and those most impacted are women of color.

For every dollar that a white man has...1

For every dollar that a white man has...1

No Data Found

For years the goal has been equal pay regardless of gender or race, but we’ll need to look at a bigger picture of wealth building and the barriers that women and minorities face. When we talk about wealth, we’re looking at peoples’ total resources minus debts and their ability to meet the challenges that life brings.

Outstanding debt

Student loan debt is an extractive policy. Those carrying debt are more likely to delay starting a family, buying a home, or saving for retirement – all choices that reduce their ability to accumulate wealth. In reality, student loan debt forces women to cut back on consumption, savings, or most likely, both.
  • Women with advanced degrees tend to have greater outstanding debt and take longer to pay it off 2
  • 2/3 of US student loans are held by women with the gender disparity growing every year
  • Men pay their debt down at a rate of 11% compared to 8% for women3

Earnings disparities

In Philadelphia:
  • Women with higher education degrees earn more than women with lower education degrees, but less than men with higher education degrees4
  • Women earn on average ~15% lower than the median earning for each education level (high school, 4-year degree, and graduate degrees)4


Hear directly from Taina:

Unequal ability to build wealth leads to women being more restricted by debt and ultimately less likely to retire at the age they want to.


Myth 02

People with high wealth manage their money better than people with low wealth

Wealth can be viewed in different ways

Wealth is primarily thought of in financial terms only – how much money someone has.
We choose to view wealth differently. Reframing how we think about wealth can acknowledge what is gained when we dismantle racial and gender inequity.
When wealth is accumulated:
  • We live and retire with greater dignity, freedom, and peace of mind.
  • Our communities are prosperous, resilient, and vibrant.
  • Future generations have the freedom to dream big and become all they truly can be.
  • We are healthy and know that our family, networks, and communities are healthy, spiritually whole, and contributing.
The current systems within our society have led to systematic oppression and hindered our ability to think expansively about wealth. Federal policies such as mortgage interest and property tax deductions help the top earners stay at the top and predatory policies such as late fees keep the bottom earners from accumulating wealth.
On top of policies, these disparities are intensified because jobs viewed as ‘women’s work’ are often lower-paying or unpaid, such as caregiving. This has led to widening gaps in the top and bottom’s earners average savings at a staggering rate.


Hear directly from Faith:

Unequal ability to build wealth leads to women being more restricted by debt and ultimately less likely to retire at the age they want to.

Wealth accumulation over time5

Wealth accumulation over time5

No Data Found

People with lower income and wealth are not bad at managing their money compared to their wealthy counterparts. They are facing societal and structural barriers keeping them from building wealth. Reframing how we think about wealth, and who deserves to prosper, is the first step in dismantling the oppressive system we live in today.


Myth 03

If women are in higher paying jobs, and can stay connected to those jobs full-time, this can help close the wage gap
Today, women are more educated than ever, with greater labor force participation. Yet, there has been little to no change in the wage gap in over two decades.6,7
So why does the wage gap continue if women are in higher paying jobs? The answer lies in the difference between poverty and self-sufficiency.

Self-Sufficiency Standard

According to a study done by the University of Washington-Seattle, the majority of households in the US do not make enough money to cover basic needs (food, shelter, healthcare, childcare)— a concept known as the Self-Sufficiency Standard.8
  • Self sufficiency is a better standard to use to determine economic health, as it takes into account family composition, ages of children, and geographical distribution of costs.
  • The Self-Sufficiency standard in Philadelphia is $66K for a single mother of two children.4
Yet, even with higher paying jobs and greater degree attainment amongst women, there is still a gap—in fact, women with 4 year degrees still have an $18K Self-Sufficiency gap.4

Care Economy

Of Philadelphia women surveyed, on average, over half said that they are the primary caregiver for at least one child or minor. When asked about the financial impact of primary caregiving, only 1 in 3 Philadelphia women feel they have the financial support they need to support their caregiving responsibilities.9

Education and Debt

While more women than ever receive education at the highest levels, this doesn’t directly lead to higher economic success. In Philadelphia, ~50% of Hispanic and Black women surveyed have student loan debt, compared to 39% of White women.9

Income vs. Student Loan Debt9

No Data Found

Investment Gap

With more debt and increasing costs comes limited resources for wealth building such as investing.

The odds are stacked against women when seeking financial stability. The wage gap isn’t the whole picture. The wealth gap should also be considered.

  • In 2019, 50% of households were headed by women, yet women only owned 28% of total household wealth10
  • Compared to White men, Black and Hispanic women owned pennies on the dollar

The race for women to catch up in not only pay, but also wealth must be addressed. Solutions that tackle childcare and other caregiving costs, equal pay, higher education debt, and the overall investment gap, are essential.
The race for women to catch up in not only pay, but also wealth must be addressed. Solutions that tackle childcare and other caregiving costs, equal pay, higher education debt, and the overall investment gap, are essential.


Hear directly from Ingrid:


Myth 04

Health and wealth are unrelated domains and have no effect on each other
Health and wealth haven’t traditionally been thought of as connected, though research finds a strong link between the two. As with the other myths, this is even more true for women of color.

Access to Quality Healthcare

Access to healthcare is not always by need, but rather by wealth. Similar to the idea of food deserts, there are also healthcare deserts, where residents don’t have access to regular healthcare.

  • According to a 2016 report, census tracts where more than 80% of Philadelphia residents were Black have 28x higher odds of falling into the lowest-primary-care-access regions of the city
  • Less than half of women in Philadelphia indicate that they have access to the healthcare services they need9

Lost Wages and Medical Debt

The impact of needing healthcare is also important to note.

  • Nearly 40% of Black and Hispanic older adults lost wages because of their chronic disease compared to 16.6% of Whites11
  • 16% of Black Americans report have significant medical debt, compared to 9% of White and 4% of Asian Americans12

In Philadelphia, only 39% of Black women surveyed indicate that their healthcare is affordable.9
The income and wealth of workers must be protected including through medical debt relief and short- and long-term disability protection.

Maternal Health

When women do not have access to quality healthcare, there is a financial impact for the economy.

  • For example, the total maternal morbidity costs for all US births in 2019 is estimated to be ~32 billion dollars 11
  • The cost of going to the doctor is not always about money. For women, and especially black women, the cost can be far greater; Black women are also 3x more likely than white women to suffer from a pregnancy related death13
  • Finally, in Philadelphia, nearly 3 of 5 (59%) of surveyed Black women - the highest rate among the major racial groups represented in the study - indicate that they experience stress that impacts their physical health

Stress impacts physical health

In Philadelphia, nearly 3 of 5 (59%) surveyed Black women - the highest rate among the major racial groups represented in the study - said that they experience stress that impacts their physical health.9


Hear directly from Tamara:


Myth 05

Wealth is an individual experience that has no link to the resources of the neighborhood

The ability to build wealth is strongly influenced by many factors outside of a person’s individual drive and ambition. For example, a strong link exists between the financial health of a person’s neighborhood and economy and individual outcomes. Disadvantaged neighborhoods have well-documented negative effects on educational, economic, and behavioral outcomes. It isn’t surprising that a similar link exists between neighborhood disadvantage and wealth-building later in life. This is especially true for communities of color, who still suffer the consequences of a long history of racial segregation in the U.S.
For women in Philadelphia, neighborhood safety can vary widely, and is strongly linked with income level:
  • While 83% of highest earners in the survey said that they feel safe in their neighborhoods, only 25% of lowest earners feel that way9

I know for people in my community, if they haven’t been involved in violence, that a loved one or someone else close to them has been a victim of violence, so that definitely creates stress. Watching the news – that creates stress. Those stressors are impeding our mental and physical health, you know, our well-being as a whole.”

Tamara Cobb exchanges some fruit for a plant

Health and mental well-being suffer when community members feel unsafe, leading to isolation, and a focus on immediate needs only. When communities are fighting to survive, their ability to thrive socially and financially is reduced.

If I can’t walk out my door, my peace isn’t that it’s just peaceful in here. My peace is that it’s peaceful around here. If I got to worry about going to the store and not getting back in my door, then yeah, that would disrupt my peace.”

In Philadelphia, where city policies have encouraged a development boom in lower-income neighborhoods, the lowest earners among women experience the highest rate of housing cost increases. Cost and tax increases in low-income neighborhoods further inhibit the ability of women in these communities to build wealth, along with all the other challenges they face.
  • For those in the lowest income group, nearly all (99%) say that their housing expenses have increased over the past year9


Hear directly from Ivy:

What can you do?

History tells us that policy is at the core of gender wealth inequity in the US and Philadelphia. Intentional policy change can affect wealth distribution by lessening many of the burdens women face disproportionately in their personal and professional lives. While policy change takes time, many local and national organizations have been actively working to reduce or spread awareness of the issues raised in this report. Supporting their work through donations is one way to advance the journey to gender wealth equity in addition to advocating for policy change.

Finally, the most necessary step to achieving gender wealth equality is to continue to challenge the myths and false narratives that block progress toward a more equitable wealth landscape for women in Philadelphia. Change begins within you.
Influence Policy
  • Rethink the use of traditional poverty measures and use the Center for Women’s Welfare Self Sufficient Standard
  • Advocate for tuition-free colleges, expanding Pell grants, student-debt relief programs and streamlining existing forgiveness programs
  • Legislate guaranteed basic income and/or cash assistance programs to women
  • Raise the federal and state minimum wages, which research shows will significantly reduce gender and racial wage gaps
  • Legislate universal childcare
  • Protect the income, assets and wealth of workers through improved short term and long term disability policies
  • Join legislative efforts to advocate for a single payer health care system, which is shown to provide higher quality healthcare for Black women
  • Introduce legislation to institute a more robust PILOT program in Philadelphia, which is an underutilized tool for investments into goods such as public education and city services
  • Invest in programs that address student loan debt
  • Invest in education programs that provide adult learners an alternative and more affordable way to get an advanced degree such as College Unbound.
  • Invest in funds that prioritize funding small local businesses owned by women of color
  • Fund guaranteed basic income pilot programs and financial coaching programs
  • Invest in programs that support the expansion of caregiver education and training to support caregiving wellness
  • Intentionally direct