Economists' Outlook

Housing stats and analysis from NAR's research experts.

Shattering the Glass Ceiling in Real Estate

The real estate industry is dominated by powerhouse women entrepreneurs. Women are likely to enter real estate not only because of their interest in the field and the flexibility the industry provides for setting their own work schedules, but also because of their strong desire to help families and work with people. In the broader U.S. economy, the notion of setting one's own hours and being one's own boss is often not possible outside of real estate.

The pandemic has been difficult on women's careers. In April 2020, the share of women age 25–54 in the labor force who are working dropped to the lowest level seen since March 1984. The strides women made through the women's movement and Equal Pay Act nearly evaporated overnight. Women returned home to help homeschool, hybrid, or virtual school children, and as a result found working 9-to-5 jobs (cue Dolly Parton) impossible to juggle. For childcare, some families purchased multi-generational homes and found support systems through older adult relatives. Many women, however, did not have that option. Other women lost employment or found their hours reduced to an unsustainable level.

In recent months, women's labor force participation rate has begun to rebound. Pre-pandemic, women's labor force participation rate was 74.5%. After falling to 63.4% in April 2020, it has now nearly rebounded to 72% in August 2021. In comparison, men's labor force participation rate only fell from 89% to 86.4%, and has nearly rebounded to 88.4%.

Line graph: Labor Force Participation Rates, 25 to 45 Years, January 1984 to May 2021

One refuge women have found: real estate. The flexibility real estate provides, coupled with potential earnings, is a major draw for female entrepreneurs. While women have made strides in the overall workforce, they have continued to break barriers in real estate. In 1978, only 21% of all brokers were women — today, 61% of all brokers are women. In 1978, 52% of all full-time sales agents were women — today, that share stands at 65%. Women have found that the field challenges them to solve problems, while using their skills in negotiation and communication to succeed.

Line graph: Share of Women Real Estate Brokers and Full-time Sales Agents, 1978 to 2021

The Impact on the Real Estate Market

The impact of women leaving the workforce and then returning is not without consequence. The pandemic accelerated the sustained decline in birth rates in the U.S. The birth rate now stands at a 100-year low, the lowest level since data collection began in 1909. It has been suggested families do not feel the financial stability to have children today, or may feel concerned about added caretaking responsibilities. Birth rates do have implications for the broader economy, and they very directly affect home buying activity and the desires of home buyers.

Line graph: U.S. Fertility Rate, 1909 to 2020

An additional implication of the reduced labor force participation rate and reduced income held by women is the potential impact on single women home buyers. Single women have traditionally been second only to married couples amongst household compositions of home buyers. The single women home buyer share had been as high as 22% of all buyers in 2006, but the share now stands at 18%. The reduced share is likely a result of reduced housing affordability as well as the inability to compete against dual-income buyers within the current limited housing inventory environment.

Single women home buyers are also more likely than men to be single parents, and more likely to be caregivers for aging adult relatives. It is possible, as women left the workforce or had hours reduced throughout the pandemic that conditions as they now stand may reduce the ability of single women to purchase real estate. NAR will explore this in more detail in the upcoming 2021 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers report.