Just a century ago, women were barred from owning property, applying for credit and opening a bank account. Thanks to the work of those who pushed for change and equitable rights, women now have greater autonomy over their finances than ever before.
So, when were women finally able to open a bank account in the U.S., and how did it happen? Here’s how women’s journey to financial freedom has unfolded over the years.
When Could Women Open a Bank Account?
It wasn’t until 1974, when the Equal Credit Opportunity Act passed, that women in the U.S. were granted the right to open a bank account on their own.
Technically, women won the right to open a bank account in the 1960s, but many banks still refused to let women do so without a signature from their husbands. This meant men still held control over women’s access to banking services, and unmarried women were often refused service by financial institutions.
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act prohibited financial institutions from discriminating against applicants based on their sex, age, marital status, religion, race or national origin. Because of the act’s passage, women could finally open bank accounts independently.
History of Women and Money in the United States
Women in the U.S. have made a lot of progress when it comes to financial rights and independence. Here’s a brief history of American women’s rights related to money, followed by a look at the laws that helped level the playing field.
Women and Money in the 1800s
Married women in the 1800s had no right to their money, land or bodies. This was due to a legal practice called coverture, which stemmed from the country’s colonial heritage. Under coverture, a woman’s property and legal existence transferred to her husband upon marriage. Married women were also considered property of their husbands under the law of coverture. This meant they could not seek gainful employment or manage their assets independently.
It wasn’t until the women’s rights movement in the mid-1800s that women began to gain financial and legal control over their lives. Specifically, the passage of the Married Women’s Property Act in Mississippi in 1839 triggered a wave of similar legislation across the country that allowed women to regain ownership of their property. Also thanks to the act, women were no longer liable for the debts of their husbands.
Women and Money in the 1900s
This century was filled with numerous key victories and milestones for women’s financial rights. By the end of the women’s rights movement in the early 1900s, women had won the right to vote, formed a union for working women, gained access to birth control and reclaimed their property rights.
In 1963, the passage of the Equal Pay Act minimized gender-based pay discrepancies by prohibiting employers from paying different wages to men and women whose jobs require the same level of effort and expertise. This act widened the path to professional opportunities for women and encouraged them to enter the paid labor force at unprecedented levels.
Aside from earning higher pay in the workplace, women also won greater control over their finances in the 1900s. In 1974, the passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act allowed women to open bank accounts, apply for credit and commit to a mortgage without needing a male co-signer.
The Current State of Women and Money
Despite making great strides in the past few centuries, women are still economically disadvantaged compared to their male counterparts. Though the gender pay gap has narrowed since the Equal Pay Act, women still earn just $0.82 for every dollar a man makes, according to 2020 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Perhaps due in part to this pay gap, women also lag behind men in retirement savings. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 Survey of Income and Program Participation, women are more likely than men to have no retirement savings. They’re also less likely to have $100,000 or more saved for retirement.
Still, women have come a long way from being unable to hold property or open a bank account. According to research done by McKinsey & Company in 2020, women now control a third of total U.S. household financial assets, which is more than $10 trillion. By the end of this decade, that figure is predicted to rise to $30 trillion as men in the baby boomer generation pass away and transfer the wealth to their wives, who tend to be younger and live longer.
It’s been roughly half a century since women won the right to open a bank account on their own. While there’s still progress to be made when it comes to gender and money, there’s no doubt the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was a critical milestone on women’s road to financial opportunity and independence.
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