Increasingly, a home is a woman's castle: Today's homebuyer is more likely than ever before to be single and female.
By 2015, demographers say, more than two out of every five households occupied by Generation Y people born between 1981 and 1999 will be WINKs–Women with Incomes and No Kids. There are just a few million Gen Y households today, but the number is expected to grow exponentially in the near future.
Overall, the share of single female homebuyers increased from 14% in 1995 to 21% last year. In contrast, only 10% of home buyers were single men, according to the 2009 National Association of Realtors' Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.
Single female homebuyers range from recent divorcees to single mothers, though market analysts are most interested in the women of Generation Y, a cohort even bigger than the Baby Boomers. While a good number will eventually marry, demographic trends suggest they are likely to be replaced by significant numbers of new, unmarried female professionals.
As the average age of a woman's first marriage increases, from 20 in 1970 to 25 in 2003, there are more unmarried women in the population. Also, since fewer young adult women than men choose to live with their parents, more of these women are forming their own households, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.
Women are also tending to be more educated compared to men and, as a result, wealthier and better able to buy or rent a home. Close to 60% of undergraduate college degrees are earned by women.
"That will change the face of the workforce," says Charles A. Hewlett, managing director for research firm RCLCO. "Higher education leads to higher income."
The change has already begun. Earlier this year, women became the majority sex in the American workforce as unemployment hit 9.8% for men compared with just 8.1% for women. Three-quarters of the more than 7 million jobs lost in the recession so far were held by men.
The housing types most preferred by WINKs start with location. WINKs generally share the preference of Generation Y for neighborhoods that are friendly to pedestrians, along with an extra focus on safety and proximity to employers, according to various researchers. WINKs will trade the space associated with larger, single-family homes to get closer to amenities. Of WINKs, 87% prefer urban areas. In addition, 92% say they would like to walk to work, according to RCLCO.
"We like to call it 'Safe Urbanism,'" says Hewlett.
Inside, WINKs already have influenced the National Association of Home Builders' list of the top features for new homes for 2010, according to Stephen Melman, NAHB's director of economic services. He says WINKs are responsible for the consumer demand that put walk-in closets in the master bedroom and emphasized easy access to the laundry room.
The door is another important feature, including the door leading from the garage to the rest of the house. This door should be at least as strong and secure as the front door, and at least as nice as the door to the bathroom or the master bedroom, Melman says.
Single women also prefer gated access, fitness facilities, social interactions with neighbors, and other organizational and convenience features, according to the Harvard Joint Center. Developers are also offering more amenities, such as yoga classes or book clubs, to attract WINKs.