What 2021 Meant for Women and Finances

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In today’s “Financially Savvy Female” column, we’re looking back at what the past year has meant for women and their finances. Unfortunately, the overall picture has been bleak — women haven’t returned to the workforce in the same numbers as their male counterparts, the gender pay gap continues to hold women back and women continue to bear the majority of the student debt burden. But there are also some women who broke through some major glass ceilings this year who deserve to be celebrated! Here’s a quick recap of female finances in 2021.

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Number of Women in the Workforce Hasn’t Recovered to Pre-Pandemic Levels

Although the labor force as a whole has largely bounced back from pandemic-related job losses, the number of women in the workforce has not fully recovered. As of October, the labor force participation rate for women was still nearly 2% below its pre-pandemic level and the number of women not in the labor force was nearly 3 million higher than before the pandemic, CNN reported.

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There are a number of factors that have led to this. For starters, more women lost their jobs than men during the pandemic, as they held a larger proportion of service-industry jobs that were hit hard by closures. And among women who did not lose their jobs, many were forced to leave their jobs to take on caregiving duties with schools and child care facilities shut down.

Even as kids returned to school this fall, some women have not yet returned to their jobs, as their time away from work made them reevaluate what they want in a job.

Find Out: How To Give Off Boss Energy No Matter What Your Position

The Gender Pay Gap Is Still Decades Away From Closing

Although the gender pay gap has been narrowing over the past few decades, it still exists. A 2021 study by PayScale found that women make 82 cents for every dollar a man makes. And at the rate the gender pay gap is currently narrowing, it won’t disappear until 2059, Forbes reported.

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The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development says that there are two main factors contributing to the gender pay gap: “glass ceilings” and “sticky floors.” A glass ceiling is an obstacle that prevents women from advancing in their careers, such as the so-called “motherhood penalty” — women being held back from career growth if they take time off to care for children. Sticky floors refer to the obstacles women face throughout their careers, including social norms, gender stereotyping and discrimination.

Helpful: 6 Steps You Should Take To Increase Your Financial Confidence

Women Continue To Have More Debt Than Men

Women account for nearly two-thirds of the total student loan debt in the U.S. According to the latest stats, 58% of all student loan debt — $929 billion worth of debt in total — is held by women. Women graduate owing almost $22,000 in student debt on average, compared to $18,880 owed by men, the American Association of University Women reported.

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“Women are striving to get into those doors and work opportunities [so that they can achieve] equity,” said Briana B. Franklin, co-founder, president and CEO of The Prosp(a)rity Project. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to ‘play the game,’ so women are kind of overcompensating and going above and beyond. They’re not stopping at a bachelor’s degree — they’re getting master’s or becoming doctors to [safeguard] their job prospects.”

More Tips: Simple, Effective Ways To Set Yourself Up for a Financially Secure Future

On the Plus Side, Female CEOs Made History in 2021

2021 wasn’t all doom and gloom for women and money. This year, the number of women running businesses on the Fortune 500 hit an all-time high, with 41 female CEOs, Fortune reported. It’s also the first year two Black women are running Fortune 500 companies  — Roz Brewer of Walgreens Boots Alliance and Thasunda Brown Duckett of TIAA. And Karen Lynch made history as CEO of CVS Health — the company is now the highest-ranking business ever run by a female CEO.

GOBankingRates wants to empower women to take control of their finances. According to the latest stats, women hold $72 billion in private wealth — but fewer women than men consider themselves to be in “good” or “excellent” financial shape. Women are less likely to be investing and are more likely to have debt, and women are still being paid less than men overall. Our “Financially Savvy Female” column will explore the reasons behind these inequities and provide solutions to change them. We believe financial equality begins with financial literacy, so we’re providing tools and tips for women, by women to take control of their money and help them live a richer life.

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About the Author

Gabrielle joined GOBankingRates in 2017 and brings with her a decade of experience in the journalism industry. Before joining the team, she was a staff writer-reporter for People Magazine and People.com. Her work has also appeared on E! Online, Us Weekly, Patch, Sweety High and Discover Los Angeles, and she has been featured on “Good Morning America” as a celebrity news expert. 

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