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Women and Asset-Building

About Women and Asset-Building

In times of economic hardship, savings and retirement accounts provide the safety net needed to keep women, families, and communities above poverty. However, in the midst of the worst recession in recent memory, the inadequacies of current programs as well as savings and asset-building practices, particularly among women and people of color, have been revealed. IWPR’s work on economic security, including our current work with The Ford Foundation’s initiative to strengthen asset-building and close the wealth gap, Building Economic Security Over A Lifetime (BESOL), seeks to address this disparity head-on.

Recent IWPR research shows that with the erosion of household income and assets during the 2007-2009 recession, many Americans were forced to dip into or deplete their assets in order to cope with financial hardship. In 2010, 45 percent of women and 38 percent of men reported that they took money out of their savings or retirement funds in order to meet their expenses. In fact, analysis of the IWPR/Rockefeller Survey of Economic Security found that before the Great Recession, more than half of all women and men believed their retirement savings would be adequate to maintain current standards of living; only 37 percent of women and 44 percent of men feel this way now. While the recent economic downturn affected a broad swath of society—cutting across lines of race, gender, race and ethnicity, and class—women were affected especially adversely, particularly single mothers and women of color. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided extra money for unemployment insurance and job creation; however, these funds have since been phased out.

IWPR’s work seeks to explore ways that asset-building can be enhanced to restore families’ pre-recession portfolios and to improve upon them. IWPR’s continuing work on Social Security, retirement security, and overall economic security sheds light on the diverse needs and experiences of women and their families in asset-building and on public policies in this area. In addition, IWPR’s work with the Ford Foundation in their BESOL initiative helps to promote asset-building and financial security among the most vulnerable and asset-poor: low-income individuals and their families.  As part of this work, IWPR provides guidance and suggestions to other groups working on this initiative on how best to fully incorporate the voices and needs of women, their families, and their communities.


Retirement & Social Security, IWPR
IWPR/Rockefeller Survey of Economic Security
The Status of Women and Girls

External Resources

Latest Reports from IWPR

Spring/Summer 2013 Newsletter-25th Anniversary Edition
by Institute for Women's Policy Research (August 2013)

This special 25th Anniversary edition of the newsletter presents a review of IWPR's policy research since our founding in 1987.


The Importance of Social Security in the Incomes of Older Americans: Differences by Gender, Age, Race/Ethnicity, and Marital Status
by Jocelyn Fischer and Jeff Hayes, Ph.D. (August 2013)

Social Security is the largest source of income for most older Americans and is even more vital to particular demographic subgroups of older Americans. Analyzing the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) for calendar year 2011, this briefing paper examines the role of Social Security and other income sources in the retirement security of older Americans. It explores the unique value of Social Security to different gender, age, race/ethnic, and marital groups. It finds that significant shares of the older population rely on Social Security for the majority of their income and that Social Security lifts 14.8 million people out of poverty.


The Gender Wage Gap: 2011
by Ariane Hegewisch, Claudia Williams, and Anlan Zhang (March 2012)

The ratio of women’s to men’s median weekly full-time earnings rose by one percentage point since 2010 and reached a historical high of 82.2 percent. The narrowing of the weekly gender earnings gap from 18.8 percent to 17.8 percent, however, is solely due to real wages falling further for men than for women. Both men and women’s real earnings have declined since 2010; men’s real earnings declined by 2.1 percent (from $850 to $832 in 2011 dollars), women’s by 0.9 percent (from $690 to $684 in 2011 dollars).


Talking Points on Retirement and Social Security
by Cynthia Hess (January 2012)

Talking Points on Retirement and Social Security


The Impact of the Great Recession on Older Women and Men
by Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D. (October 2011)


Retirement on the Edge: Women, Men, and Economic Insecurity After the Great Recession
by Cynthia Hess, Ph.D., Jeff Hayes, Ph.D. and, Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D. (September 2011)

The IWPR/Rockefeller Survey addressed the extent of economic security almost a year and a half after the recession officially ended. Many of the survey’s findings are detailed in the report, Women and Men Living On the Edge: Economic Insecurity After the Great Recession (Hayes and Hartmann 2011). This report analyzes a specific aspect of the IWPR/Rockefeller Survey’s findings: issues related to retirement security following the recession. It finds that men and women after the Great Recession experience uncertainty about the adequacy of their financial resources for the proverbial “golden years,” an uncertainty that may shape how they view the meaning of retirement and their own decisions about the future.

D500, Report, 68 pages

Women and Men Living on the Edge: Economic Insecurity After the Great Recession
by Jeffrey Hayes, Ph.D. and Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D. (September 2011)

The IWPR/Rockefeller Survey of Economic Security, like several other recent surveys, finds that the effects of the 2007–2009 recession, known as the Great Recession, are both broad and deep. The IWPR/Rockefeller survey shows that more than one and a half years after the recession came to an official end, and the recovery supposedly began, many women and men report that they are still suffering significant hardships. They are having difficulty paying for basics like food (26 million women and 15 million men), health care (46 million women and 34 million men), rent or mortgage (32 million women and 25 million men), transportation (37 million women and 28 million men), utility bills (41 million women and 27 million men), and they have difficulty saving for the future (65 million women and 53 million men). On almost every measure of insecurity and hardship the survey reveals the Great Recession has visited more hardship on women than it has on men.

C386, Report, 102 pages

Pension Crediting for Caregivers: Policies in Finland, France, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Japan
by Elaine Fultz, Ph.D. (June 2011)

#D497, Report, 48 pages

Maternity, Paternity, and Adoption Leave in the United States
by Annamaria Sundbye and Ariane Hegewisch (May 2011)


Improving Child Care Access to Promote Postsecondary Success Among Low-Income Parents
by Kevin Miller, Ph.D., Barbara Gault, Ph.D., and Abby Thorman, Ph.D. (March 2011)

This report examines the role of child care as a crucial support for parents who pursue postsecondary education.

#C378, Report, 54 pages

Social Security: Especially Vital to Women and People of Color, Men Increasingly Reliant
by Heidi Hartmann, Ph.D., Jeff Hayes, Ph.D. and Robert Drago, Ph.D. (January 2011)

Social Security is the bedrock of retirement income for older Americans. IWPR analysis of the 2010 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) shows that Social Security remains the largest source of income for older Americans.

#D494, Report, 22 pages,

Focus on Yemen Topic Brief: Paid Work and Control of Earnings & Assets
by International Foundation for Electoral Systems and Institute for Women's Policy Research (December 2010)


Separate and Not Equal? Gender Segregation in the Labor Market and the Gender Wage Gap
by Ariane Hegewisch, Hannah Liepmann, Jeffrey Hayes, and Heidi Hartmann (August 2010)

Occupational gender segregation is a strong feature of the US labor market. While some occupations have become increasingly integrated over time, others remain highly dominated by either men or women. Our analysis of trends in overall gender segregation shows that, after a considerable move towards more integrated occupations in the 1970s and 1980s, progress has completely stalled since the mid 1990s. Occupational segregation is a concern to policy makers for two reasons: it is inefficient economically, preventing able people from moving into occupations where they could perform well and that would satisfy them more than the ones open to them. And occupational segregation is a major cause for the persistent wage gap. Our analysis confirms that average earnings tend to be lower the higher the percentage of female workers in an occupation, and that this relationship is strongest for the most highly skilled occupations, such as medicine or law. Yet this is also a strong feature of jobs requiring little formal education and experience, increasing the likelihood of very low earnings for women working in female-dominated, low-skilled occupations such as childcare.

#C377, 16 pages

Women in Poverty during the Great Recession
by Jane M. Henrici, Ph.D., Allison Suppan Helmuth, Frances Zlotnick, and Jeff Hayes, Ph.D. (July 2010)

#D493, Briefing Paper,

Focus on Morocco Topic Brief: Paid Work and Control of Earnings & Assets
by International Foundation for Electoral Systems and Institute for Women's Policy Research (May 2010)


Focus on Lebanon Topic Brief: Control of Financial Assets
by International Foundation for Electoral Systems and Institute for Women's Policy Research (February 2010)

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A Feminist Approach to Policy Making for Women and Families
by Heidi Hartmann and Roberta Spalter-Roth (March 1994)

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