Sexism in finance: when CAs couldn't get a mortgage

A CA ponders her financial options in the 60s
By Alex Burden, Student Blog

23 January 2017

Imagine being unable to apply for a loan or hire purchase agreement without finding a husband or gaining the signature of male relative, first. And that these practices regularly happened within the UK in the last 50 years?

It’s not far from imagination because this was the reality for women until financial institutions and credit lenders shifted their perception of the monetary ‘risks’ that females imposed upon credit agreements.

In the latter half of the 20th century, women were not regarded as the primary signatory of their own bank account, despite women being as equally proficient as men in accounting and finance arenas.

Financial restrictions by gender

As a female in the 1950s, if you earned enough to buy a house, it was an impossible task without a husband or father. For another three decades, women were still viewed as ‘second-class’ citizens in terms of their ability to manage or be responsible for money, and required male guarantors for mortgages, as reported by Mintel.

By 1971, 52% of all women aged 20 to 65 were in work, but their ability to purchase items was hampered by the belief that they would need a male signatory on official documents, regardless if the woman earned more than the man.

Married women could stop declaring their income on their husband’s tax return in the 80s, but it wasn’t until 1990 that independent taxation for spouses was introduced; prior to this, women were taxed under their husband’s code!

This is enough to make the average person’s blood boil, but even more unfathomable when you consider that women were working as trained CAs during this period; trusted enough to manage complex accounts, but the wrong gender to use or benefit from financial products.

Shifting attitudes

It wasn’t until 1975, when The Sex Discrimination Act outlawed discrimination against women seeking to obtain goods, facilities or services (including loans or credit), that attitudes began to shift. This was not a smooth process, however, as some retailers still requested male guarantors in 1978, as reported by The Times.

In the 1980s, banks were instructed by the government to increase lending and fuel growth in the economy, and they could only do this by reducing restrictions on women.

This has been of little help to group of women who still remember that time; those who were unable to build up a credit history during this period still find it difficult to get credit in the present day or qualify for a full pension.

If a woman wants to get a mortgage today, she can; but there is evidence that lenders are still rejecting applications based on assumptions relating to pregnancy or child-rearing and the potential that they will not return to the workforce. 

Financial equality for the present day?

In 2011, Noreena Hertz reported for the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) on female discrimination by banks, and found evidence of lenders throughout Europe setting tougher requirements for female entrepreneurs, such as higher collateral and questioned on how much research they have carried out. Women are still being refused loans more frequently than men.

In as late as 2016, it was reported that female entrepreneurs were likely to receive “fewer, smaller loans for higher interest rates”.

If a woman wants to get a mortgage today, she can; but there is evidence that lenders are still rejecting applications based on assumptions relating to pregnancy or child-rearing and the potential that they will not return to the workforce. 

A survey by uSwitch found that a quarter of the women had decided to not disclose their plans for a family when applying for a mortgage. Lenders are currently not allowed to ask whether you are pregnant or on maternity leave, and women now have redress to claim for pregnancy discrimination.

Banking culture is also being challenged and out-dated attitudes eroded – time will tell when we reach a ‘utopia’, but regulated sexism embedded in financial products is falling away, and the landscape looks vastly different when compared to the 60s.

There is still much to be done to provide unbiased, equal access, and we hope our CAs of tomorrow can influence and provide a guiding role for all seeking their advice.


What are your experiences of obtaining credit? Have you ever experienced sexism or gender discrimination? Leave a comment below

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