Gender disparity even among black 1 percent

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In the third and final installment of TheGrio’s coverage of the black 1 percent we want to take a closer look at black women and wealth.

A review of the 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances data reveals a troubling disparity: the top black 1 percent of households by income did not include a woman as head of the household . The same is true for for Hispanics. This doesn’t mean female-headed households do not exist among the top income earners, but their numbers appear to be small.

“It’s somewhat depressing, but it kind of shows us for every Sheila Johnson or Oprah Winfrey, clearly hundreds of thousands are financially struggling and not where they want to be in terms of income and net worth,” says Lynnette Kalfani-Cox, Co-founder of, a free financial advice blog.

Black women lack participation in so-called “wealth builders,” says Wilhelmina Leigh, Senior Research Associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies , Leigh says looking at the drivers of wealth underscores the scarcity of black women in the top 1 percent.

“Look at the major forms of wealth — owning a house, stocks, bonds and business ownership. African-Americans fall short and African-American women especially fall short in terms of having those things,” says Leigh. “So it’s not a mystery at all. It’s an unfortunate and very explainable reality.”

Ironically, black women are earning more college degrees their male counterparts, but have not been able to capitalize on that advantage when it comes to building wealth.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, black women earned 66 percent of bachelors degrees conferred to African-Americans, versus 34 percent for black men in the 2008-2009 academic year.

“Women are not on the ‘wealth escalator,’” says Mariko Chang, author of Shortchanged: Why Women Have Less Wealth & What Can Be Done About It. “These are things that help people convert their wealth more quickly.”

They include fringe benefits such as company sponsored retirement accounts and health benefits. Chang says women are more likely to work part-time jobs that don’t offer these benefits.

A black woman 1 percenter, who asks not to be identified, says “the critical thing necessary in building wealth is that you have to take risks. Women who want to have children and a family have to bet harder , younger.”

Wealth and the Single Woman

Although two-income households have economies of scale in terms of amassing wealth, experts say black women should not wait to get married to start.

Chang estimated single Bblack women have a median wealth of just $100 in her 2010 report, Lifting as We Climb. This compares to $120 for single Hispanic women and $41,500 for single White women.

“We can not afford to wait. Figure out how to improve your credit rating or how to invest more,” Kalfani-Cox says.

Barriers to Wealth

According to Leigh, income gaps and caring for family are major roadblocks to black women generating net worth.

Leigh says although black women have narrowed the education gap compared to white women and black men, there is still a gap in income. “Income is where wealth starts. You must have disposable income to accumulate wealth.”

Black women’s role as care giver also impacts their ability to grow their assets. “There is a significant problem in our culture of taking care of other people,” says Glinda Bridgforth, author of Girl Get Your Credit Straight.

Bridgforth emphasizes caring for others over an extensive period of time prevents women from building wealth and minimizing debt. “So often we’re trying to support our children or our parents. It’s a very challenging situation to be in.”

There are varying views on how much financial support should be given to family members . The black woman 1 percenter says she has no conflict in helping family. “I think there is no choice, but to take care of your family. To be in a situation where you have your family suffer because of your interest in wealth accumulation, there is no excuse for it.” She reflected on the many sacrifices her parents made for her.

Overall black women can change the fate of their financial circumstances.

Kalfani-Cox stresses financial literacy and a mentor are critical to getting on the path to wealth accumulation. “Find a mentor who has had to make tough choices who can teach you something through their life experience,” she says.