The average credit scores of men and women in the U.S. were just a point apart when credit reporting agency Experian published a major analysis of the issue in 2020. And a year later, updated data from Experian show essentially identical average scores between the genders. In addition, the research reveals that the credit card balances of men vs. women are so close as to be statistically the same. Here is how the numbers break down, along with some historical background.
- The Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 prohibited several standard practices that served to restrict women’s access to credit and their ability to be financially self-reliant.
- Today, the average credit score of the two genders is identical.
- Men and women carry essentially the same level of credit card debt.
- Men carry more debt than women overall, and in every category except for student loans.
How the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 Changed Things
It can be hard to believe that as recently as the 1970s women often weren’t permitted to take out a loan or apply for credit without a male cosigner. And if they bought a home, they were typically required to make a larger down payment than male applicants with a similar credit history.
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 was a major milestone in ending gender discrimination as it relates to accessing credit. And though the U.S. still suffers gender-based wage gaps, credit availability and usage between women and men is largely aligned today.
That’s not to say there are no differences in how men and women use debt and credit. Indeed, men carry more overall debt than women, including across almost all debt categories. But women carry more student loan debt, as well as having more credit cards.
|Average Debt & Credit Metrics by Gender|
|Average credit score||705||704*||-1*|
|Total debt balances||$337,957||$310,004||– $27,953|
|Mortgage debt||$211,034||$192,368||– $18,666|
|HELOC debt||$ 47,017||$ 42,746||– $4,271|
|Auto loan debt||$ 20,645||$ 17,747||– $2,898|
|Student loan debt||$ 35,188||$ 36,131||+ $943|
|Personal loan debt||$ 17,716||$ 14,780||– $2,936|
|Credit card debt||$ 6,357||$ 6,232||-$125|
|Number of credit cards||3.6||4.5||+0.9|
How Women’s Credit and Debt Compares to Men’s
The current parity between men’s and women’s average credit score is not entirely new. Six years ago, the numbers were similarly close, and both averages have risen 10 points since the second quarter of 2015. In modern day credit scoring models, no consideration of gender is factored into scores.
How men and women accumulate debt does show some differences, however. Overall, men have about 9% more debt on average than women: approximately $338,000 in total debt balances vs. $310,000 for women. This difference comes from holding more debt than women in every debt category but one. Men hold about 10% more mortgage and HELOC debt, 16% more auto loan debt, and most strikingly, 20% more personal loan debt.
For their part, women hold slightly more student loan debt on average. But the increment over men’s student loan balances is less than 3%. Women also tend to have more credit cards, averaging 4.5 cards vs. men’s average of 3.6 cards.
On credit card balances, the difference is just $125 between the genders. At just 2%, this difference is not considered statistically significant.
The Bottom Line
Legislative changes in 1974 allowed for greater access to credit by American women, enabling them to take out loans and credit cards without relying on male cosigners, or being unfairly penalized when taking out a home loan. In the years since, women have largely climbed to credit and debt equity, achieving average credit scores that are identical to men’s.
The makeup of debt does differ between genders, with men taking on more debt for housing, cars, and luxury items, while women as a group have taken on slightly more student loan debt. But though the total average debt balance of men is about 10% higher than women’s total debt, the identical average credit scores imply a similarly responsible handling of credit across the genders.
Experian is one of three major credit reporting agencies in the U.S., and its 2020 analysis of debt and credit metrics by gender draws on aggregated data collected from the millions of consumer credit files it tracks.