AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A few decades ago, it was difficult, if not impossible, for a woman to take out a mortgage by herself. Federal legislation changed that. Today, single women are second only to married couples when it comes to buying homes. In fact, their share of the market is twice that of single men.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This week, and in coming weeks, we're reporting on how women's lives are changing. NPR's Jennifer Ludden has this story about the transformation in homeownership.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: For a 37-year-old government lawyer, a dream home doesn't need a white picket fence. Amanda Cowley's is a century-old row house in a gentrifying part of Washington, D.C.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Hi.

AMANDA COWLEY: Hi there.

LUDDEN: She moved in a few months ago with her boisterous dog, Sadie. The three-story home is renovated, tall windows and big open space on the first floor. Upstairs...

COWLEY: It's three bedrooms and two bathrooms. And this is the painting in progress piece.

LUDDEN: Paint cans and a tarp line the hallway. It's quite a job for do-it-yourself. But all this space is a big reason Cowley bought the place.

COWLEY: I wanted to be able to have family come to town and feel comfortable and not be sleeping on my pullout sofa.

LUDDEN: She's even thinking of getting bunk beds for her two nephews. It's a huge step up from the 800-square-foot condo she bought seven years ago. But by renting out the basement, Cowley's mortgage is actually lower. And she says it was time for a change.

COWLEY: I guess like a year and a half ago, I realized I was sitting around waiting to get married and move out of my condo. And then it started to get really depressing to be there for that reason. I was like, this was an awesome place to live in when I'm 30, but if I am still here when I'm 45, it's done. Like, I'm going to get twelve cats and give up.

LUDDEN: Now, besides her one dog, Cowley says there's room for a family should that happen or for her parents to move in should they need to.

COWLEY: There is room to have the rest of my life in this space that there wasn't in my 800-square-foot condo, no matter how fabulous a place it was to have cocktail parties.

LUDDEN: It turns out a lot of women are thinking beyond cocktail parties. In fact, Jessica Lautz of the National Association of Realtors says two-thirds of female buyers own single family homes.

JESSICA LAUTZ: And most of them are three-bedroom, two-bath, great homes. So it's impressive.

LUDDEN: In recent years, single women have made up between 16 and 22 percent of homebuyers. Lautz says women place a higher priority than men on having a place to call their own and will do more to make it happen.

LAUTZ: We asked did they make any sacrifices like cutting spending on entertainment, on luxury items that they don't necessarily need, on clothing, even getting a second job, and consistently, single female buyers are making the sacrifices more than other buyers.

LUDDEN: Perhaps because, on average, single women buyers earn less than single men. They're also typically a few years older. But not always.

KALEENA PORTER: It's a pretty small kitchen but it does the job.

LUDDEN: Kaleena Porter is showing me around her new apartment in another D.C. neighborhood. It's a garden-level one-bedroom. And the 26-year-old graphic designer can still hardly believe it's hers.

PORTER: Never. I've never thought about buying.

LUDDEN: But there was a tenant's dispute in her old building which forced her out. At first, buying seemed confusing and scary. But she's so glad she did it.

PORTER: It feels good, actually. It makes a lot more sense. Like, I feel like people shouldn't have to rent. It should be illegal or something. That your rent money should be going toward some kind of investment.

LUDDEN: Like Amanda Cowley, Porter is surprised to learn that far more single women than men buy homes. Never would have guessed it, which, she says, is sad. Her boyfriend rents with two others, and at first, he found the idea of her buying a place intimidating. But he's come around. And Porter, after feeling, as she puts it, not into big commitments, has changed as well.

PORTER: A lot of things where it's like I never thought I would do and say I would never do, and then all of a sudden here I am owning a house and having a dog and being grown up. So it's kind of fun.

LUDDEN: With that, it's time to feed her mutt, Moby. Then she'll take him for his evening walk: a simple, settled routine she's come to love. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INDEPENDENT WOMEN)

DESTINY'S CHILD: (Singing) I'll buy it. The house I live in, I've bought it. The car I'm driving, I've bought it. I depend on me. I depend on me. All the women who are independent, throw your hands up at me.

CORNISH: You can find other stories in our series "The Changing Lives of Women" at npr.org. And tomorrow on MORNING EDITION, you can hear how brides in China are holding out for more because of the gender imbalance in the Chinese birthrate. Women are in demand, and in turn, they are demanding more money or better apartments and cars from prospective grooms. That's tomorrow morning as our series continues.

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