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100 Years Later: How the 1920s Paved the Way for Women in the 2020 Real Estate Market

February 4, 2020

Women’s rights have progressed immensely in the last 100 years. From the Employment Equality Act of 1986 to the Canada Native Women’s Association being established in 1974 to the Human Right Code of 1962, Canada has seen much progress in women’s rights. Although nearly every decade has been marked with gender equality progress, it is arguable that the 1920s is the most ground-breaking decade of the past 100 years for setting the foundation for women on the road to equality.

The emergence of the flapper generation showed the world that women didn’t have to fit into one mold, which at the time was to be a doting housewife and mother, while men worked and managed the household finances. Even women who did not participate in the flapper lifestyle desired more freedom. After contributing to the war effort and holding down the fort, women saw themselves as being able to add value to their country as workers, in addition to being wives and mothers. 

The post-war mentality allowed Canadians to live a little more freely and enjoy life. Leisure time became more popular and an increase in disposable income encouraged consumerism. More liberal household spending habits were helped along by women’s increasing involvement in the workforce. This changed housing decisions since women were spending less time in the home, so the housing needs for both men and women gradually changed. Bungalows were becoming a popular home option for families. Women were deemed to be the cause of this craze as they didn’t want to do housework on multiple floors and upkeep more rooms than needed, as noted in the September 9, 1922 issue of The Toronto Star Weekly1.  

There are several legislation changes that allowed women to be more independent, have greater decision power in the home, and pave the way for women in 2020 and beyond. 

Notable moments:

  • 1872-1884: The Married Women’s Property Act of Ontario2 in 1872 granted married women the right to keep her own wage earnings free from her husband’s control and allowed women with children, but did not have a husband, to own land. In 1884 the act granted women the right to enter legal agreements and buy property.
  • 1917: Women were granted the ability to vote3 in federal election (and in Ontario in 1918).
  • 1919: The Sex Discrimination (Removal) Act allowed women to hold office and practice previously male professions like law.
  • 1925: Federal divorce law was changed allowing women to obtain a divorce on the same grounds as men.
  • 1928: Women obtained electoral equality, meaning they were considered equal to men in inheritance rights and unemployment benefits. 
  • 1929: Women were considered “persons” thanks to five Alberta women who persisted tirelessly – Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Emily Murphy, and Irene Parlby. Prior to the “Persons Case”4, women were persons in matters of pains and penalties, but not regarding rights and privileges. 

It is important to note that much of these acts refers to Caucasian women. It was not until 1948 that all races, other than Aboriginals, were able to vote in federal elections. In 1960, Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples, including women, were granted a “no-strings-attached” right to vote. 

Although these 20th century notable moments in women’s rights history are not housing specific, they speak to the increasing freedom Canadian women were experiencing. This progress has resulted in 82% of women participating in the Canadian workforce compared to 91% for men (as of 2014)5. In 1901 women represented only 13.4% of the workforce6 and 17% by 1931. Freedom to divorce and own land allowed women to become independent landowners. Women in the workforce increased consumer spending for households which helped stimulate the economy, and subsequently the housing market. 

With many cultural changes in the 1920s it is natural that housing evolved along with it. Harvard Business Review7 notes that women drive 91% of home purchasing decisions. This implies women are either shopping independently for homes more than men are, or if in a co-ownership situation, are likely the ones driving their household’s homebuying decisions. A 2018 Stats Canada report8 noted that, “Millennial women owned properties with median total assessment values that were slightly higher than that of properties owned by millennial men.” In addition, women are more likely than men to have a college or university post-secondary education; from 1991 to 2015, the rate of women obtaining a post-secondary education grew from 15% to 35%9. Considering that 150 years ago women were only allowed to attend private colleges10 that specialized in teaching personal, social and domestic properties, women in education and the workforce have made great strides which in turn has afforded them more power in the housing market. There is little doubt that women have helped shape the “roaring” housing market that we see today in much of Canada, 100 years later.

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