Why are so few people talking about the massive wealth transfer to women?

Rita McGrath
6 min readFeb 13, 2024

Until astonishingly recently in the sweep of human history, women in the United States had little control over their financial assets, and despite the reality that they make fundamental spending decisions, many sectors of our economy continue to cater to men. If McKinsey is to be believed, that is all about to change and in a big way, very soon.

Have a guess at when women in the United States legally had the same decision rights over property as their spouses?

What would you think? The 50’s? 60’s? What if I were to tell you that it wasn’t until the 1980’s that some fundamental cases were settled that would change women’s rights to their own property forever.

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed in 1974, but its implementation was glacial. Indeed, a 1977 New York Times article describes a young engaged couple inquiring about obtaining a mortgage, only to be told by the banker they were consulting with that the woman’s income could not be counted in the application, “because she was of child-bearing age.” At the time there was no prohibition against this.

It wasn’t until the following year, 1978, that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed, a law that was “so riddled with loopholes that pregnancy discrimination remained rampant” according to Dina Bakst, co-President of a national advocacy group.

The Supreme Court had ruled in 1973 that employers could no longer post jobs targeted only at one gender or another. Despite those protections, platforms such as Facebook target job ads by gender, with the result that women simply don’t even see ads employers consider more suitable for men, Propublica has found. It’s still happening today.

This brings us to the 80’s and a famous court case, Kirchberg vs. Feenstra. A Louisiana woman named Joan Feenstra accused her then-husband of molesting their daughter. Her husband, Harold, hired a lawyer, and to pay for the lawyer, unbeknownst to Joan, put a mortgage on the family home. She was in the dark for two years, until the (now ex) husband’s lawyer threatened to foreclose to receive payment. What Harold had done was perfectly legal at the time. Under a doctrine called the “Head and Master” rule, men had the right to dispose of all…

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Rita McGrath

Columbia Business School Professor. Thinkers50 top 10 & #1 in strategy. Bestselling author of The End of Competitive Advantage & Seeing Around Corners.