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Young people want to marry rich? In this economy, who can blame them 

This is Home Front with Vicky Spratt, a subscriber-only newsletter from i. If you’d like to get this direct to your inbox, every single week, you can sign up here.

Good afternoon and welcome to this week’s Home Front. For days rumours have been swirling regarding what housing policies will be included in the main parties’ manifestos and we now have what the Tories and Lib Dems claim they will offer. But, before we get to that, there’s something we must discuss.

A Jane Austen-style dating market seems to be emerging. In her 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice, the novelist famously wrote: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

Today, as in the fictional worlds inhabited by Elizabeth Bennett, by Emma and by Elinor Dashwood, or, more recently Bridgerton, young heterosexual women are searching for what dating influencers call “high-value men”. There are 115.9 million posts tagged under “marry rich” on TikTok, many of them are videos extolling the virtues of partnering with wealthy men.

This content doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Only a few years ago, British influencer The Slumflower got into hot water after telling her (predominantly young, straight and female) audience that men should buy them gifts and pay for taxis.

It’s not only on the Internet that young women are being told to find partners who can financially support them. I’m not that young (36) but friends regularly tell me with no irony I should try and find someone who works in finance to partner with. It’s fair to say that I find this curious. Not least because I’ve never had a serious relationship with a man who earns more than me. In heteronormative relationships, I’m the rich man? Indeed, my last long-term relationship was with another woman who earned (a little) more than me. We would joke that this made her the “breadwife”.

Nonetheless, wherever you turn, there are signs that marrying for love is, once again, being cast as a luxury in the dating market. The implication is that marriage is increasingly less about a romantic partnership than about entering a financial contract.

A number of commentators have responded to this emerging phenomenon with concern, while others have barely concealed the sneering in their reactions, decrying it all as “anti-feminist”.

As Zing Tsjeng wrote rightly for this newspaper, “marrying rich” opens a young woman up to economic abuse, but I can’t help but feel that all of these takes are missing something.

Historically high housing costs, student debt and inflation which have left the price of essentials high are enough for anyone to fantasise about meeting a living, breathing panacea with a string of investments, country estates and/or a trust fund (all three, ideally for the TikTokers).

I’ll remove my tongue from my cheek. Instead of judging young women who aren’t as well-off as I am (or I’d bet some of the journalists who have written about this are), we ought to analyse the grotesque socio-economic petri dish in which the “marry rich” trend has germinated.

On paper, in every way, the women of my generation (Millennials) and Gen Z are the most socially and economically liberated in history.

Unlike their grandmothers’ generations they can attend British universities (Cambridge didn’t start awarding women degrees until 1948). They can access abortion (since 1967). They’re legally entitled to be paid the same as a man for doing the same job (since 1970). And, since the Sex Discrimination Act as passed in 1975, banks have been legally required to treat women and men equally. This means that women can open bank accounts and apply for mortgages in their own name.

These freedoms haven’t even been around for 100 years. Yet, it’s easy to lose sight of how recent they are.

Why? Because the majority of young women, don’t feel economically liberated.

As the Women’s Budget Group recently pointed out, housing is less affordable than it has been at any point in history for single women. Their analysis found that there is nowhere – yes, nowhere, – in Britain where it is affordable for a single woman on an average income to buy or rent a home on her own.

In 1997, when Labour won a general election with a landslide, the most common way for 18-34-year-olds to live was in a home of their own. Today, young women are more likely to be living at home with their parents.

House prices remain at a near-historic high. Private rents are rising faster than consumer inflation. And, while banks’ mortgage approval processes are secretive, as I’ve reported previously it often appears as though women are discriminated against when applying for home loans, with some reporting being denied mortgages while on maternity leave as well as while buying out ex-partners. We also know that even though it’s technically discrimination, landlords and letting agents have been known to refuse to let homes to single women, particularly those who rely on state support to pay their rent (also known as no DSS).

It doesn’t stop there.

Though the women of Gen Z are more likely to go to university than their male counterparts, the average graduate now enters the workforce with £44,940 worth of student debt plus interest.

At work, they will be met with a gender pay gap of 7.7 per cent. And, while wage growth has been strong, they will find that their pay is likely not enough to keep up with housing costs.

If they have children and stay in the UK, they will encounter some of the highest childcare costs in Europe which, even with the available state support, will dent their disposable income.

The women characters of Austen’s novels lacked the basic rights that women today have so generously been granted. Marrying “well” was the only way they could escape drudgery and move out of their family’s home.

However, today’s young women are finding that hard graft at school, university and at work won’t necessarily secure them a home. In this economy, who would blame young women for dreaming that a partner might bring much-needed financial stability to their lives?

To paraphrase Virginia Woolf, a woman must have money and a safe, affordable home of her own if she is to… look at romantic relationships objectively and decide whether to join her life to someone because she actually likes them and not what their finances can provide her with.

The “marry a rich man” trend is worrying. It is regressive and retrograde. But the reasons for its popularity ought to be the real cause for concern. The gender equality reforms put in place at the end of the 20th century were enormous strides forward but, particularly when it comes to having a home of your own, they have granted women liberation in theory but not in practice.

Key Housing

It’s manifesto week! Here’s a quick rundown of what’s being proposed on housing.

The Conservatives have just published their offer to voters in which they pledge to deliver 1.6 million homes in England by the end of the next Parliament. This boldly ups the ante on Labour’s pledge to build 1.5 million.

Labour have not published their manifesto yet but they have said they want to focus on social housebuilding and, as Shadow Housing Minister told me last week, unlock the land market by reforming compulsory purchase orders (CPO) to make sure public bodies, including newly created development corporations, can buy land at a “fair price”.

The Tories have not provided a similar roadmap for how they plan to meet their target.

Their manifesto instead promises to protect the green belt (even though some of it is low-value land which could be built on) and abolish the legacy EU ‘nutrient neutrality’ rules. This was already a Tory policy but there were concerns about what it would mean for river pollution.

The Conservatives have also pledged to renew the Affordable Homes Programme but have not put a figure on what this funding would be worth. They are planning a Help to Buy reboot, this time with smaller equity loans of up to 20 per cent towards the cost of a new home and a permanent stamp duty cut for first-time buyers.

Politicians like to turn the stamp duty tap on and off when they need to stimulate the housing market. This is something Rishi Sunak himself did when he was Chancellor during the pandemic. However, it risks creating house price bubbles. When Sunak cut stamp duty in 2020, the cost of homes soared to a historic high.

A permanent cut for first-time buyers would help those who already have deposits and can get a mortgage, but it wouldn’t do much to make housing more affordable.

Added to that, a policy like this seeks to increase demand. When it comes to housing, increasing demand without increasing the supply of homes also risks creating a house price bubble with more first-time buyers competing for the same number of homes.

Similarly, the devil will be in the detail of any Help to Buy reboot. The reintroduction of the equity loan scheme would certainly help some first-time buyers into homeownership. If done well, it could be a boon to affordability which boosts homeownership.

A Help to Buy reboot would also boost housebuilding by expanding demand for new homes. However, unless the number of new homes being built meets that demand, this policy also risks creating a bubble and only helping those who already have reasonable wealth (as reports concluded Help to Buy did last time).

In 14 years of Conservative government, the Tories failed to meet their own target of building 300,000 new homes a year. The announcement that experts – from housing associations to major builders and local planning officials – were waiting for is what, exactly, the Tories plan to do about that beyond prioritising brownfield sites for development.

The Liberal Democrats have committed to building 380,000 new homes each year. They say 150,000 of these would be social homes. This is being welcomed by experts across the housing sector.

The Tories say they will pass the beleaguered Renters’ Reform Bill but their manifesto states that a ban on Section 21 no-fault evictions would still be contingent on court reform. Labour told me last week that they would abolish Section 21 immediately with no caveats and revisit leasehold reform as a “priority”.

There is a rumour that Labour are considering announcing that a Tony Blair-style specialist rough-sleeping reduction unit would be attached to Downing Street if they win the election. The Conservatives pledged to end rough sleeping by 2024. Instead, it has risen.

Ask me anything

This week’s question comes via my Instagram. It’s simple but important:

“Will building more homes end the housing crisis?”

The short answer is yes but also no.

One of the big problems, in my opinion, with the way that housing is discussed in Britain is that it is treated like a goods market when it is, in fact, an asset market.

By this I mean that homes are not like other goods. Unlike, say, mass-produced clothing or certain basic food items, homes don’t necessarily become cheaper if there are more of them. Why? Because they are expensive to produce, and their value is underpinned by an asset which there is a restricted and finite supply of: land. We can’t make more land. There is only so much of the Earth available to us.

So, all of the main political parties are promising to build more homes. This is a good thing. It is important. But don’t be fooled, increasing the supply of housing won’t necessarily make it more affordable.

Please keep your questions coming: @Victoria_Spratt, on X, formerly Twitter, @vicky.spratt on Instagram or via email [email protected].

This is Home Front with Vicky Spratt, a subscriber-only newsletter from i. If you’d like to get this direct to your inbox, every single week, you can sign up here.



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