It was our impression that the single women with whom we talked had given less thought to saving money than to making it. This disposition is generally believed to be characteristic of our nation as a whole and we have no means of knowing whether single women are more prodigal spenders than other gainfully employed persons. It was evident, however, that their spending habits were little related to their economic situation or to the probable span of their working years. Few of them seemed to know or to be concerned about the fact that single women much more frequently than married women become de-pendent on the public for assistance in old age or in times of economic crisis.
One of the reasons associated with their failure to provide for the future seemed to be the contributions which they were making to family support. Many of them were supporting their parents unaided, and still others of them were contributing to the support of parents. As was indicated in a previous section the single woman was found to be carrying a responsibility for family support out of all relation to her ability or to the ability of other family members to contribute. And not only was she contributing to the support of parents and younger children, she was often found to be contributing to the support of married siblings and their children. So far from being a woman who had no one but herself to support she was usually contributing to the support of others out of all proportion to her means and with little regard for the realities of her "own economic situation.
This willingness of hers to contribute to the support of others and their insistence that she do so seemed to be based on a too optimistic estimate as to what her earnings actually were. It was generally assumed that her earnings at the peak of her working career would continue throughout her life and that she would always be able to support herself from current earnings. They failed to take into account that the working life is shorter than is generally assumed, that it is often interrupted by illness and unemployment and that earning power decreases with age.
But aside from contributions to family support which were large, the single women with whom we talked showed little disposition to save. Some of them in the higher income group had made the most of their independent status to travel, to purchase cars, to buy fine clothes and otherwise enjoy themselves. Hobbies were in some cases expensive as well as sports. Women whose incomes were less had travelled from one job to another in search of change and many had worked in several different sections of the country. Some women simply got tired of working and took time out now and then in order to enjoy leisure until their temporary savings were gone. Several women had lost money in speculation. One woman had lost ten thousand dollars of her savings in Wall Street in the crash of 1929. Two women bought stock in a gold mine which did not exist; one woman gave her money to a salesman to purchase a house for her and the salesman disappeared; and still an-other lost money in speculations on the French Bourse. One woman who received a good income had a number of debts which were becoming troublesome to her. This woman lived in an expensive neighborhood; she owned a car; and she owned her own riding horse which she boarded at some expense at a near-by riding club. One woman in her late thirties seemed to have traversed the entire range of fortune's ladder. At one time during her career of selling bonds she had earned ten thousand dollars a year but when a recession came and she lost her position she was unable to find other employment at once so she had to go on relief. When she called at the social agency to make application she was ushered at once into the office of the executive who was expecting one of the wealthy sponsors of his society for whom she was mistaken. In talking with us she expressed appreciation that the society had given her money to buy food until she found employment. At the time we saw her she was working again at a good salary, all of which she was spending on current expenses. She claimed that she was unable to save since her position required her to live well.
A few of the women with whom we talked had done considerable saving. One woman who worked as a clerk in a health agency for ten years had purchased two small apartment houses for which she was paying from the rental and from her salary. The initial payments she had made from her savings and she had made considerable progress toward complete ownership. This woman had also contributed to the support of her mother and of an aged aunt from her earnings. While her income was not large she had shown rare ingenuity in its use and she had in addition conducted various small business enterprises in her spare time.
One young woman of thirty-four who had been working since graduation from high school as a saleslady in a department store had saved constantly. She had finished paying for the bungalow which she occupied with her mother and she had purchased a few shares of stock in her firm and some government bonds. In addition she was carrying a small annuity with an insurance company to which she made monthly payments. She had received a number of promotions over a period of sixteen years and was at the time we knew her an assistant buyer.
It seemed clear, however, that some of the single women with whom we talked had been able to make little provision for the emergencies of life from their savings. A few of them had earnings so small that they could not save. Others had family obligations which prevented saving. Others who had savings at one time had had them wiped out by illness or by long periods of unemployment. Some of them who had done considerable saving had lost their savings through unwise investment. Still others, and this was the greatest number, had loaned or given their savings to relatives in need and had not received payment in turn.
Those single women whose economic security seemed best protected were those whose terms of employment provided some form of forced or collective saving such as unemployment insurance, retirement annuities, and group health insurance. These forms of involuntary saving appeared to offer the protection which the majority of these women needed against unusual demands by friends or relatives, against personal extravagance and against unwise investments.