In the 2006 romantic comedy "Failure to Launch," Matthew McConaughey played a 35-year-old man still living at home with his parents and showing little interest in moving out on his own. If that film were made today, it could just as easily be about a woman.
According to an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Center, a larger share of young women are living at home with Mom, Dad or other relatives than at any point since the 1940s. That is, 36.4 percent of women ages 18 to 34 resided with family in 2014. (A larger share of young men in that age group -- 42.8 percent -- are living at home. But that percentage does not surpass the highest rates on record like the women's share does.)
"You'd have to go back 74 years to observe similar living arrangements among American young women," says Richard Fry, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center. "Young men, too, are increasingly living in the same situation, but unlike women, their share hasn't climbed to its level from 1940, the highest year on record." (Comparable data on living arrangements are not available prior to 1940.)
Fry explains the increase by pointing out that today's young women are more likely to be college students, and less likely to be married, than those of earlier generations. Students and singletons are both more likely to live with family.
Some numbers to back up those statements: Today, five times more young women are likely to be enrolled in college than in 1940. And in 2014, 45 percent of female college students lived with family. At the same time, while marriage tends to mean living independently of Mom and Dad, more young women today are delaying marriage than their predecessors. In 2013, only 30 percent of young women were likely to be married, compared with 1940's 62 percent.
But mortgage industry expert Becky Walzak suspects there's more at work here than demographics. She says the home loan approval process still looks down on women. Not overtly, she says, but underwriters still perceive women as "lesser" than men.
Based on her deep-dive read of data collected under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, Walzak says women "are less able to meet (underwriting) standards then men." And the process is even harder on black women, who are often the primary applicants on loans to African-Americans.
For one thing, notes Walzak -- a mortgage finance veteran who now operates her own consulting firm -- women are seen as less reliable because they often interrupt their careers for any variety of reasons, but primarily to have children and then care for them.
For another, women aren't usually able to save as much money for a down payment as men. "Their wealth is largely less," she explains of women who've taken time off. "Not just dollars (earned), but when they go from working to not working, any retirement savings that would have been set aside that is based on pay is forfeited. So, depending on how much time they take off, they can be several years behind men."
The mortgage expert also points out that women's spending patterns are often different from men's. Generally speaking, she says, women tend to carry more debt.
Another factor, noted in Fortune magazine, is student debt. Women tend to have a greater albatross around their necks in the form of student debt than men: $20,000 vs $14,000, according to the magazine.
"It's because of these factors that single women are not being approved as often as single men for a loan," says Walzak. "It's not discrimination in any shape or form. But the business needs to figure out how to understand women, how to evaluate them more fairly and then try to do something about it."
Many women's organizations focus on pay equality. And while that's an important issue, Walzak believes that the mortgage sector "has to make it easier for single women heads-of-households to buy homes. Why can't we as an industry figure out some kind of credit policy or new product that meet their needs?"
Meanwhile, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the share of first-time buyers -- men, women and married couples -- among all mortgages declined in 2015 for the third consecutive year. It's now at its lowest point in nearly three decades.
The long-term average shows that first-timers account for almost 40 percent of all primary home purchases. But the rookie share dipped last year to 32 percent -- down from 33 percent in 2014, and the lowest since 1987, when rookies accounted for just 30 percent of sales.
NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun calls first-time buyers "the missing link" that's slowing the housing recovery.
"There are several reasons why there should be more first-time buyers, including persistently low mortgage rates, healthy job prospects for the college-educated, and the fact that renting is becoming more unaffordable in many areas," he said. "Unfortunately, there are just as many high hurdles slowing first-time buyers down. Increasing rents and home prices are impeding their ability to save for a down payment, there's scarce inventory for new and existing homes in their price ranges, and it's still too difficult for some to get a mortgage."