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Forty Years Ago, Women Had a Hard Time Getting Credit Cards

Despite the law, a report from 2012 found that women still pay more for credit cards

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Forty years ago, any woman applying for a credit card could be asked a barrage of questions: Was she married? Did she plan to have children? Many banks required single, divorced or widowed women to bring a man along with them to cosign for a credit card, and some discounted the wages of women by as much as 50 percent when calculating their credit card limits.

As women and minorities pushed for equal civil rights in various arenas, credit cards became the focus of a series of hearings in which women documented the discrimination they faced. And, finally, in 1974—forty years ago this year—the Senate passed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which made it  illegal to discriminate against someone based on their gender, race, religion and national origin.

A year later, in 1975, the first women’s bank was opened by Judy H. Mello, as Eric Pace reported in the New York Times obituary for Mello:

The bank, a creation of the feminist movement, was established in April 1975. It was the first bank in the United States to be operated by women and for women, at a time when its founders said that women were given short shrift by other banks.

But despite the law, a report from 2012 found that women still pay more for credit cards. According to a study by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, women pay a half a point higher interest rate than men.

Today, there are two kinds of ways today’s credit card ads handle women, as Lisa Wade at The Society Pages points out. Either they’re shopaholics who are madly in love with their credits cards, or their shopaholics madly in love with their husband’s credit cards. Of course, both are winning situations for the credit card company.

More from Smithsonian.com:

When a Smartphone Becomes a Wallet
Neither a Tightwad Nor a Spendthrift Be

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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