Women more likely to go insolvent
For the first time, women are now more likely than men to see their finances deteriorate to such an extent that they are declared insolvent, official figures show.
The personal insolvency rate for women overtook that for men in 2014, according to a report from the Insolvency Service covering England and Wales.
Across all age groups, the personal insolvency rate per 10,000 adults was 22.2 for women in 2014, whereas for men the rate was lower, at 21.2.
The Insolvency Service said this marked the first time in its series that the female rate had been higher than the male rate.
The main reason for the higher female rate was a higher proportion of women than men taking out a form of insolvency called a debt relief order (DRO).
DROs, which were introduced in 2009, are aimed at people who have smaller amounts of debt but no realistic prospect of paying it off. They are often dubbed "bankruptcy light" and are sometimes linked to consumer debt problems.
From early adulthood to middle age, women are now more likely than men to go insolvent across most age groups - 18 to 24 years old, 25 to 34 years old, 35 to 44 years old and 45 to 54 years old. The insolvency rate is still higher for men than women in the 55 to 64 and 65-plus age groups.
The Service said that insolvency rates tend to peak around the 35 to 44-year-old age group for both men and women.
Looking across the South East of England is now the only region where men are still more likely to be tipped into personal insolvency than women.
The Insolvency Service's series go back to 2000, but it said that in historic records going back earlier than this, men had always had higher personal insolvency rates than women.
Apart from DROs, there are two other types of official personal insolvency. These are bankruptcies, which are often seen as a last resort, and individual voluntary arrangements (IVAs), which involve money being shared out between creditors.
The rate of people taking out DROs is now higher for women than men across all age groups and all regions of England and Wales.
Men are still more likely than women to go bankrupt, across all age groups and all regions.
There is a split between the sexes when it comes to IVAs. Younger women aged between 18 and 44 years old are more likely than men to take out IVAs, but above this age the IVA rate is higher among men.
In general, insolvency rates have been on a downward path since 2009, with low interest rates keeping the cost of borrowing relatively cheap. But the insolvency rate for men has decreased faster than it has for women.
Phillip Sykes, president of insolvency trade body R3, said: "It may be that women are less likely to stick their head in the sand about debt problems; or it could be that low value or consumer debts have a bigger impact on women's finances than men.
"Either way it is also a reflection, particularly in the under 35 age group, of women's rapidly increasing economic activity which is closing the historic gap with their male counterparts."
Based on the cases it sees, R3 said that consumer debt problems are more likely to be a major cause of insolvencies for women than for men. It said m en are more likely than women to go insolvent as the result of a failing company.
Mr Sykes added: "Bankruptcies, which are more likely to involve men and are often linked to 'big bang' personal finance issues like job loss or company failure, have fallen dramatically in the last five years, whereas the number of other types of insolvency has remained quite steady."