As marketers, it took us a while to realize the power of women in influencing the purchases decisions for the household. Women were long making decisions well beyond laundry detergent before we started marketing cameras and automobiles to them. For purchases ranging from cars to vacation destinations to lawn and garden supplies to health services, women either control or influence 85% of the purchases. Over the past couple of decades, most marketers have altered their messages and media to reach their female customers and prospects.
Well, times may be changing again.
According to Allison Linn, a senior writer for msnbc.com, nearly three-quarters of the 7 million people who have lost jobs in the recession have been men. The unemployment rate for men was 10.3% in September, 2009, compared to 7.8% for women. In 2007, before the recession hit, 33.5% of women were earning higher incomes than their husbands. Given the rise in unemployment since then, it is likely this number is significantly higher. And for the first time in U.S. history, women may surpass men in the workforce, according to a February 5, 2009 New York Times article (“As Layoffs Surge, Women May Pass Men in Job Force”).
Before you re-think your marketing, you may be asking if this is just a short-term situation that will turn around after the economy rebounds. Not likely.
Today, women make up 58% of college graduates and earn an even higher percentage of post-graduate degrees. According to most economists, future economic growth will require an educated work force. Women now make up the greater share of the educated work force, are more likely to be the primary earner, or in some cases, the sole earner for their families. Unless the education trends reverse, this could be a long-term shift in gender roles in the US.
In homes where men have lost their jobs, or their wives are the primary breadwinners; many men have become more involved in taking care of the family and home. Even in homes where the situation is fairly new, and the roles are being negotiated, many couples have accepted that their roles will be shifting.
From taking care of children to cooking and yes – shopping, men are taking a greater role.
And if you are still not convinced, the latest trend in gender economics is found in the Pew Research Center study which recently reported that “Men now are increasingly likely to marry wives with more education and income than they have, and the reverse is true for women.” In 1970, 4% of husbands had wives who earned a higher income; in 2007, 22% of husbands have wives who earn more.
So how will this affect your marketing? That depends. Many families are still in the process of re-negotiated their roles to adapt to their change in circumstances. However, families in which the woman has been the primary breadwinner for some time might be a better indicator of how these roles may evolve. And the product or service category will likely affect the degree to which roles are changing. Maintaining the yard may be negotiated differently than maintaining the cars. The healthcare needs of children may be handled differently than the grocery shopping. Choosing a restaurant may not be the person who chooses the vacation spot.
Forward thinking marketers should consider this an opportunity to better understand their target audiences. Market research will help brand managers and their agencies understand how their customers are changing their purchase behavior. Qualitative research is likely to be needed to understand what motivates and influences new decision makers. Men who have never taken a child for a doctor’s visit, used coupons at the grocery store, or planned a family vacation may not make decisions the way their spouse did previously. It will be critical to understand these new consumers as they may be your target audience for this decade.