Later this month, Washington Post reporter Liza Mundy releases her highly anticipated look at the growing number of women-supported households, The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family, and smart marketers will pay attention to the resulting discussions. Mundy’s book, focusing on 2009 Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, delves into a new reality where almost 40 percent of U.S. married working women earn more than their husbands.
The book makes it abundantly clear this is not a recession anomaly due to the high male unemployment rate. This trend of females bringing home a majority of the bacon rose a percentage point or so each year since 1987. Mundy’s prediction for a 50/50 split among gender for primary earners comes just down the road in 2025. Add in the fact that nine out of 10 industries tagged for growth in the next decade — such as nursing and accounting — are female dominated, and it’s hard to disagree, even when factoring in persistent wage disparities. Yes, head-to-head, women still hold a disadvantage, earning on average 77 cents to a man’s dollar.
So are marketers reacting quickly enough to shed the men-earn-and-women-spend stereotypes?
A recent study of financial services marketing confirmed how easy it is to fall victim to old habits. Retirement planning images tended to show a Baby Boomer couple frolicking away in retirement (ever notice that everyone seems to retire on the same stretch of beach?) with the couple smiling and woman more often than not placed behind her more prominent husband. This is not exactly what a female breadwinner wants to see. According to the research, women requested images with a multi-generational family, professional woman or a couple on equal-level positioning in the frame. It may seem subtle, but are you willing to risk a growing audience segment on it?
In addition, we’ve already seen statistics breaking male domestic lore. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently killed the false rumor that women spend 15 hours more on housework each week than men by reporting that women average only 20 minutes more of work per day — in the home or in an outside job. Will the marketing industry respond by showing more men mopping and potty training? And, will this finally kill the perception that people only dust and clean their toilets in khaki pants and sweaters?
Whether you’re in the services industry or consumer products, failing to investigate how this gender shift affects your marketing could end up breaking you along with those stereotypes.