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Earning Power Not Just Shopping Power

July 28, 2010

Below is a great article from Advertising Age about the reality of working women.

There are several pieces to this report so I’ll post them separately to keep from overwhelming you with too much information. 🙂

You can find the full report at

Earning Power Not Just Shopping Power

“As the economic power of women grows, how working women feel about consumption is inextricably linked with how working women feel about work. After all, women no longer simply drive purchases: They bring home the bacon (to use a well-worn cliché), enabling them to not only pay the grocery bill but also the mortgage,

the car payment and the college tuition.

Despite this shift, men and women share virtually interchangeable attitudes about the economic necessity of work. According to our survey, around two-thirds of respondents work only because they must: 67% of men, 64% of women. Even if the sexes share similar lamentations about the necessity of work, more men view their work as a career (70%, versus 61% of women); this, as 74% of men said their work is linked to their sense of who they are compared to 66% of women .

The generational differences in attitudes about work are worth noting, with the Millennials, more than any other group, linking their work with their sense of themselves (71%, versus 66% of Gen Xers and 58% of Boomers). Among Millennials, 72% said they work for personal and professional fulfillment, compared to 67% of Xer working women and 63% of Boomers. Variations in attitudes about work also exist across income levels, with 79% of

higher-income working women (defined as those earning $70,000 or more) linking work to a sense of self, compared to 53% of those making $39,000 or less.

Does this disparity along socioeconomic lines explain the vast differences in images of women found in advertising? Would it benefit brands targeting higher-income women to show more images of women in professional attire or office settings rather than the home? “How do we represent women today when we continue to straddle two different worlds: home and work?” said Fara Warner, a lecturer in communications studies at the University of Michigan and author of “The Power of the Purse,” which explores the growing economic power of women.

Comparing the ad campaigns of Walmart and Target is instructive. The average household income of the Target shopper is $59,582,compared to $48,390 for the Walmart shopper, according to BIGresearch’s Consumer Intentions & Actions database.

In Target’s ads, the woman is always fabulously adorned, often with little ones running afoot as she heads out to work. Walmart’s ads are another story: celebrating the image of the stay-at-home mom, decked out in more casual wear, and often pictured in the kitchen, preparing dinner or unpacking groceries. It is a tough line for brands to walk. Despite the value working women put on their work, many women admit a certain level of ambivalence, especially when it comes to the necessity of work. For example, almost 65% of working women, across all three generations,

said they would rather stay home with their families full-time if it were financially possible. Nearly 60% of working women reject the notion that the duty falls to them should one parent need to stay home with the children. The data suggests, however, that this is an attitude subject to the classic pendulum swing:56% of Boomer working women rejected the idea that it must be the mother who stays home with the kids, compared to 63% of Xers and 56% of Millennials—suggesting Millennial working women are more traditional and closer to Boomers than Xers on this issue. Granted,54% of working men think that duty falls to the mother.”

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