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It is Time for Women to Start Using the Economic Power They Already Have

It is 1990 and my husband and I are out searching for a good used car. Our first used car we bought after seeing it advertised on the side of the road. We pulled over, I negotiated a price and we drove off. It worked fine for more than half a dozen years.

But there we were, stepping up, as it were. And what happened is a familiar story to any woman I know.  The man at the used car place spoke directly to my husband instead of me. I kept talking, trying to engage him and let him know that I was the one doing the haggling. The used car salesman used the manager trick and disappeared for a while.

“Look,” I said to my husband. “If he won’t give it to us at the price we want, we are walking.”

“But I like that car,” he said.

“As do I,” I answered. “But, still, we are walking.”

When the man came out and said his price was firm I turned to my husband and said, “Let’s go.”

Reluctantly, my husband got up and followed me out.

And, true to form, the salesman came after us.

“Can’t we work something out?” he said.

“We can,” I said, “if you talk to me and if you take the price we offered,”

We left with the car.

Throughout my marriage, I bought all the family clothes (including my husband’s), food, art, furniture and everything else you can imagine. I managed the household bills, what small investments we had, and I negotiated with everyone who needed to be negotiated with. In the years since our divorce I have bought three houses, three cars for my daughter and helped my son get a new used car to take to graduate school.

Sound familiar?

Women have so much more economic power than we even realize. Every day we make decisions about what to buy for ourselves and our family, how to stretch a budget, what can stay and what needs to go, and how to get the most for our money. Every day we affect huge economic change. This is a far cry from my mother’s generation.  When she got married it was 1953 and she followed her husband to a small Southern town where he had work.  She was expected to stay home and take care of the kids. And she did.  But today? According to The Economist’s Guide to Womenomics, “In 1950 only one-third of American women of working age had a paid job. Today two-thirds do, and women make up almost half of America’s workforce.”

The Harvard Business Review claims that “women now drive the world economy. Globally, they control about $20 trillion in annual consumer spending, and that figure could climb as high as $28 trillion in the next five years. Their $13 trillion in total yearly earnings could reach $18 trillion in the same period. In aggregate, women represent a growth market bigger than China and India combined—more than twice as big, in fact. Given those numbers, it would be foolish to ignore or underestimate the female consumer.”

In fact, according to some studies, “While male incomes have remained rather flat over the past 30 years, adjusted for inflation, women’s incomes have grown exponentially.” Women buy more cars than men, more books, and purchase half of all movie tickets. And yet we still usually don’t make as much money as men. Yet. But it is coming. Because it has to. A 2007 Goldman Sachs report says, “Closing the gap between male and female employment rates would have huge implications for the global economy, boosting U.S. GDP by as much as 9%, Eurozone GDP by 13%, and Japanese GDP by 16%.” Imagine!

Here are some statistics from Time  Magazine —  eighty-nine percent of both men and women are comfortable with the notion of a family in which a woman earns more than a man. Seventy-four percent of men and 71 percent of women reject the notion that women need to behave more like men to be taken seriously in the workplace. Seventy-one percent of men say they are more comfortable than their fathers with women working outside the home. Seventy percent of women say they are less financially dependent on their spouse than their mothers were.

But even if we are past the time when women were left widowed with no knowledge of how to write a check or how much money they had, even if we are pushing toward a time of pay equity, according to the Center for American Progress, “Women in America are more likely to be poor than men. Over half of the 37 million Americans living in poverty today are women. And women in America are further behind than women in other countries—the gap in poverty rates between men and women is wider in America than anywhere else in the Western world.”

In the brilliant television series Rectify a foster mother tells her charge who has returned to the nest after leaving her husband, “I told you to go get an education. I told you to not depend on a man. I told that to all my girls.” The young woman hangs her head, shamed. She knows she has heard the truth. If past generations have taught us anything is that we have to take care of ourselves.

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