Working women

Pen Stuart writes:

It’s international women’s day, and the question of women’s work is top of mind – internationally women perform 66% of the world’s work, but earn only 10% of global income. For many, work is unavoidable, a burden rather than a right – the International Labour Organisation notes that in China and India there is falling female workforce participation among some groups, as more affluent families take pride in the fact that the women in the household can focus on childcare, homemaking, and informal social support for the whole family. Something similar happened in Britain in the 19th century, when the middle classes were glad to show their ‘superiority’ over the working classes, where women had to do manual labour.

It is also reflected in shifts in Pew Global Attitudes data: while 86% of the Chinese sample in 2002 felt the most satisfying kind of marriage is one where both husband and wife have jobs, this had fallen to 78% in 2010. Yet agreement with this statement rose in other emerging markets like Mexico and Russia, showing that you cannot take a ‘one-size fits all’ view of women’s empowerment.

Meanwhile in affluent markets, where work has become a central part of many women’s identity, this is becoming a luxury for some. Women in the US and the UK are actually being forced out of paid work by the rising cost of childcare – in the UK alone 30,000 women have left paid work since last year for this reason.

This challenges traditional understandings of the evolving female market – both in terms of spending power and how they see their identity – and therefore of how you should communicate with them. Women want to be talked to about expanding opportunities, and want more ability to choose their own direction in life – both of which are being squeezed by austerity. But in some markets, those who are no longer single, or feel that they have been squeezed out of the labour market, may not be striving for ‘having it all‘, but for a proper celebration of the work of being a home-maker, wife or mother.

The still from The Homemaker (1925) is from the archive at Stanford University, and is used with thanks.  The film is an early role-reversal movie: the wife goes out to work when the husband loses his job.

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