When Chairman Mao said, “Women hold up half the sky”, he was setting China on a growth trajectory that has been unparalleled. Since then, women’s participation in employment in China has been exemplary. The role of women’s contribution to the national economy is perhaps more important than understood today. According to the Economist, the employment of extra women has a direct impact on the GDP growth and contributes more to it than does capital investment or productivity gains.

According to the latest employment survey from the National Sample Survey Organisation in India, women’s employment participation grew to 31% in 2005 from 26% in 2000, the first rise in decades. However, there are more women in working age bracket than are actually employed. According to Rupa Purushothaman, Chief Economist of the Future Group, this could add USD35billion to the economy in the next five years. One can hardly put the case of womens’ education and employment more strongly. With increasing number of women enrolling in schools, colleges, vocational training courses, polytechnics, the march to employment is inexorable.

Let us examine the implications of this in a country like India:

Consumption

The first impact as expected will be on consumption. It is now apparent that working women are to be treated as wearing two hats – that of decision makers of household purchases and that of a bread winner (akin to men but with different needs). The growth of working women warrants treating them as a separate segment. A survey, by Future Group, comparing expenditure of working and non working women shows a significant difference in their consumption behaviour. The earnings are largely impacting financial services, domestic help, educational services, apparel, accessories, personal care (beauty and grooming), packaged foods, fuel and transport, leisure and entertainment, mobile phones, credit cards, cars, top end durables and international brands.

Having said this, it is interesting that in developed economies and many other Asian economies where work participation of women is much higher, there is no visible difference in products and services offered to working women. Working womens’ suits and perhaps work-day jewellery are two instances that come to mind. However there is no doubt that they are spurring the growth of travel, grooming and entertainment industries.

New Services in Care and Nurturing

Women have been playing the role of care-givers and nurturers at home. Apart from running of the house, bringing up children and later looking after aged parents and in-laws has been one of their primary roles. This will open up a host of services in these areas and professional help could command a premium.

New Products and Services for Time Starved Working Woman

Time starved working women will need new products and services to keep home fires burning while riding the pressures at work. While most of the products and services will be in the industries mentioned above, anybody wearing two hats will look for time and effort saving products and services. And with more mothers away from children, they will find the need to overcompensate – so more expensive and educational games for children.

Social Implications

While India is in the very early stages on women’s economic independence, it is interesting to compare it with what is happening in other parts of the world. Recently, New York Times reported that 51% of women in the US do not live with their spouse. And this is a growing trend. This means two homes instead of one and almost all household goods two times over. But the study goes on to say that women are enjoying their single status and even divorced or widowed women are in no hurry to find a partner. According to a survey conducted across nine countries that apart from developed economies includes emerging markets of China, Russia, Brazil and Mexico, 25% women want to have children out of wedlock.

All this seems to find some resonance in India. A 2006 study by FCB-ULKA in the top 6 cities in India showed that most housewives now want to be earning women, in contrast to the original study just five years ago in which most women had no career aspirations. A Nielsen study in early 2006 suggests that 72% of teenage girls in big cities want to work after marriage.

The new consumer is not just your wife anymore. To treat her like that would be to underutilize the potential that this new independent woman is going to unleash. Some companies are already gearing up for his and hers. Are you planning for this new creature in whatever product you are in, for she will have a part in the decision making in every sphere.