My Star colleague Carol Goar, a former Parliament Hill columnist who now writes for our editorial page, today tackled the subject of women's spending/saving and the connection to the economy and the coming federal budget:
A survey released by the Boston Consulting Group this month showed that:
- 65 per cent of women plan to cut spending, compared to 58 per cent of men.
- 41 per cent of women feel they are in too much debt, compared to 27 per cent of men.
- 30 per cent of women are insecure about their finances, compared to 19 per cent of men.
- 14 per cent of women are worried about losing their job, compared to 10 per cent of men.
"More and more, women are defining the consumer economy," said Cliff Grevler, managing director of the company's Canadian office. "Our research suggests that women control 68 per cent of consumer spending in Canada. They are the accountants of the household budget."
This has implications for next week's federal budget.
Consumer spending is the largest contributor to Canada's economic health. It accounts for 55 cents of every dollar of national output.
To keep cash circulating, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will have to address women's anxieties.
Across-the-board tax cuts aren't likely to do it. Women are predisposed to save, not spend, any extra money they get.
Nor are traditional infrastructure projects – roads, bridges, sewers, public transit, power plants and transmission lines – likely to alleviate women's worries. Few work in heavy construction.
If Flaherty wants to bring women back into the marketplace, he needs advisers who understand their concerns and can speak from their perspective.
Unfortunately, there are few strong female voices in Ottawa.
Phew. That's a lot of issues in a few lines.
First, the BCG study, which shows that we Canadians, already in much better fiscal shape than our American cousins, plan to hunker down more than they do.
"Compared with U.S. consumers, Canadian consumers are entering the downturn with more secure household finances, healthier real-estate fundamentals, and more conservative levels of credit and debt. Despite this structural superiority, Canadians are battening down the hatches and bracing for a tough year ahead," said Cliff Grevler, a BCG partner. "Canadian consumers are planning cutbacks in 2009 to a greater degree than their U.S. counterparts. We anticipate that the result will be a 'cycle of thrift' in Canada, and it will have self-fulfilling effects."
Now, if women don't spend money, and there's no doubt -- at least judging from the research advertising experts do -- they make most of the household buying decisions, from detergent brands to children's clothing, then retail is going to nosedive. If retail nosedives, then so do many women's jobs, especially for those women who work part-time to supplement the family income.
That women overall have higher debt is not surprising. We make less and we have higher expenses. It costs more to dry clean a blouse than a man's shirt. Even the cheapest women's haircuts cost more than a trim at the barber's. Plus we have the joy of purchasing expensive menstrual products and pantyhose. What's more, too many young women run up their credit cards on trendy clothes and pricey cocktails, gym memberships and manicures, all in the name of keeping up with the celebrity looks that the media inundate them with.
And Carol's point about not enough women in positions of power in Harper's government is one that I have repeatedly made. More female voices are needed at the big decision-making level.
But I am not sure that infrastructure improvement wouldn't help women since (a) there's no reason why women can't be in construction assuming they're accepted and get the same kind of training men do and (2) there are many spin-off jobs that get created. Furthermore, better public transit, just to name one example, would make it easier for women to get to work, and to get to daycares.
Of course daycares would be a big help, and would create jobs as well.
There's a lot of talent that gets wasted in this country because too many women fall off the career ladder and get on the mommy track and then, when they're ready to go back to work, the support isn't there.
If, as so many conservatives argue ad nauseum, we need more kids to keep our economy going, it stands to reason that they would support financial incentives and mechanisms so that women can have children and can earn money if they need and/or want to.
You think that's going to happen in the budget?
Not if the government's disastrous economic statement of last November is any indication. In that, it attempted to kill the chances of women achieving some form of wage equity for work of equal value.
I'm not holding my breath for next week.