International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month is a great time to note that women are absolutely dominant players in the U.S. (and world) economy. While this has, and is, having a transformational effect on everything from the auto industry to American politics, it’s worth taking a second look at the history of IWD, because it’s incredible.
That history dates to February 28, 1909, when the precursor to our modern variant was held in New York City. The international character of the women’s suffrage movement at the time meant this first observance inspired women across the world, Europe in particular. Eventually, on March 8, 1917, one of the increasingly common women’s marches happened in St. Petersburg, Russia. This one snowballed into a mass strike that kicked off the literal Russian Revolution and overthrew the Tsar later that year.
IWD returned to America in force around 1967, when it was adopted by the feminist movement and gained further traction in the West when the U.N. recognized it in 1975. In the West specifically, women really began to see their societal power grow as the same feminist movement pushed ever more of them into the workplace. While this normalized financial autonomy, it didn’t immediately erode traditional gender roles. Day jobs were now just followed by, “second shift[s],” as Arlie Hochschild famously termed housework.
By the 80s though, these changes began to make waves in the economy. The same traditional gender roles that had resisted change, now unexpectedly drove its biggest effect: women’s power as consumers. Their normalized role as shoppers and caretakers (the lead buyers within their social networks) started to give them consumer power far greater than the demographic numbers indicated. Cut to the modern day and estimates name women as drivers of 70-80% of all consumer purchases in the U.S., through a combination of indirect influence and direct buying power (according to Forbes).
That colossal economic power has begun to grab the attention of market researchers and the brands they work with, slowly shifting implicit influence toward market-shaping influence. Businesses, in other words, are beginning to recognize the value in meeting women’s needs as consumers beyond just dyeing everything pink.
Furthermore, in the post-Citizen’s United world, money (and therefore consumer power) is directly convertible into political power. In addition to their votes, and assuming some coordination, this puts women comfortably in first on the list of ‘most powerful political interest groups’.
That dominant economic influence has already reshaped markets. Conscious consumption is when you think about the effects of a purchase before you make it. The Green Revolution is the major trend that’s emerged from this practice. The shift in consumer demand, from cost to sustainability, was of course led by women, 75% of whom identified as the primary shoppers in their household in 2011 (according to girlpower).
From Whole Foods to electric cars to carbon-neutral shipping options on Amazon, this one subtype of conscious consumption has already remade much of the economy. The change can especially be seen in the sales of sustainable products, which increased 20% from 2014-18 alone (according to Vox). After asking so often about the production practices and sourcing of products, it’s a natural extension to ask about the political implications of the profits generated by them. That change, is one Goods Unite Us is here to help with.