Women comprise 51.4% of the U.S. population, but make or influence 85% of all purchasing decisions. (MayoSeitz Media)

This was the statistic that got me started down this road. It got me asking questions: What of those decisions are made by women and what of those are influenced? Whose money is it? What is the final purchase result? And, to some extent, what are men buying in the 15% of instances that they’re making the decisions by themselves?

Some of those questions were answered in an article published yesterday in The Atlantic Monthly titled “The End of Men”. The thesis should scare men and women alike as there is a gender inequality 180 that could be as damaging as the chauvinist tendencies of most of history. PLEASE read the article — it is well-written, fascinating and disturbing.

Why is it the end of men? Ronald Ericsson, a now 74-year old biologist who devised a way to separate sperm to help people to select the gender of their children in the 70s, is quoted in the article as saying:

“Women live longer than men. They do better in this economy. More of ’em graduate from college. They go into space and do everything men do, and sometimes they do it a whole lot better. I mean, hell, get out of the way—these females are going to leave us males in the dust.”

The article goes on to explain how the world is changing to favor the skills/talents/demeanor of women. This is demonstrated by a few key facts/statistics:

  • In 2006, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development devised the Gender, Institutions and Development Database, which measures the economic and political power of women in 162 countries. With few exceptions, the greater the power of women, the greater the country’s economic success.
  • In the wreckage of the Great Recession, in which three-quarters of the 8 million jobs lost were lost by men.
  • Earlier this year, for the first time in American history, the balance of the workforce tipped toward women, who now hold a majority of the nation’s jobs.
  • Women dominate today’s colleges and professional schools—for every two men who will receive a B.A. this year, three women will do the same.
  • Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next decade in the U.S., all but two are occupied primarily by women.
  • Women own more than 40 percent of private businesses in China, where a red Ferrari is the new status symbol for female entrepreneurs.
  • The range of acceptable masculine roles has changed comparatively little, and has perhaps even narrowed as men have shied away from some careers women have entered.
  • Women are also starting to dominate middle management, and a surprising number of professional careers. (51% of managerial and professional roles, 54% of accountants, about half of all banking and insurance jobs, about a third of America’s physicians, 45% percent of associates in law firms — all growing rapidly)

To summarize the main points:

  • The postindustrial economy is indifferent to the size and strength of men. The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male.
  • Men are failing to adapt, living in denial about the social change taking place. Instead of getting the education and acquiring the skills necessary to compete, they’re getting frustrated and taking a reactive approach.
  • A program at Columbia Business School, for example, teaches sensitive leadership and social intelligence, including better reading of facial expressions and body language. “We never explicitly say, ‘Develop your feminine side,’ but it’s clear that’s what we’re advocating,” says Jamie Ladge.

The trend is demoralizing for men, who have had challenges navigating rapidly-changing social norms. The article cites a counseling session with men who are failing to pay child support and have chosen a support group over more punitive measures:

The men are black and white, their ages ranging from about 20 to 40. A couple look like they might have spent a night or two on the streets, but the rest look like they work, or used to. Now they have put down their sodas, and El-Scari has their attention, so he gets a little more philosophical. “Who’s doing what?” he asks them. “What is our role? Everyone’s telling us we’re supposed to be the head of a nuclear family, so you feel like you got robbed. It’s toxic, and poisonous, and it’s setting us up for failure.” He writes on the board: $85,000. “This is her salary.” Then: $12,000. “This is your salary. Who’s the damn man? Who’s the man now?” A murmur rises. “That’s right. She’s the man.”

Another great example of the cultural shift:

Victoria, Michelle, and Erin are sorority sisters. Victoria’s mom is a part-time bartender at a hotel. Victoria is a biology major and wants to be a surgeon; soon she’ll apply to a bunch of medical schools. She doesn’t want kids for a while, because she knows she’ll “be at the hospital, like, 100 hours a week,” and when she does have kids, well, she’ll “be the hotshot surgeon, and he”—a nameless he—“will be at home playing with the kiddies.”

Michelle, a self-described “perfectionist,” also has her life mapped out. She’s a psychology major and wants to be a family therapist. After college, she will apply to grad school and look for internships. She is well aware of the career-counseling resources on campus. And her fiancé?

Michelle: He’s changed majors, like, 16 times. Last week he wanted to be a dentist. This week it’s environmental science.

Erin: Did he switch again this week? When you guys have kids, he’ll definitely stay home. Seriously, what does he want to do?

Michelle: It depends on the day of the week. Remember last year? It was bio. It really is a joke. But it’s not. It’s funny, but it’s not.

The article continues, quoting examples of affirmative action behavior by schools in order to maintain “gender balance” because of the decline in men applying to schools. Other major sociological shifts are mentioned: how men are taking on more feminine roles; how the “alpha female” is becoming more and more acceptable; and the rise of women acting as the dominant sex, citing the increase of female domestic violence.

So, what now? As marketers, this is a huge shift. How do you sell products to the rapidly-ascending alpha female? The aforementioned “The Power of the Purse” study has some fantastic conclusions. In short? “Respecting their time, intellect and purchasing power is critical for effectively marketing to women.” Most importantly, realize that this is a PERMANENT change in structure. We’re not going back. Without accepting this reality and adapting, you simply will not survive. How many companies can really write off 85% of their market? None that immediately come to mind.