The Value of Cultural Purse Strings


Eye-opening facts about female consumers’ habits.

Women control $12 trillion of the $18 trillion in global spending. In addition to handling the bulk of the purchasing decisions for consumer goods in the U.S., we’re also likely to influence or manage many other big-ticket purchases – homes, autos, appliances, furniture, et cetera – not to mention a large portion of the apparel, groceries and everyday purchases. The following facts are indicative of just how powerful we’ve grown:

  • When it comes to consumer packaged goods, women outspend males by $14.31 per trip in supercenters and by $10.32 per trip in grocery stores.
  • ESPN’s NFL Regular Season was the top cable TV program among American women ages 21-24 in November 2012.
  • Not only did U.S. women spend more time watching videos across all platforms in 2012 than in 2011, they watched more videos than men.
  • Compared with the general population, moms over-index on ownership and usage of every digital device, including laptops, digital cameras, DVRs and gaming consoles.
  • Women in the U.S. spend significantly more time on social media than men. Online, women spend 44 percent more time on social media; via mobile – 39 percent.
  • Ninety-five percent of women in developed countries own cell phones, and women make up the majority of smartphone owners in the U.S., as more than three out of five use them.
  • Women in the U.S. talk 28 percent more and text 14 percent more than men on mobile phones every month.

This is proof that women’s spending power makes it particularly important for advertising and marketing messages for products of all types to resonate with us. In her book, Why She Buys, Bridget Brennan, who was disregarded  one time too many by a salesman and took pen to paper to warn corporate America about the perils of ignoring female consumers, writes, “Women are the engine of the global economy, driving 80 percent of consumer spending in the United States alone. They hold the purse strings, and when they’ve got a tight grip on them as they do now, companies must be shrewder than ever to win them over. Just when executives have mastered becoming technology literate, they find there’s another skill they need: becoming female literate.”

But that’s not always easy to do considering that men tend to dominate the business landscape. And let’s face it – men think differently than women. No, really. Nielsen NeuroFocus research has found that the female brain is hard-wired with evolutionary strongholds to create a very specialized customer whose purchasing prowess has never been stronger. For example, we know attention is the first step toward intent and brand loyalty. The second step toward loyalty is retention. Women remember more and differently than men, so marketers should talk to both our emotional and rational sides and acknowledge our attention to detail. The female brain is programmed to maintain social harmony, so messaging should be positive and not focus on negative comparisons or associations.

And if this isn’t enough to send marketers scrambling to get it right, the changing face of America has them playing catch-up yet again if they are to sway the emerging consumer du jour – those of us who are ‘two-fer’ consumers – female and of color.

  • African-American women ages 18-35 are 72 percent more likely than the average U.S. adult to publish a blog or express their preferences online via links or ‘liking.’
  • African-American women buy more hand and body lotions than the average consumer and spend nine times more on ethnic hair products than any other group.
  • Latinas see hair color as an important and inexpensive path to self-expression and beauty, making hair care the second-most lucrative product category among Hispanics.
  • Women’s fragrances, hair care and cosmetics dominate in the health and beauty aisle, and upscale Latinos favor brand choices.

With the face of the U.S. changing, the attitudes and behaviors of women across ethnicities is particularly important. Marketers seeking future success won’t have the luxury of choosing gender over ethnicity or race. Rather, they must devise strategies that are inclusive of women and their cultures. Granted it’s a daunting task, but a necessary one in this ever-changing diverse climate.


About Cheryl Pearson-McNeil

Cheryl Pearson-McNeil is senior vice president of public affairs and government relations for Nielsen, which measures what consumers watch and buy around the world. Her responsibilities include developing ideas and approaches to widen the scope and improve the effectiveness of Nielsen’s government, community and corporate-responsibility programs and special initiatives. She is also the author of one of Nielsen’s Multicultural Insights Columns. Prior to coming to Nielsen, Cheryl was director of station relations for WMAQ, and press secretary for former Chicago City Treasurer Miriam Santos.