Women, Money and Power

As female economic clout grows, it is changing how men and women work, play, shop, share, court and even love each other

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Beyond that, women's earnings have given them more economic influence both at home and in public. A Pew Research Center study found that in households where the husband brings in more income, buying decisions are made equally, but in households where the wife earns more, she typically makes twice as many buying decisions as the man. "Sectors likely to benefit from women's expanding power include food, health care, education, child care, apparel, consumer durables and financial services," predicted a recent Goldman Sachs report. Financially secure single women are also a growing market for restaurants, travel and real estate. Developers are designing "permanent-residence houses for singles," says Michael Silverstein, a director at the Boston Consulting Group. They recognize that women are "fully capable of getting their own mortgage and want a two- or three-bedroom house that's not designed around children."

Talk to successful single women about how they feel about their new position and they already see a new balance of power in the social marketplace. Any number of women I interviewed cited clinginess in a boyfriend as a major deal breaker. "If after two dates he starts calling me baby," said one, "it's over." Rates of cohabitation and single living will continue to rise; women can afford to wait. "I feel like I will have very thoroughly investigated my options when I do settle down," one young woman observed. Women's achievements enhance their physical self-confidence. "I have a rule," said one woman, who, while well groomed and fit, refuses to lose weight or apply extra makeup at a boyfriend's request. "If they met me and wanted to date me with me being a certain way, they're not allowed to change the rules later." Women agreed that they wanted to test-drive men on domestic attitudes. "It bugs me sometimes," said one, "when they don't notice that I'm the one doing all the laundry if they leave their stuff at my place." Those guys are history.

As for child rearing, men have become significantly more hands-on over the past generation, and that trend will only accelerate as more families let earning power rather than gender determine who is the primary parent. While some women will struggle to adapt to more distant mothering, they may also relish seeing their children enjoying intimate relationships with fathers. When the company Tony Betts worked for in Michigan went under during the recession, his wife Kris went back to work in her old field of social services. Her husband "had a fantastic summer" with their two boys, she says. "He had worked so hard for so long." This was the first time the boys were able to spend uninterrupted swaths of time with their father, which continued after the school year started, when he was setting up shop as a consultant. "At the end of the school year, they came home with their art projects," she recalls with a smile. "I'm going through them, and I'm devastated. All the art projects did not have Mom in them. It was all the two boys and Dad. I'm like, 'Where am I?' It's a joke in the household how I was dissed in the art projects."

Renegotiating the Deal

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