Survey: Women More Pessimistic Than Men on the Economy

Gloom Among Chief Purchasers Bodes Ill for Consumer Spending

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NEW YORK ( -- For a majority of women, the glass is still half empty -- and for marketers that could be tough to swallow.

Even though they have arguably fared better in the recession, women are more pessimistic about the economy than men, according to a 300-person survey by Performics, part of Publicis Groupe's VivaKi Nerve Center. While men appear to have improved their outlook on the economy, women have not.

The unit's "2009 Online Buyer Economic Trend Study" reported that 53% of women said their situation is worse than a year ago. By contrast, only 38% of men said they are worse off than a year ago. In April, when Performics posed those same questions, 53% of both genders said they were worse off.

Economic Trend StudyEnlarge
Women More Pessimistic Than Men About Economy

The trend is interesting, considering unemployment among women is more than two percentage points lower than it is for men, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Men, by many accounts, have born the brunt of the job cuts.

But the divergence is more eye-opening when you consider the rule of thumb that women are responsible for more than 80% of household spending. And that "chief purchaser" role may actually be contributing to the pessimism.

Reduced household budgets
"In this down economy, household financial situations are negatively impacted by lower incomes, no raises, no bonuses and, in some cases, unemployment," Michael Kahn, senior VP-marketing at Performics, said in an e-mail interview. "Given that women are the primary purchaser in many -- if not most -- households, they may bear the brunt of having to watch dollars more carefully and make a reduced household budget work. This applies not only for a two-income household but a single-income household as well."

What's more, 73% of women said the recession has fundamentally changed the way they think about saving and spending money vs. 57% of men.

But there might also be another explanation, said Marti Barletta, the author of "Marketing to Women" and CEO of TrendSight Group. She said she's not surprised to see women are more pessimistic, because they just tend to be so.

Women's overall pessimism likely signals that consumer spending isn't going to return yet. And if women remain gloomy, the implications go beyond marketing. Ms. Barletta said women, thanks to their purchasing power, are a group the government needs to worry about as well, because they hold the key to consumer spending.

"If we can't get women to feel more hopeful and confident about the future, it's going to have significant implications," she said.

The right messaging
From a messaging perspective, she said marketers should address women "not as pessimists but as rationalists."

"The optimistic message [from marketers], all the 'You deserve it' stuff, is completely wrong right now," she said. "What is right is saying, 'You're smart. You can handle this. You can make the right decisions, and here's how we can help.'"

Mr. Kahn also said marketers should "reinforce value and use budget-friendly messaging in [the] marketing mix." They should "focus on the 'essential' aspects of a product as appropriate. He also suggested advertisers "utilize ad copy and visuals that reinforce the basic needs a product fulfills."

According to the survey results, 55% of women expect to spend less in the next 60 days, vs. 37% of men. And 41% of women expect to spend less on household essentials in that time period, up from 34% in April.

The study also noted regional differences in spending expectations and attitudes: The Southwest was by far the most optimistic region, with 32% of respondents reporting that they are better off than a year ago. That was followed by Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, at 16%, the Southeast at 14%, the Midwest at 9% and the West at 7%.

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