Women around the world face hard choices when seeking a more satisfying future for themselves and their families, a study released Thursday finds.
The sixth Women, Power & Money study was based on some 4,300 interviews conducted with women and men in the U.S., Brazil, China and the U.K. All participants were aged 21 to 70. In the U.S., survey participants had at least $25,000 in annual household income, and similar income thresholds were established in each country.
The study was commissioned by the communications firm FleishmanHillard and Hearst Magazines, with Ipsos MediaCT, a research company.
Participants in the study craved financial security over wealth, quality of life over longevity and family closeness over satisfying personal needs, among other priorities.
The research found that women face hard choices in a world where their personal optimism is tempered by increasing uncertainty. Nearly half of participants said they had experienced upward socioeconomic mobility in their lifetimes, compared with 10% who felt their standing had dropped.
Looking ahead, they saw significant challenges to future advancement. On average, women in the middle class felt their income would have to rise by 75% in order to become upper middle class, while upper-middle-class women said their income would have to double to become wealthy.
The study said its findings provided a reality check on the things women felt were most important in achieving a fulfilling life in a complex world, most notably the following.
Financial Security Trumps Wealth
Asked to define success, women in the study most frequently cited financial security, family and happiness, while they gave lower priority to wealth, luxury and being a senior executive.
Asked whether they would prefer more money, sex or power, 80% said they preferred money.
Money secures the family’s future, which women prioritized over their own needs. Most said they would rather see their children study at a good college and get a good job than receive a promotion or land a good job themselves.
Sex vs. Sleep and Technology
While most women reported satisfaction with their sex lives, they generally viewed sleep as a more precious commodity.
Women in the study generally chose a good night’s sleep over a night of amazing sex: 60% in the U.S., 68% in the U.K. and 70% in China. Men in these countries largely chose sex over sleep by similar percentages.
In contrast, only 32% of Brazilian women (and 16% of men) would choose sleep over sex.
Given the choice to go three months without sex or technology, 58% of women in the U.S. and 59% in the U.K. said they would prefer to go without sex, versus 45% in China and 41% in Brazil.
A minority of men in all four countries opted for sexual abstinence over no technology.
Quality of Life
Ninety-one percent of women interviewed said they would rather live 10 more years in good health than 20 more years with limited mobility.
Many were concerned about being a burden. Women who feared “having to be taken care of” in old age generally outnumbered those who feared “taking care of someone else” by three-to-one.
On average, women in the U.S., Brazil and the U.K. believed that “old age” started at age 70.
However, the study found “old age” to be a moving target. Millennials thought it began at age 60, while baby boomers said it started at age 80.
In China, where old age is traditionally revered, old age was seen as coming earlier: 50 for women and 60 for men.
“For many, old age feels far away, and it is actually a motivator — women want to look and feel younger at any age, which creates a huge market in each country for products and services that can help them achieve that,” Marlene Greenfield, executive director of research for Hearst Magazines, said in a statement. Privacy Concerns
While sharing and social media use remained widespread, many women in the study said they were becoming more cautious about what they shared amid growing privacy and security concerns.
Two-thirds of women in the U.S. and the U.K. and some 80% of women in Brazil and China said they had taken specific steps to protect their privacy online.
Twenty-nine percent of women in the U.S. and the U.K. and 39% in China reported having become more careful about what they shared on social media over the past year, rising to 61% of women in Brazil.
Values Over Deals
Value continued to be a dominant theme in women’s purchasing decisions around the world, but the study found that culturally shaped values were also crucial.
Factors that prompted women to stop using a brand because of a company’s actions encompassed values-based dimensions such as equality, trustworthiness and security, and differed significantly by country.
In the U.S. and the U.K., women’s top marketplace deal-breaker was learning that a company discriminated against women.
In China, women were most likely to discontinue brand use if the company was on the verge of bankruptcy.
In Brazil, a company that had been hacked and had credit card information compromised was most likely to lose customers.
Study participants’ interest in brands was strong, but so was their openness to new brands.
Across all four countries and both genders, a majority described themselves as interested in a variety of brands, as opposed to being loyal to certain brands, in virtually every category examined.
Overwhelming Marketplace Complexity
More than 40% percent of women in the U.S., Brazil and the U.K. and some 80% in China agreed with this statement: “I’m overwhelmed by all the product choices available these days.”
According to the study, this “option overwhelm” was particularly prevalent in categories related to financial services, technology and beauty.
“This study helps us understand what’s truly important to women, who are the CEO and CFO of the household,” Dawn Langeland, a leader of FleishmanHillard’s consumer products and services sector, said in the statement.
“Brands invest billions to forge relationships with her through advertising, in-store merchandising and social media, and it all works more powerfully when marketers show you understand the strategic choices she is making to create a life she can feel proud of.”
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