Bite-size Case Study

Women control consumption: Brazil

Published on September 30, 2020 Originally recorded 2013   6 min
It's because of this traditional split between reproductive labor and outside employment being a very gendered aspect of the world economy, that under globalization, which includes the spread of consumer culture around the world, what we find is that one of the emergent powers of women is that they control consumption, more or less, worldwide. The current estimates are that women control about two-thirds of global consumption. It represents about $20 trillion in consumer spending. Economists predict that globalization, as it continues to manifest around the world, will increase the power of women in the consumer domain across a wide variety of categories. Now, within this general trend, there are regional variations and it's important to be aware of the broad outlines of what they are. Women's role in controlling consumption is highest in the most developed nations. Depending on the country you look at, it will be said that 80 percent or more of the consumer purchases made in a given year, regardless of category or as a total of categories will be made by women. This is about 66 percent in Asia, and it's lower partly because of the lower level of consumer culture development, but it's also lower because of the widespread existence of poverty in Asia that hasn't caught up to the developed nations, which means that women are less empowered, very often not literate, and very often not mobile. For those reasons, they are not able, yet, to control very much in the way of buying things. Throughout the world, it's believed that women's control of consumption is somewhat lower in the Muslim subculture. This is true even among Muslims in the UK or in the US. This appears to be an inherited tradition that may be related to the Practice of Purdah, which is keeping women in an enclosed space. But, it also has to do with the gendering of certain types of purchases; for example, where men will be expected to purchase the meat for meals even if the women are purchasing everything else. These items point to, then, some of the issues that we would find in the developing nations and in some of the poorest nations around the world. That is, that as much as income has an influence on the amount of consumption that women are able to control, mobility, communication, and the availability of retail near the home are probably more important even than the actual incomes. Because of the restrictions on women's ability to move, because there are some times constraints on their communication, and because retail has not developed in a particular area, they won't be able to get to a shop. Generally speaking, also lower gender equality, such as you find in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, are Muslim majority countries, which means a much more limited role for women in terms of the types of consumer purchases that they have effects on. Therefore, what we will see in those nations, at least for the time being, is a greater focus on household products as opposed to durables. But, this is changing fairly rapidly.