Probably the most controversial post to appear on C&S was the one in which sofagirl explained her motivations behind her choice of not having children, and mused on how irked she was to be asked, often in sequence, why she wasn’t married and why she didn’t have any children. The implication being something was wrong – or terrible luck had played a part.
Even in the short three years since the post appeared, I have seen the cultural mores shift more than a bit: the European common practice of living together without officially tying the knot is becoming more prevalent in urban areas of the United States too, and society is adjusting to the idea that many young people choose singlehood altogether. In less than ten years, the median age of marriage inched up from 22 to 27. Children often come even later. If at all.
I noticed I get questioned less often on the choice of not having children, although, in fairness, I was always able to deflect it by saying I had step-children that, tangentially, welcomed me in the motherhood club.
Countries with a strong Catholic influence, like Italy and Spain, are finding themselves dealing with rapidly aging populations and, if on one hand economic circumstances are hampering the proliferation of families, such statistics also reflect the choice of many women to remain independent until much later in life and to forego procreation altogether.
Not all parts of society move in lockstep. A recent article in the Business section of the New York Times pointed out something that women my age, who are single and/or childless, have known for a long time: manufacturing companies and their advertisers don’t recognize our purchasing power.
I decided to analyze a sample of tv ads on a random Tuesday night and, as stated in the article, most everyday goods were targeted to mothers, families or women who were, by implication, mothers. Cars had children in the backseat; food ads featured happy families gathered around tables; household products were the domain of toddlers, animals or housewives.
Mothers are indeed the largest spending consumer group in the United States but part of the problem is also how to portray a childless woman who might be buying for herself or for her extended family which, incidentally, might include children. Just not hers.
Some companies are trying. Land’s End put a woman with two children on the cover of their 2014 catalogue, with the caption “Being their aunt means when we’re together, there are no rules”. Apparently, it was a success.
Even if they are not the largest spending group, childless women spend twice as much on beauty products than mothers do, they travel consistently more, and shell out a lot more for groceries. Maybe marketing a roll of toilet paper to them doesn’t make sense but including them in ads for cars, food and other commonly purchased products could prove a successful angle. And motherhood is not all-encompassing – a woman with children is very likely to carve out time for herself separate from her kids and will recognize herself in ads not marketed solely at her.
Give women some credit, no?