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Companies profit from women’s swelling paychecks

June 14,2018
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When Ms. Lee, a 38-year-old single woman, recently took a trip to Thailand with her mother, she wasn’t interested in sightseeing. Instead, she chose a package tour that focused on massages and spas.

Lee picked the tour because of its focus on relaxation instead of sightseeing, which could be physically tiring.

“I went for this travel package as soon as I saw it because I liked the itinerary, which was designed to appeal to females,” Lee said. “My mother also liked the package a lot.”

Lee’s trip is part of a global economic trend dubbed the “sheconomy,” a portmanteau that refers to rising consumption by women.

Women’s purchasing patterns used to center on specific business segments, such as fashion and cosmetics. Recently, they have expanded to various segments, such as overseas trips and sports tickets. Industry experts say women’s rising incomes are behind their higher spending.

According to Korea’s Ministry of Labor, women made an average of 1.94 million won ($1,787) a month last year. This is 37.7 percentage points more than they did in 2008, when women made an average of just 1.41 million won a month. Now, Korean women make over 80 percent of what men do.

Women living alone between the ages of 25 and 39 spent an average of 1.25 million won a month last year, outpacing men in the same demographic, who spent 1.1 million won.

“The influence of women who exchange information through social networking services has gotten stronger,” said Kim Si-wol, a Konkuk University professor who teaches consumer information-related classes. “This might have contributed to the trend of women spending more than before.”

In Korea, the sheconomy trend is most notable in the travel industry.

According to the Korea Association of Travel Agents, the number of women who traveled to foreign countries last year was 12.45 million, surpassing men at 12.38 million for the first time.

Among 20-somethings, the 2.79 million women who traveled abroad made up 60 percent of the total.

“Even if it is a family tour, most of the purchasing decisions are made by women, so we are trying to come up with packages that reflect female preferences,” said Jo Il-sang, a PR manager at Hana Tour, Korea’s biggest travel agency.

It isn’t just travel agencies that are looking to take advantage of the sheconomy.

Whiskey brand Johnnie Walker launched a Jane Walker edition, which is meant to appeal to female drinkers.

Start-ups targeted at women are also growing in numbers. Prelude provides comprehensive fertility services for women, regardless of whether they want to become pregnant. Glow also helps women manage their reproductive health.

Women are also spending less on stereotypically female purchases.

According to U.S. market researching company NPD Group, sneaker sales rose by 37 percent last year over 2016, while sales of high heels dropped by 11 percent.

“Feminism was only an issue among academic circles and a few activists in the past,” said Lee Na-young, a sociology professor at Chung-Ang University. “Now it has become a broader interest, this shift is becoming apparent in the economy, as well.”


BY JEONG JIN-HO [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]