Women And Wheels, Doing It Yourself, Etc.

Some of them totter around on high heels that threaten to break their ankles, but women prefer safety over style—in cars, that is. In a new study by the Good Housekeeping Institute and J.D. Power and Associates, people who’d recently bought a new car were asked about the importance to them of various automotive traits. Seventy-eight percent of women (vs. 65 percent of men) said safety is more important than styling in the choice of a car. Along the same utilitarian lines, women were more apt than men to say fuel economy is “extremely important” to them (66 percent vs. 51 percent). They were also more likely than men to attach such importance to buying an environmentally friendly model (36 percent vs. 27 percent). But women were less likely than men to say they “want the best vehicle in its class” (17 percent vs. 22 percent). Despite the fact they spend less on average than men for a new vehicle ($24,600 vs. about $28,000), they’re more pleased with what they get. “Women tend to be much more satisfied with virtually all aspects of their new vehicles than are men, particularly in the areas of vehicle software (seats and sound system) as opposed to hardware (engine and transmission).”

Yes, I know we’re all owners in today’s “ownership society.” But some owners are more so than others. Leaving aside those of us who own the odd share of stock, the Census Bureau asked businesses with paid employees for “information about the characteristics of up to three individuals with the largest share of ownership.” The data that this yielded reflect the traits of some 7.7 million owners. So, who are these people? Twenty-six percent are women. While seven in 10 had “at least some college education” when they started or acquired the business, about one in four “had a high school education or less.” In a breakdown by ethnicity, 88 percent are white, 6 percent Asian and 2 percent black. Four percent classified themselves as Hispanic. Do owners work horribly long hours? Not all of them, though many do. Nineteen percent reported working 60 or more hours per week at the businesses they own (22 percent of men, 14 percent of women). Thirty percent work 41-59 hours per week. Then there are the enviable souls who simply rake in the profits: 7 percent of owners said they spend 0 hours running their businesses.

People aren’t the only ones getting older in our aging society. A study by R.L. Polk & Co., which tracks the automotive business, finds the median age of Americans’ cars rising as well. The median age of passenger cars last year was 8.9, up from 8.6 the previous year and from 7.7 in 1995. Brisk sales of new light trucks (a category that includes many SUVs) has been bringing down the median age of those vehicles (now 6.4, vs. 7.4 in 1995). With cars more durable than ever, the “scrappage” rate has fallen steeply. In 1970, 9.5 percent of passenger cars were consigned to the junkyard. Last year, that fate befell 4.8 percent of them. Pity the poor auto industry: It heeded consumer demands for a sturdier product, and now it’s suffering the consequences.

In the old stereotype, women would nag their menfolk to deal with home-improvement chores. Increasingly, though, they’ve been eliminating the middleman and doing the work themselves. A Mintel study of the do-it-yourself (DIY) market offers some detail on the momentum of this trend. “Women control half or more of total DIY sales, plan about one-third of home-improvement projects, and have attitudes toward home improvement that are as positive as men’s attitudes.” And once people get the do-it-yourself bug, there’s no stopping them. Among those who have completed a home-improvement project in the past year, “two-thirds tend to purchase at least once every three months.” The report predicts a 35 percent rise in home-improvement sales during the next five years. “This growth will be driven by expanded retailing of DIY products through many retail channels, not only home-improvement stores.”

When an unhappy marriage ends with the death of one spouse, is the survivor happy to be rid of his or her connubial millstone? And when a happy marriage ends with such a death, is the survivor irredeemably shattered? No on both counts, according to a study by researchers at the University of Michigan. Drawing on interviews with married couples and follow-up sessions four years after one spouse had died, the researchers determined that a good marriage has a “protective impact on surviving spouses, while a bad marriage just keeps on making the widowed feel bad even after their spouses are gone.” So much for “until death do us part.”

These are the times that try sports fans’ souls—the dead weeks between the Super Bowl and the start of exhibition games as baseball’s spring training gets serious. At least they can sit around the hot stove and discuss the standings in a recent Gallup poll on men’s and women’s favorite sports. As you can see from the chart below, large numbers of women are fans of the major team sports. The female favorite, though, is an individual sport: 60 percent of women, vs. 21 percent of men, reported being fans of figure skating. The only other sport in the poll to have more women than men as fans is pro tennis (25 percent of women, 24 percent of men). It seems, meanwhile, that Nascar moms aren’t ready to emerge as a crucial electoral constituency. While 39 percent of men classified themselves as fans of auto racing, just over half as many women did so (22 percent). Pro wrestlers must grapple with the fact that their sport also has many fewer fans among women (7 percent) than it does among men (14 percent).