October 15 2007
Carrie Bradshaw Goes Global
Scholar Kay Hymowitz reports on another fascinating trend: the global rise of Carrie Bradshaws (or for those of you who didn't watch Sex in the City, the Single Young Female-SYF):
"Combine these trends-delayed marriage, expanded higher education and labor-force participation, urbanization-add a global media and some disposable income, and voilà: an international lifestyle is born. One of its defining characteristics is long hours of office work, often in quasi-creative fields like media, fashion, communications, and design-areas in which the number of careers has exploded in the global economy over the past few decades. The lifestyle also means whole new realms of leisure and consumption, often enjoyed with a group of close girlfriends: trendy cafés and bars serving sweetish coffee concoctions and cocktails; fancy boutiques, malls, and emporiums hawking cosmetics, handbags, shoes, and $100-plus buttock-hugging jeans; gyms for toning and male-watching; ski resorts and beach hotels; and, everywhere, the frustrating hunt for a boyfriend and, though it's an ever more vexing subject, a husband."
The phenomenon began in the USA:
"The SYF lifestyle first appeared in primitive form in the U.S. during the seventies, after young women started moving into higher education, looking for meaningful work, and delaying marriage. Think of ur-SYF Mary Richards, the pre-Jordache career girl played by Mary Tyler Moore, whose dates dropped her off-that same evening, of course-at her apartment door. By the mid-nineties, such propriety was completely passé. Mary had become the vocationally and sexually assertive Carrie Bradshaw, and cities like New York had magically transformed into the young person's pleasure palace evoked by the hugely popular TV show Sex and the City. At around the same time, women in Asia and in post-Communist Europe began to join the SYF demographic, too. Not surprisingly, they also loved watching themselves, or at least Hollywood versions of themselves, on television. Friends, Ally McBeal, and Sex and the City became global favorites. In repressive places like Singapore and China, which banned SATC, women passed around pirated DVDs."
As a SMAF (Single Middle-Aged Female), I am not advocating teen-marriage. But I do think we should admit that this trend is not an unmixed blessing. Hymowitz notes:
"For many, fertility decline seems to be one more reason to celebrate the New Girl Order. Fewer people means fewer carbon footprints, after all, and thus potential environmental relief. But while we're waiting for the temperature to drop a bit, economies will plunge in ways that will be extremely difficult to manage-and that, ironically, will likely spell the SYF lifestyle's demise. As Philip Longman explains in his important book The Empty Cradle, dramatic declines in fertility rates equal aging and eventually shriveling populations. Japan now has one of the oldest populations in the world-one-third of its population, demographers predict, will be over 60 within a decade. True, fertility decline often spurs a temporary economic boost, as more women enter the workforce and increase income and spending, as was the case in 1980s Japan. In time, though, those women-and their male peers-will get old and need pensions and more health care.
"And who will pay for that? With fewer children, the labor force shrinks, and so do tax receipts. Europe today has 35 pensioners for every 100 workers, Longman points out. By 2050, those 100 will be responsible for 75 pensioners; in Spain and Italy, the ratio of workers to pensioners will be a disastrous one-to-one. Adding to the economic threat, seniors with few or no children are more likely to look to the state for support than are elderly people with more children. The final irony is that the ambitious, hardworking SYF will have created a world where her children, should she have them, will[pay for her freedom]."