Unlocking the trillion-dollar female economy

As women have gained economic power, their economic influence has expanded. Women long held primary purchasing responsibility for everyday household items, but today, they control or influence 85% of consumer spending.

I founded Cake Ventures as a venture capital firm that invests in technology companies that address our world’s rapidly changing demographics.

My thesis is made up of three layers of demographic change: aging and longevity; the shift to ‘majority-minority’ where the internet is driven by a population of tech adopters from Asian, Black and Latino backgrounds; and womens’ increased earning and spending power.

Many investors evaluate opportunities to invest in women exclusively through the lens of female founders (and we can’t talk about the opportunity in female consumers without acknowledging the dismal investment numbers for female founders), but there is a parallel opportunity in the female economy — investing in technology that solves the problems and meets the needs of female consumers.

Women should no longer be thought of as a niche. In fact, they’re one of the most significant growth markets we’ve ever seen.

This cohort is already driving companies to multi-billion-dollar outcomes in women’s health, e-commerce, the care economy and other categories. The decacorn valuation of SHEIN and the billion-dollar (or more) valuations of Maven Health, Faire, and Incredible Health are just a few examples of the enduring power of the female dollar.

How did women become a growth market?

Today, women make up roughly half of the U.S. working population and, when adjusted for self-employment, are the new workforce majority. Much of this growth was driven by gains in the retail and healthcare sectors, industries that employ more women and are heavily influenced by female spending power.

The rise in female employment is also inextricably linked to education: As of 2019, almost half of the employed female population ages 25-64 held a bachelor’s degree or higher – representing a quadrupling of women with degrees since 1970.

Today, women make up 59.5% of college students and even as enrollment in U.S. universities is declining, men account for 71% of that decline. If this trend continues, soon two women will earn a college degree for every one earned by a man.

Even with a persistent wage gap, these factors have led to a dramatic increase in women’s financial power. American women control more than $10 trillion in assets (an amount expected to triple over the next decade), driven by a steady upswing in workforce participation, education and wage growth.

Women are increasingly likely to be the primary bread-winner, financial contributor, and head of household, making 85% of day-to-day spending decisions and 80% of healthcare spending decisions for the family.

Four key investment themes

The pace of women’s economic activity has increased across every category. This impacts not just consumer categories like beauty, apparel, and household goods, but is also changing who becomes primary purchasers of housing, users of financial products like credit cards and mortgages, and decision-makers in the workplace.

There are four major categories in which the needs of women have driven the acceleration of their consumer dollars:

The “super consumer”

Women have long been a target customer for retail and e-commerce, but the modern female consumer – a “super consumer” – exerts far more influence over the economy than ever before. A number of privately held unicorns and multi-billion-dollar market cap public companies can attribute their growth to a powerful and engaged female consumer base.

Many would place billion-dollar beauty and fashion brands like Skims, SHEIN, and Savage x Fenty into the category of companies driven by female consumption. Dig deeper, and you’ll see the female consumer dollar drives both the acceleration of new consumer brands and associated activity around creators and influencers, e-commerce enablement, and supply chain.

The influence of the female dollar can be felt in consumer-facing categories like education, healthcare, food, and financial technology. When thinking about the female consumer, it’s more appropriate to ask, ‘which industries are not influenced by the female dollar?’

Women’s health and wellness

Women are the biggest consumers of healthcare based on both their own health needs as well as their role as primary healthcare decision-makers for their families. “Femtech” is now a widely recognized category of healthcare innovation, reaching $16 billion in investment as of Q3 2022, and is estimated to be a nearly $1.2 trillion industry by 2027. Companies like Tia Health and Kindbody have changed the user experience of healthcare for women and others like Alife and Gameto are fusing science with AI and data to modernize in vitro fertilization, ovarian disease, and menopause.

The opportunities extend to maternal health, mental health, and at-home diagnostics – all areas that will see accelerated innovation in the coming years. In a post-Roe world and one in which women want to take more control over their healthcare, women’s health is poised to be one of the most active areas of innovation.

The care economy

As women have taken on more professional responsibilities outside the home, their caregiving responsibilities have not decreased. Dismissing caregiving as “women’s work” has allowed the category to go ignored and under-invested even in the wake of rising numbers of male caregivers and the flood of aging parents who will make new caregivers of many of us.

Caregiving became a political talking point during the 2020 election and the Biden Administration put forth a 2024 budget proposing $750 billion in federal support for caregiving. Alongside this federal focus, there is significant market opportunity for technology that makes this care more accessible and affordable.

Companies like Mirza are helping employers support working parents with caregiving subsidies that decrease childcare-related absences. There is a massive opportunity to build solutions that alleviate the financial burden of caregiving, support both professional and family caregivers, and make care more accessible and affordable for everyone. As women become our most highly educated workforce, we have to figure out how both care and work get done.

Women at work

During the pandemic, women in professional careers took up the tools of hybrid and remote work that have since reshaped the modern workplace. It is these professional women who have been driving the demand for emerging technologies and platforms fundamentally shifting the return to work. The future of non-white collar work is particularly relevant to women in categories like education, service jobs, healthcare, and professional caregiving. Labor marketplaces like ShiftMed and Vivian Health emerged to fill healthcare job shortages, focusing on different aspects of the skilled clinician job market. As technologies like artificial intelligence force the evolution of white-collar work, the non-white collar jobs where women are concentrated will find AI to become an accelerant to training and the elimination of some of the more tedious tasks and reporting requirements in these jobs.

Looking ahead: Investing in women

Today, women are more educated, active in the workforce, and more likely to start companies than ever before. Still, there is much progress to be made in harnessing their economic power. This gap is the alpha opportunity for investors.Investing in both women-led companies and commercial areas where women’s needs have yet to be met has the potential to unlock billions of dollars.

Women should no longer be thought of as a niche. In fact, they’re one of the most significant growth markets we’ve ever seen.

This white paper contains more of Cake Ventures’ research on demographic change.

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