When it comes to car shopping, women are returning to the driver's seat.
Bandon, Ore.-based CNW Marketing Research says women in December were responsible for more than 39 percent of all money spent on new cars. That's down from 45.5 percent in 2006, but it's above the 36 percent spent by women during the worst of the 2008-2009 recession.
That isn't surprising, given the downturn stung a little less for women. It's not to say women fare better overall; a large wage gap still persists. But during the past decade, that gap has barely moved — while unemployment has shifted. The jobless rate was identical among men and women in the labor force in the mid-2000s — 5.1 percent in 2005 and 4.6 percent in 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. From 2007 on, however, unemployment among men outpaced that of women. In 2010, 10.5 percent of men and 8.6 percent of women were unemployed. As of November 2013, the most recent month of data, unemployment affected 7.3 percent of men and 6.7 percent of women.
Take that to the car-shopping front, and women aren't necessarily buying more cars — but they are buying pricier ones.
"During the recession, women bought some of the least expensive cars, if they bought a new car at all," CNW President Art Spinella said. "What we're seeing now is that the women who are coming back to market now are starting to buy midlevel — when it comes to accessories and bells and whistles — as opposed to entry-level variations of those models."
Men still pile on the options, though. "Guys tend to want to put everything on them," Spinella said. "Women almost kind of reined them back into some sort of reality."
That influence comes even as men think they're in the driver's seat. A poll among new-car owners in December 2012 by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers found 72 percent of men believe they had the most influence over the purchase, but 60 percent of women thought they had the most say.
Who's right? The jury's still out. But CNW's numbers suggest women's clout at the dealership has grown. "Women influence car buying more now," Spinella said. "At the same time, they influence pricing of the cars that are bought more now."