Here is a battlefield status report from what used to be called the Sexual Revolution: Despite what some see as a growing post-feminist backlash, women are gaining ground in a number of different ways.

At least 64 percent of all working women now earn more than half of their family’s income, according to data compiled by the Washington (D.C.) Business Journal. Last year, females in the U.S. earned more than $1 trillion through their employment alone and a growing number of them are choosing to set off on their own entrepreneurial adventures.

A study of The New Woman Consumer by the Brands Future Group of giant advertising agency, Young & Rubicam, finds that girls and women in the world’s developed nations are wielding a level of consumer power unthinkable just a couple of decades ago. And that influence is being recognized—and courted.

For example, J.D. Power and Associates research concludes that women now buy more than half of all cars sold in this country and “significantly influence” 80 percent of all auto purchases. That hasn’t escaped the design geniuses at the Mercury division of Ford Motor Co., which recently redesigned their Cougar model to appeal to women. The contour of seats was softened so skirts won’t catch on raised edges, opening height of the tailgate was lowered so women can reach in without stretching and the gas tank cover grip was made larger to prevent broken fingernails.

Researchers theorize that greater control over marital and child-bearing decisions contribute to women’s growing spending power. More and more women in North America, Asia and Europe are staying single longer and thus free from the financial burdens of a husband and children. Today’s new woman has money to spend. That fact is being noticed.

Single women are driving trends in housing, where 56 percent of single women now own their homes, compared to 45 percent of single men. The New York Times reports that housing development masterminds are now offering open floor plans that allow women to supervise their children while working at home and that the developers are coming up with new boundary configurations so neighbors can provide day care while mothers work.

In Europe, security measures such as guarded entrances, video entry phones and secured parking lots are a big draw for female househunters, according to the Sunday Times-London.

A woman’s place in the workplace has expanded exponentially over the past 15 years or so, entering previously male-dominated occupations. The AFL-CIO is counting more females than males joining trade unions in the U.S. today. So look for increased power among women in organized workplaces in the future and more emphasis on issues they consider important.

Integration into nontraditional jobs parallels a growing trend in women-owned businesses. The National Federation of Women Business Owners estimates some 9.1 million eligible firms could join its group in 1999, a near 50-percent increase in just the past seven years. By its calculations, women-owned businesses account for $2.3 trillion in annual sales and employ 18.5 million workers, with the greatest increases showing up in construction, agriculture and manufacturing.

A survey by Working Solo Inc., a group that tracks such things, found nearly one in three women said they started their business to gain greater freedom in their lives, while just 13 percent named the desire for more money as paramount. Indeed, other data indicates that among college-educated workers the much vaunted pay advantage that men have long enjoyed (and which spawned extended comparable worth efforts) is virtually gone today.

Ever watchful, Dunn & Bradstreet notes that gender-based difference is disappearing in its calculations of businesses’ ability to pay bills in a timely manner, assessment of their credit risk and overall financial results. Women-owned companies are just as strong and creditworthy as any other business, according to D&B.

Whether on Main Street or on-line, females are exercising their shopping power, emerging as the primary consumers for healthcare, financial services and even technology. In what was once thought of as the male techie’s dominion—the Internet or e-commerce—women increasingly are wielding the mouse. Their buying presence grew 80 percent in the nine months ending in mid-1999, while the volume of men’s purchasing grew just 22 percent.

According to Nielsen Research, more than 30 million American women use the Internet today after being over 56 percent of the new online users in 1998. By 2001, another forecasting firm expects women to dominate commercial online usage the way they do local supermarkets and malls today.

Websites such as iVillage.com and Women.com are just two significant portals powered by estrogen. Delta Airlines has had a section of its Internet presence targeted to female executive travellers for a couple years. Time-Warner’s Turner Broadcasting System is working on a new cable TV network and website focused on women and scheduled to open early next year.

Office Depot, noticing that the majority of its in-store, on-line and phone/fax customers are women, has announced plans to join with Ladies Home Journal to create a special website to help women understand and use tools for the new millennium.Watch for in-store kiosks in the next three months and an eight-page section of the October women’s magazine.

So what does all this mean to your business? At the very least, a continuing trend toward gender-neutral marketing, if not the creation of specific efforts aimed to address the needs of distaff consumers. And even greater career opportunities for our daughters as they choose to enter the business world.

By Jeff Rounce, Business Examiner staff