Disorder in "The New Girl Order"

Suzanne Fields

12/3/2007 12:01:00 AM - Suzanne Fields

"Sex and the City" has gone global, and not just on television. The single young woman in New Delhi has replaced her graceful sari, bare midriff and decolletage with slim-fitting jeans or a chic short skirt. Similar young women are dressing just like her in Shanghai, Singapore and Seoul, from Berlin to Madrid and Budapest to Warsaw.

They're not just imitating the clothing fashion of Carrie Bradshaw and Company, they're forging a similar lifestyle of fun, fun, fun. This is disturbing to more than the prudes. The changes in feminine fashion foreshadow major implications for the politics and economies not only in Asia and Europe, but for everyone else.

Kay Hymowitz, who writes about culture, marriage and caste systems, calls this "The New Girl Order." These single young females even have their own acronym, SYF. These SYFs are marrying later and having fewer children than ever before. They have high incomes to support chic buying habits, and they're sophisticated producers and purchasers. They have more close women friends than male companions, and their mantra is "work hard, play harder," made easier now by credit cards, cell phones, iPods, and BlackBerries. The good life is a click away.

These women resemble a late version of the Yuppies, so abundant in the 1980s, but without the marriage license. They buy their own kitchen accessories -- temperature-controlled wine racks, toaster ovens and blenders -- rather than wait for someone to choose a gift from a wedding registry, which they may never have. They buy themselves diamond rings and wear them on the right hand, suggesting how much someone loves them, even if those "someones" are themselves. The Diamond Trading Company in Canada markets with the motto: "Your left hand is your heart; your right hand is your voice."

But the voice suffers something akin to laryngitis when it talks about hopes for marriage and family. Under the New Girl Order, women delay marriage and childbearing, which reduces the number of children born into the population. Sometimes these women forgo children altogether. This has driven down fertility rates across Europe, where only in Albania are the young replacing themselves. Italy, Spain and Poland have the lowest fertility rates in Europe. Such statistics reflect greater freedom for SYFs, but when they become SOFs (Single Old Females), they're not going to get much support from the generation following them.

The paucity of children among educated women has other demographic repercussions, too. Fewer women of the following generation will be able to enjoy the lifestyles of their mothers. Investors in consumer products go where there's a dynamic youthful population, and an aging population creates declining markets. SYFs and low fertility rates initially boost the economy with larger disposable incomes, but that doesn't last. Manufacturers of consumer goods for children will only feel the pain first. Grandparents who could afford to buy gifts and goodies for their grandchildren won't have grandchildren to buy gifts and goodies for.

If there are fewer children of educated women, what will that mean for the creation of challenging ideas and innovative technology? How will that affect the job market? In the global economy, good jobs go to those with college degrees, and the college graduate is usually begat by college graduates.

There's the prospective gender gap of another kind. For example, ambitious women in some German communities in what was formerly the East, where there is high unemployment, are leaving their hometowns in search of a better life spiced with a little fun. These women are much more flexible than the men they leave behind in towns now dominated by men without women. The Berlin Institute for Population and Development estimates that in 60 German towns of 5,000 persons, the male-female ratio is 10 men to 8 women. In some towns, the gap is wider. More women than men in Poland have high school diplomas and college degrees, which dims educated-female marriage prospects.

The women may be having more fun than the men, but at the heart of the SYF narrative is her potential for childlessness. The law of unintended consequences stalks fertility. Most women in America still want to marry and have children, and many of those wait too long have trouble getting pregnant. The statistics on late marriages mirrors statistics of late-pregnancy difficulties. "Youth," George Bernard Shaw famously observed, "is wasted on the young." This is something SYFs could ponder, PDQ.