Women's increased employment combined with rising divorce rates and delayed marriage mean that more income is ending up in their hands. And as they increasingly move into traditionally male-dominated pursuits such as travelling on business, driving cars and visiting pubs, their stamp on society is becoming more marked.
In the world of work female employment has risen by one-fifth since the early 1970s, while male employment has fallen by the same amount. The trend is set to continue with 80 per cent of jobs created by 2000 going to women. And many of the skills currently in demand by employers - flexibility, efficiency, teamworking - are favouring women, who have traditionally worked part-time or in the service industry.
The result is that areas such as the hospitality sector - which encompasses the sale of food, drink, accommodation and leisure, and accounts for 1 in 10 jobs - is having to rethink in order to cater to this new market.
Professor Bob Tyrrell, of the Henley Centre strategy and marketing consultancy which carried out a study for the Joint Hospitality Industry Congress, said: "There's a difference in priorities between women and men that has to be recognised. We've seen it happen in pub foods where the standards have gone up because more families are visiting pubs ... instead of just dads who would have been happy with a stale tomato roll. Also the appearance of healthy foods on the menus is undoubtedly primarily women-driven."
He added: "With women working there is a general increase on the pressures of time whereas there is less pressure on money. Women are looking for value for time and value for money." This will encourage consumers to demand immediate service and shops that can offer out-of-hours service.
Growing income polarisation and fear of crime have also created a demand for safe areas. "Safe" environments, such as Center Parcs, and tagging of children in play areas, have already proved popular. "There is a particular need for security which is beginning to be recognised by some operators," Professor Tyrrell said. "If you want women to patronise your outlets you have to have car parking. And you have to have a well-lit car park with no dark alleyways."
The other huge shift which is forcing a radical shake-up of views in the hospitality industry is an ageing population which needs to be catered for. While society and its institutions are still geared to the young, only 33 per cent of the population is aged under 25 and there is a rapid decrease in the 25 to 34-year-old population.
"We forecast radical changes in how we live work and use our leisure time," said Michael Hirst, chairman of the Joint Hospitality Industry Congress. "Consumers will become vastly more demanding as we evolve towards a more feminine and aged society where huge emphasis will be laid on the efficient use of time."