Men set to become scarcer commodity

Smart restaurateurs, fashion retailers and makers of nifty sports cars, can look forward to a surge, early in the next century, in the number of affluent working women.

The return of the power-suited female executive could help boost the economy, according to a new report, but the same report concludes that men available for marriage to successful women will become increasingly scarce after 2000.

Mihir Warty, an economist at the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), an independent consultancy, says that young women will have to join the labour force in even greater numbers to make themselves economically attractive to the dwindling number of potential husbands two years older than themselves. This will favour businesses which cater to career women but work against those serving the traditional family market.

In Britain there has usually been an excess of men. But the last time a drop in the male-female ratio at the prime marriage age - 18-29 for women, 20-31 for men - sent more females out in search of a career in the mid-1980s, it had dramatic effects on spending patterns, and supported rapid growth in the number of restaurants and shops appealing to working women. Turnover in the housing market and demand for foreign holidays increased, as did sales of small and sporting cars.

Using official population forecasts, Mr Warty predicts that this pattern will be repeated. As well as boosting female participation in the labour market, it may give men the opportunity to adjust the "bargain" element in relationships in their favour.

''When men are scarce, they can bid up their price,'' Mr Warty writes in the CEBR's latest report. "As the 'price' of men rises, women may have to offer a more attractive package ... [they] may offer to work for longer, to return to the labour force, to reduce their insistence on a long-term commitment, or," he adds, " provide a greater level of promiscuity.''

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