I am sitting at the Delhi airport lounge and the group of 50-somethings next to me is discussing strategies to manage their daughters-in-law. The image that emerges is very different from the hapless toli of overdressed bahuranis that inhabit the soaps on TV, who are constantly being tossed around by antique social norms, tyrannical mothers-in-law, and just plain lousy kismet (fate). These about-to-board-a-plane bunch of in-laws talk instead of self-willed daughters-in-law who have to be handled with care, who have jobs and money of their own, and a mindset that could minimize the in-laws out of their lives as easily as you minimize a window on your computer. You have to negotiate gingerly around these next-gen bahus, and the group concludes that the best strategy for buying peace in the family is to “shut your mouth and open your wallet".

The reality of Indian bahudom is probably a broad spectrum all the way from the docile dolls on TV to the cutting-edge babes of the jet set, but there is no denying that Indian women as a whole are pushing the boundaries that confine them. The singular act of going to work and making money they can call their own is rearranging the power equation not only within families but also in society at large. There may be no bra-burning moment—although we do have the pink panty one—but there is a quiet revolution unfolding. The fulcrum of this revolution is money—money earned by women, money saved by women, money spent by women. Whereas the Western feminist movement of the 1960s had women hollering their lungs out, the Indian equivalent of today is more surreptitious in that it lets money do the talking for them.

It got me thinking about what this “new money, new mindset" woman means for business? How big is the female rupee? How is she likely to spend her money? Is she going to focus on bread and butter items? Or is she going to splurge on jam too? Is there a “jam generation" on the make? And what does all this mean for the luxury brand industry?

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Working women are bigger spenders and bless them, bigger savers too. Purushothaman has done an interesting study (XX Factor for the Future Group) that compares spending in households with working women versus those with non-working women. The contrast is stark. Working women spend more on property—home loan EMIs are 72% higher than non-working women households. They spend more on education for their children (33% higher). They spend more on personal care and beauty (by 23%). They spend more on clothes, accessories, leisure, entertainment…you get the picture. And on top of that, they save more—their annual saving is 25% higher than non-working women households.

The interesting thing is that working women aren’t blowing up more on “bread and butter" stuff—expenses on basics such as groceries, electricity, etc., are on a par with non-working women households—but they are spending significantly more on “jam". They spend more on travel and holidays. They spend more on eating out and movies. They spend more on packaged foods. They tend to own larger refrigerators. They are more likely to have an air conditioner. And a car.

There is a qualitative difference in attitude too. Working women read English language magazines a lot more (59% versus 31% for non-working women). They are twice as likely to have a credit card (20% versus 10% of non-working women). They are more likely to go on a holiday to a tourist destination as against just visiting relatives. When shopping at larger organized retail formats, non-working women care about lower prices, whereas working women care about a wider choice of products. Higher end and international brands are more prevalent among working women. While they spend more on beauty products, the additional spending is on more evolved products such as face washes, sunscreens, cleansers, toners.

What are the implications for the luxury brand industry? Connect the dots and you are looking at the emergence of a “jam generation" that has both the means and the mindset for a relatively generous way of life. Extend the dotted line into the future and these ladies are going to form a substantial market for luxury brands. The nature of this market will be very different from the wealthy Indian luxury shoppers of today, who form a small tight-knit segment with a high spending capacity per head. The jam generation market will be characterized instead by very large numbers of women—in the millions eventually—who will spend relatively small amounts on luxury brands. They will buy perfumes from Chanel, make-up from Dior, dark glasses from Fendi, wallets from Gucci, monogram bags from Louis Vuitton, watches from Omega and Rolex. Do the math, and the jam generation has the potential to grow the luxury market dramatically, as has been witnessed in other emerging countries such as China.

That female financial power can be a whopper is best demonstrated by looking at the developed world. According to a recent article in Newsweek, in 35% of two-income households in the US, wives make more than their husbands. If the trend continues, the average American woman will make more than the average man by 2024. Indian women may be a long way from that, but they are off to a good start.

Radha Chadha is one of Asia’s leading marketing and consumer insight experts. She is the author of the best-selling book The Cult of the Luxury Brand: Inside Asia’s Love Affair with Luxury.

Write to Radha at luxurycult@livemint.com