The average Kenyan woman would rather spend her money on clothes, her face and hair rather than on school fees or rent, according to a new survey.
Seven in 10 women prefer to buy beauty products ahead of paying rent, fees, saving or buying clothes for their own children.
The survey, conducted by pollsters Consumer Insight in December last year and released this month, found that beauty comes second only to food for the Kenyan woman.
They splurge money on cosmetics, lotion, perfumes, hair care and other image-boosting products, even before they begin to think about basic things such as school fees for their children or self-improvement investments such as savings, the survey says.
The study sought to help organisations better understand women and their impact on the social-economic fabric of the country.
According to market research firm Euromonitor International, the beauty industry in Kenya was estimated at more than $260 million (Sh2.6 billion) in 2011, bringing Kenya to position three in Africa, after South Africa and Nigeria.
This is a particularly significant because Kenya’s economy is not the third largest on the continent and neither is its population anywhere near Nigeria’s 200 million.
According to the survey, most women are obsessed with physical perfection they hope to derive from beauty and personal care products, trapping them in an endless spiral of self-consciousness.
According to the study, 64 per cent of the women surveyed said enhancing their physical appearance was a top priority, with most stating they would give it an importance rating of 3.82 on a scale of 1 to 5.
Interestingly, in a country which proclaims itself to be 80 per cent Christian, only 53 per cent of the women interviewed said they considered tithing significant.
On the whole, 92 per cent of the 879 women interviewed said they dedicated most of their budgetary spending to food with a 4.74 rating.
Food, clothes and groceries came top of the list of priorities before other items with savings emerging as the worst rated expenditure with only 33 per cent of respondents, saying they took it seriously.
College and school fees for children comes near the bottom of the list of priorities, with a 3.66 importance rating.
The survey looked at how Kenyan women approach money, how they spend it and their major areas of concern in a bid to help increase financial literacy among the fairer sex.
Dr James Kariuki, a sociology lecturer at the University of Nairobi, says this tendency by women to spend significant amounts of their money on physical appearance stems from society’s tendency to evaluate and judge females in terms of their physical appearances, while men are judged by their financial strength.
“So naturally women are concerned about the physical things that will make them look good and they will spend on them,” he says.
He adds, however, that society is slowly changing and women are also beginning to be concerned about financial security and “hence they are looking beyond their physical appearance.”
Dr Kariuki’s view is echoed by a related survey, which notes an increased spending power and independence of women.
The study shows a majority of young Kenyan women go out alone because they have their own money.
The survey carried out by Consumer Insight says 63 per cent of young Kenyan women visit public parks alone. Sixty-one per cent prefer their own company, while watching theatre productions and movies.
The only areas that a Kenyan woman needs company are places of worship, restaurants and shopping malls.
Seventy-one per cent of Kenyan women said they wanted company while going to church.
Sixty-one per cent of those interviewed also said they needed company while eating out, while 60 per cent of shoppers in malls required company.
Experts attributed this trend to the changing gender roles, which have boosted the Kenyan woman’s earning power.
They said women have no qualms about going out alone because their enhanced spending power gives them freedom to make purchases on their own.
The study, conducted in September last year but released this month, was aimed at understanding Kenyan women and their impact on the country’s social-economic fabric.
These findings were generated through face-to-face interviews, with 1,339 female respondents all above 18, from Nairobi, Nyeri, Mombasa, Kisumu and Eldoret.
According to University of Nairobi sociologist Ken Ouko, the answer to these latter findings could also lie in the Kenyan woman’s burning desire to assert herself in the society.
“The Kenyan woman has evolved in conformity with modernity faster than the man who still lives by the old fashioned principle which elevates him to an undeserved pedestal regardless of his abilities,” he said.