March 8, 2023

Today's Topics

Hello! Harper Collins just signed a deal to publish 11 Elf on the Shelf books that will expand the universe around the Christmas favorite. 11 books. About a plush toy. Today we’re exploring:

  • International Women's Day: Charting global gender inequality.
  • Up in smoke: America's changing smoking habits.
  • Yo-Yo: Weight Watchers is shedding subscribers.
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Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), a day to celebrate the amazing women in our lives, around the world and throughout history.

IWD has roots going back to 1911 when the US and a host of European countries set aside March 19th to honor the ongoing fight for women’s rights. However, the celebration as we know it today wasn't calendar-codified until 1975 when the UN began to recognize the event on March 8th.

Zooming out

The day is also a good chance to reflect on where women stand in society. While progress has been made in some areas, like the narrowing of the gender wage gap in the US through the 80s and 90s, there’s still some way to go in others.In the World Inequality Report 2022, economists estimated the female share of labor income around the world. On this simple metric, which makes global comparisons easier, many regions have made slow, steady progress. In North America, the female share of labor income has risen 4.2% since 1990, in Western Europe it’s up nearly 7%.

Not all regions have trended in the same direction, though. Indeed, China — a country that has had a strong history of women in the workforce — has seen the female share of labor income drop over 5% since 1990.

Of course, income is just one facet of societal progress. On the world stage, female leaders are more common than they’ve been in the past, though equal representation still looks decades away. In 2021, for example, women’s global share of leadership hit its peak, as they held ~24% of time in power as international heads of state, per data from the World Economic Forum.

Go deeper: Explore The Economist’s range of charts covering women’s education, the wage gap, female board members and much more.

Up in smoke?

Tobacco giant Altria, the maker of storied brand Marlboro, has made another foray into the world of e-cigarettes with a $2.75bn deal to acquire NJOY. That comes just days after Altria announced it was effectively ditching its stake in Juul — a $12.8bn investment that’s gone up in smoke since the end of 2018.

Altria will be hoping this second bet proves more successful, with 6 NJOY products already fully-approved by the FDA. That was a hurdle Juul struggled — and still struggles — to surmount, eventually leading Altria to swap its investment, most recently valued at just $250 million, for some of the vape company’s IP.

It’s unsurprising that Altria and its big-cig rivals are seeking routes into the burgeoning e-cigarette market, as smoking rates for traditional cigarettes continue to drop. Indeed, in its most recent survey, Gallup found that only 11% of Americans had smoked a tobacco cigarette in the last week, down from 26% just 20 years ago.

Despite that decline, Altria has booked total operating income of more than $103bn since 2012 — giving it plenty of financial firepower to try, once again, to buy its way into the world of e-cigarette pods and pens. That space continues to look like the future, with the latest data suggesting some 15% of 18-29 year-olds already use the alternatives in America.

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WW International, the brand more commonly known as Weight Watchers, announced this week that it's set to acquire subscription service Sequence for $106m. The startup helps subscribers organize telehealth appointments with doctors that can prescribe weight-loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy.

The yo-yo business

The yo-yo effect in dieting is well documented. People who lose weight quickly often find it easy to put the weight back on which, poetically, is the inverse of Weight Watchers' business. Every year the company quickly adds hundreds of thousands of newly health-conscious subscribers to its weight loss program in the first quarter (new year, new me etc.). Then, in the coming months, the company slowly sheds subscribers who presumably meet, or give up on, their health goals.

Recently, the “jumps” in Q1 have gotten smaller, and the “drops” have gotten larger, sending the company’s subscriber base into reverse. A rebrand to WW, in a bid to position the company as a more holistic “wellness” company rather than one solely focused on weight, has ultimately failed to stop the decline — WW's share price has dropped 90% in the last 5 years.

Spending $106m on Sequence is a bigger strategy shift than the rebrand, giving WW subscribers easier access to weight-loss drugs that are exploding in popularity. Prescriptions for Wegovy were 732% higher in January and February than during the same months last year – a trend that WW is clearly expecting to continue.

More Data

• The success of mega-stars like Mr. Beast and PewDiePie has created an entire YouTube economy built on dubbing, expanding their audiences by tens of millions.

• After studying 262 flamingos, new research has found that the birds form friendship groups based on personalities.

• Nearly 60% of US households are now estimated to have an air fryer — and big food companies like Kraft and Nestle are expecting to benefit from the boom.

• The new Girl Scouts cookie, Raspberry Rally, is selling for a markup of 1,500% in some cases.


• Visual exploration of how WFH is an issue of economics and location.

• The Economist’s glass-ceiling index explores the role and influence of women in the workforce.

Off the charts: Which toymaker built on the back of its massive pandemic gains in 2022, reporting that last year's revenues were up 17%? [Answer below].

Answer here.

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