Self-Help For The Second Sex

Sarah L. Courteau looks at the market for self-help books:

Men are a distinct minority of the self-help clientele—only about 30 percent, according to Marketdata. They tend to consult books about how to dominate in the boardroom or be a savvier investor. The typical consumer is a woman who is middle aged and affluent. (By and large, self-help is neither marketed to nor used by the young, who are busy out there making the mistakes they’ll be looking to fix in a few years’ time.) She’s someone who wants to maximize, and she has the luxury of a little money—and perhaps time—to worry about how to take off a few pounds, put her best foot forward at work, improve her relationship or her dating life, get her schedule or her closets more organized, or become a better mother. She is representative of a generation that has made enormous strides, yet she feels dissatisfied with where she is.

It’s easy for women to believe they need all the help they can get. We’re raised on Cosmo and Seventeen, both of which are chock-full of tips on how to pluck our eyebrows, choose a lipstick, or have better sex. We graduate to Real Simple and O: The Oprah Magazine when we have households of our own. The line between fighting for equal footing—that elusive sense of “empowerment” that we’re forever supposed to be grasping for—and the conviction that we could always be doing more is fine, if it exists at all. No surprise that self-help marketers know that their target audience consists of people who have already shelled out money for a self-improvement product within the last several months.