Maryland Blogger Alliance

Alliance FAQs

Latest MBA Posts

August 23, 2006

Dreaming of bag ladies

When I was younger, I lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which was not terribly upscale, the way it is now, though it was probably even more humorously left-wing if possible. (We were represented in Congress by the late Ted Weiss, who was the 1 in a 400-1 vote in the House on a bill restricting child p*rn*graphy. "Serious civil liberties problems," a guy campaigning for him told me when I asked.)

The thing about the Upper West Side at the time was that it had a high BLQ. A BLQ, for those of you who are not insane like me, is a "bag lady quotient." I came up with this faux scientific formula to show what an earthy neighborhood I lived in. All you had to do was cross Broadway and count the bag ladies sitting on the benches in the park-let separating the uptown from the downtown lanes of the road and divide by the number of customers leaving H&H Bagels in a 90-second period.

I didn't realize at the time that a bag lady is some kind of Jungian archetype. (In my ignorance, I had assumed it was Freud who had the hots for bag ladies.) But now it turns out that huge numbers of women -- which we will define as people who participated in a survey conducted by an insurance company -- have a primal fear of becoming a bag lady:

Gladys Karhu used to put her pop cans aside so the woman who collected them in her St. Paul, Minn., neighborhood wouldn't have to pick them out of her garbage. Say the term "bag lady," and an image of that woman comes to Karhu's mind.

A 76-year-old retired hospice nurse, Karhu and her husband have a small pension, Social Security and retirement funds. Nevertheless, Karhu wonders whether one day she'll need to pick up cans for cash. "Will the money we have put away last until we no longer need to worry about it?" she said.

She's not alone. Nearly half of women -- even the ones earning six figures -- fear becoming a bag lady. That's according to a new study about women and money released by Allianz Life Insurance Co., which has its North American headquarters in Golden Valley, Minn.
I'm quite sure that this Allianz survey was fully as scientific as my BLQ formula. The women were asked some undisclosed question that led the questioners to conclude that the women had a "tremendous fear of becoming a bag lady."

So I decided I would try to reproduce the results. I asked my wife and my teenaged daughter the following question: "Do you have a 'tremendous fear of becoming a bag lady'?"

Here are the results: 0% yes, 100% no. Or, to be more precise, my wife wouldn't answer the question but started telling me a story about the financial situation of a friend of hers. My daughter didn't answer the question, either, but she did laugh, which itself may be an important indicator.

I did consider asking my sisters and my female colleagues at work, but I have a tremendous fear of becoming a pain in the butt.