American Consumers Newsletter

by Cheryl Russell, Editorial Director, New Strategist Press
August 2013

America’s Philosophical Divide
4. All New Editions of our Reference Tools: 
HOUSEHOLD SPENDING 18th ed. (2011 data!)
To see Cheryl Russell’s Demo Memo blog, click here.

1. Hot Trends 

America’s Philosophical Divide      

 Here’s an interesting way to look at what divides us: a survey of religious beliefs combined with economic and social attitudes finds Americans falling into four philosophical camps:

38% religious moderates

28% religious conservatives

19% religious progressives

15% nonreligious

Not surprisingly, these four groups differ in size by political party, according to the timely report, Do Americans Believe Capitalism and Government Are Working? by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution. The 56 percent majority of Republicans, but only 13 percent of Democrats, are religious conservatives. Forty-five percent of Democrats, but only 11 percent of Republicans, are religious progressives or nonreligious.

There are big differences by generation as well. Only 17 percent of Millennials are religious conservatives versus 23 percent of Gen Xers, 34 percent of Boomers, and 47 percent of older Americans (aged 66 or older). Conversely, 45 percent of Millennials are religious progressives or nonreligious versus 33 percent of Gen Xers, 30 percent of Boomers, and just 22 percent of older Americans. These generational differences, says the report, “highlight the likelihood that religious conservatives will shrink as a proportion of the population, while religious progressives will maintain their share and the ranks of the nonreligious will grow.”

Few Plan for College Expenses  

Only 43 percent of American families know how they will pay for college before their child enrolls in school, according to the latest Sallie Mae report, How America Pays for College 2013. The college cost “surprise” that greets many families as their child heads out the door is one factor behind the rise in student debt.


The typical family with an 18-to-24-year-old enrolled in an undergraduate program paid $21,178 for college in the 2012-13 school year. The funds came from a combination of parent income and savings ($5,727), loans ($5,760), grants and scholarships ($6,355), student income ($2,284), and gifts from relatives and friends ($1,053).


The out-of-pocket parental contribution to college costs has fallen 35 percent since 2009-10, according to the survey, probably because parents are steering their children toward less expensive schools. During the college admissions process, 67 percent of families eliminated schools from consideration because of their cost.


College Degree Outcomes     

Despite the high cost of college, most of the nation’s parents still believe college is worth the cost, according to the 2013 Sallie Mae report, How America Pays for College. Eighty-five percent of parents with children enrolled in an undergraduate program think college is an investment in their child’s future, and 65 percent say having a college degree is more important than it used to be.


They feel this way despite the fact that fewer than half of 21-to-24-year-olds who earned a bachelor’s degree between 2003 and 2011 are employed in a job that requires a college degree. Here is the percent distribution of recent college graduates by their current employment status, according to a study by the Economic Mobility Project (How Much Protection Does a College Degree Afford?)…


42% are employed in a “college job”

26% are employed in a “high school job”

22% are attending school

10% are unemployed or not in the labor force


College graduates may be getting beat up in the labor market, but you should have seen the other guy. Among 21-to-24-year-old high school graduates, 45 percent have a high school job, 30 percent are in school, 18 percent are unemployed or not in the labor force, and 7 percent have a college job. That’s why parents want their children to go to college–to boost their odds of getting a college job from 7 to 42 percent.


Black or African American?   

Which term do African Americans prefer? According to a Gallup survey, 65 percent of blacks say it does not matter whether the term “black” or “African American” is used.


There is little variation by age in this attitude, with the proportion of blacks who say either term is okay ranging from a low of 62 percent among 18-to-29-year-olds (with 20 percent preferring African American and 17 percent black) to a high of 73 percent among those aged 65 or older (with 16 percent preferring African American and 11 percent black).


Hispanic or Latino?    

Which term do Hispanics prefer? According to a Gallup survey, 70 percent of Latinos say it does not matter whether the term “Latino” or “Hispanic” is used.


There is some variation by age in this attitude, however, with the proportion of Hispanics who say either term is okay ranging from a low of 53 percent among people aged 65 or older (with 33 percent preferring Hispanic and 14 percent Latino) to a high of 76 percent among 18-to-29-year-olds (with 16 percent preferring Hispanic and 7 percent Latino).


Job Growth along the Rural-Urban Continuum

The more urban the county, the greater the population growth during the 2010-to-2012 time period, according to my analysis  of the Census Bureau’s county population estimates by county rank on the Rural-Urban Continuum. But what about job growth along the Rural-Urban Continuum? Not surprisingly the pattern is the same, according to county employment estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics…

  •  Employment grew the fastest in the most urban counties between 2010 and 2012, up 2.9 percent. These are counties in metropolitan areas with populations of 1 million or more (a 1 on the Rural-Urban Continuum).
  • In smaller metros (2 or 3 on the continuum), the number of employed grew between 1.4 and 1.9 percent during those years.
  • In small-town America (nonmetropolitan counties ranking 4 to 7 on the continuum), employment grew by only 0.8 percent.
  • In rural counties (8 or 9 on the continuum), employment inched up by 0.7 percent.

Best Family Life

Most Americans long ago rejected “traditional” sex roles, defined as a husband who works outside the home and a wife who cares for the house and family. Only 32 percent of the public thought this arrangement was best in 2012, down from 66 percent who felt that way in 1977 when the General Social Survey first asked the question.


But as questions get more specific, attitudes toward sex roles get more traditional. When Americans are asked which is the best way to organize family life when a couple has a preschooler, the largest percentage (41 percent) say father should work full-time and mother should work part-time. Almost as many (40 percent) say mother should stay at home. Only 11 percent think both parents working full-time is the best solution. Women are more likely than men to think mother should work part-time and men more likely than women to say mother should not work at all.


Conversely, when Americans are asked which is the worst way to organize family life for a couple with a preschooler, the largest share (39 percent) say the worst way is a stay-at-home father and a mother who works full-time. Almost as many (36 percent) say both parents working full-time is the worst. Men and women are about equally likely to agree on the worst way to organize family life.

Why Life Expectancy is Declining among Less-Educated Americans

Life expectancy in the United States has been rising, but studies show the least educated Americans are not enjoying these gains. In fact, life expectancy has been declining over the past few decades among those without a high school diploma. What accounts for these divergent trends?


Most likely, adverse selection. As a larger share of the population graduated from high school and went to college, high school dropouts became less like the average American–a group increasingly comprised of those burdened with problems that lead to higher mortality rates. As recently as 1965, half of women aged 25 or older had not graduated from high school. By 2012, the figure was just 12 percent. The average American once ranked among the least educated. Today the least educated are anything but average.


Living to Age 120

Most of the public does not want to live to the age of 120, according to a Pew survey. The 56 percent majority of Americans say they personally “would not want medical treatments that slow the aging process and allow the average person to live decades longer, to at least 120 years.” Interestingly, however, 68 percent think others would choose to live that long.


Not so. The median ideal life span, according to the Pew survey, is 90 years. Even among people aged 65 or older, 90 remains the ideal.


Who Controls the Nation’s Wealth?

American households had an aggregate net worth (assets minus liabilities) of $40 trillion in 2011, according to the Census Bureau. By far the largest share of the nation’s wealth is controlled by householders aged 65 or older. Here is the distribution of household wealth by age of householder…


Under age 35: 4%

Aged 35 to 44: 9%

Aged 45 to 54: 18%

Aged 55 to 64: 26%

Aged 65-plus: 43%


E-Books vs. Print Books 

Three out of four Americans aged 16 or older read a book in the past 12 months, according to a Pew Internet and American Life survey. The figure peaks at 90 percent among 16-to-17-year-olds (many of whom are required to read books in high school) and bottoms out at 67 percent among people aged 65 or older.


Print still rules the book world, even in the younger age groups. Among 18-to-24-year-old book readers, 93 percent read a print book and 31 percent read an e-book in the past year. E-books are most popular among 30-to-49-year-old book readers, 41 percent having read an e-book and 85 percent a print book in the past year.

Never-Married Men   

Percentage of men aged 25 to 29 who have never married, according to the Census Bureau

1970: 19%

2012: 63%

Trends in Household Burglary 

First, the good news: the number of household burglaries fell sharply between 1994 and 2011– down 56 percent, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Now for the bad news: the median dollar value of the items stolen in completed burglaries grew from $389 to $600 during those years, after adjusting for inflation.


What do burglars want? The same thing the rest of us want: portable electronic devices. In 2011, portable electronics were the most commonly stolen items, taken in 34 percent of completed burglaries. Cash, credit cards, purses, and wallets were stolen in a much smaller 17 percent of completed burglaries. Interestingly, even criminals have turned into couch potatoes. Burglaries in which bicycles or sporting equipment was stolen fell from 13 percent of the total in 1994 to just 9 percent in 2011.


Isolating yourself from your fellow man does little to protect you from burglary. In 2011, the number of completed burglaries per 1,000 households was higher in rural than in urban areas (26.3 in urban areas versus 27.2 in rural areas). Living in a gated community does not offer all that much protection either. The rate of completed burglaries in gated communities was 20.1 versus an only somewhat higher 24.9 outside the gates.


In Trouble

According to the 2012 General Social Survey, this is the percentage of Americans who have ever…


Received a traffic ticket: 64%

Been picked up by police: 20%

Spent time in prison or jail: 14%


These are a sampling of posts published in the past few weeks in Cheryl Russell’s Demo Memo blog. Please send questions or comments to


For the average American household, these are the five biggest household expenses:

1. Social Security deductions
2. Groceries
3. Mortgage interest or rent
4. Vehicle purchases
5. Gasoline


2. Q & A

Why Are Cities Growing Again?    

Why are the nation’s urban centers growing again? The reasons are complex and not easily explained, often resulting in circular arguments such as “Millennials apparently drive less because they prefer walkable places and they prefer walkable places because they drive less,” says Robert Steuteville, editor and publisher of Better! Cities and Towns.


Steuteville unravels the mystery of why cities are growing in one of the most insightful pieces on the topic to date (Why Are Young Adults Returning to the City?). He thinks four factors are behind the growing preference for urban life. His analysis doesn’t provide many details (whole books could be written about each factor), but by identifying and linking the processes driving urban growth Steuteville goes a long way toward explaining one of the most important trends of our time.


1. Millennials “looked around their home towns and saw something missing,” says Steuteville. Take a drive and you soon see what he means. In the decades since the baby-boom generation populated small town and suburban America, those areas have lost their soul. Mom and Pop establishments, once the foundation of community, have been replaced by Dollar stores, AutoZones, Walmarts, and McDonalds staffed by minimum wage workers and vacuuming local dollars away from the community. Today’s small towns and suburbs are devoid of a sense of place and offer little economic opportunity for the most highly educated generation in history.


2. “The higher the education level, the greater the demand for urban living,” reports Steuteville. No wonder, then, that Millennials are flocking to cities — the generation is better educated than any other. Nearly two-thirds have college experience and one-third has a bachelor’s degree. With so many Millennials spending years in walkable college neighborhoods, says Steuteville, they have tasted a higher quality of life and want more of it.


3. The fact is, of course, they can’t afford to buy a house in the suburbs even if they wanted one. Student debt, says Steuteville, prevents Millennials from spending on houses and cars.


4. “But the biggest incentive may be their peers,” Steuteville concludes. Millennials are moving to urban centers because that’s where their friends are, he explains. With the median age at first marriage at a record high for both men and women, Millennials face a choice — live with Mom and Dad in a dead zone or join their friends in a vibrant urban area where jobs are growing and opportunities abound.


“The tide has shifted and it’s carrying 80 million people inward,” concludes Steuteville.


Non-Hispanic whites are a minority in 46 of the nation’s metropolitan areas including New York, San Francisco, Houston, Miami, and Los Angeles.


3. Cool Research Links

To keep up-to-date on ever-changing demographics and lifestyles, check out these useful links.


In a society with an age structure as top heavy as ours, children are often neglected–not by parents, but by politicians. That explains why 41 percent of the federal budget is devoted to the elderly and only 10 percent to children, according to an Urban Institute study. The Annie E. Casey Foundation is trying to change that. Each year it examines the socioeconomic status of the nation’s children and ranks their status by state–all in the hope that politicians will pay attention. By state, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts rank at the top in the well-being of their children. At the bottom are New Mexico, Mississippi, and Nevada. The Data Book includes details for each state, and the Kids Count Data Center has an interactive graphic. Let’s hope someone is paying attention.


Language Spoken at Home 

Fully 61 million Americans aged 5 or older speak a language other than English at home — a substantial 21 percent of the population. The Census Bureau report available at this site,Language Use in the United States: 2011, analyzes the languages Americans speak at home. Among those who do not speak English at home, nearly two out of three (38 million) speak Spanish. Among Spanish speakers, the 56 percent majority speak English “very well.” Other languages spoken in the home by at least 1 million Americans are Chinese (2.9 million), Tagalog (1.6 million), Vietnamese (1.4 million), French (1.3 million), Korean (1.1 million), and German (1.1 million). Most of those who speak Tagalog, French, or German at home also speak English very well. Most of those who speak Chinese, Vietnamese, or Korean at home do not speak English very well.


Transamerica Retirement Survey 

The 14th annual Transamerica Retirement survey has been released and is available at this link. It has updates on retirement savings by generation, a profile of retirement “Power Planners,” and an infographic about retirement dreams.

Every generation boosted its retirement savings between 2007 and 2013, according to the survey. Boomers have saved a median of $104,000 for retirement, up from $75,000 in 2007. Gen Xers have saved $45,000, up from $32,000. Millennials have saved $19,000, up from $9,000.


Median household income by generation of householder…

Millennial: $45,950
Generation X: $61,916
Baby Boom: $60,018
Older Americans: $33,118


Here are four all new and expanded one-stop resources for understanding American consumers–vital, cost-effective information. Get the answers you need for business success in today’s competitive economy!


The 7th edition of Racial and Ethnic Diversity is a profile of a U.S. population that is growing more diverse much faster than many had predicted. Today, more than 100 million Americans are African American, Hispanic, or Asian. Hispanics are the largest minority, Asians are the most affluent, and blacks have made big gains in education and earnings. We have crossed a threshold from what will be to what is: we are the multicultural nation that  had been forecast for so many decades.

Racial and Ethnic Diversity has the numbers and analysis you need to understand our multicultural society. It includes a chapter on attitudes by race and Hispanic origin based on data form the 2012 General Social Survey. It includes detailed estimates and projections of the U.S. population, showing how soon minorities will outnumber non-Hispanic whites. Racial and Ethnic Diversity also has the latest socioeconomic data on blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. American Indians are also profiled, when data are available.


You can see the book’s introduction, table of contents, index, and sample pages on New Strategist’s web site where you can also download this unique reference tool as a PDF linked to Excel spreadsheets of all data tables

Paperback: $94.95 (978-1-940308-01-2) 798 pages


Looking for customers? Repositioning your products? Americans are spending money, but only those who are on top of the trends will know who is spending. The just-published 18th edition of Household Spending reveals who is spending and the products and services they buy. In this edition are comparisons of spending before (2000-06) and after (2006-11) the Great Recession.


The annual spending data in Household Spending, the first edition of which was published more than twenty years ago in 1991, allow you to compare and contrast spending by a host of demographic characteristics. With this vital information, which is not available online, you can determine market potential, identify your best customers, and understand which segments account for the largest share of spending. You get the answers by the demographics that count–age, income, high-income households, household type, region of residence, race and Hispanic origin, and education.


You can see the book’s introduction, table of contents, index, and sample pages on New Strategist’s web site, where you can also download this unique reference tool as a PDF linked to Excel spreadsheets of all data tables

Hardcover: $125.00 (978-1-940308-06-7) 612 pages

Paper: $94.95 (978-1-940308-07-4)


For decades, the U.S. population has been fragmented by generation. The all-new 8th edition of American Generations:Who They Are and How They Live is the tool for piecing together those fragments and seeing the whole. It is the resource for researchers who want to compare and contrast the living generations of Americans — iGeneration, Millennial, Generation X, Baby Boom, Swing, and World War II. This edition of American Generations includes a peak at the new Recession Generation. It provides 2012 attitudes data by generation (produced by New Strategist’s editors) from the General Social Survey, unpublished 2011 time use data from the American Time Use Survey, the latest income, housing, labor force, and spending data, as well as 2011 data on net worth, assets, and debt.

Today’s world is changing rapidly. People who are as little as 10 years apart in age can have very different experiences, making them unlike one another in significant ways. American Generations reveals the differences. The age and generational profiles in the book are an invaluable resource for marketers, advertisers, entrepreneurs, and businesses large and small.
You can see the book’s introduction, table of contents, index, and sample pages on New Strategist’s web site, where you can also download this unique reference tools as a PDF linked to Excel spreadsheets of all data tables.

Hardcover: $120.00 (978-1-940308-02-9) 466 pages

Paper: $89.95 (978-1-940308-03-6)

The second edition of American Men and Women: Who They Are and How They Live examines the many dimensions of our changing lives. The nation’s men and women are not who they used to be, their roles revolutionized over the past half century. Those roles are still fluid and evolving. Today’s young adults are postponing marriage and childbearing, creating a new baby bust. Young women are better educated than young men, and many have higher incomes as well. Tracking these changes has become more important than ever as businesses compete for customers.


American Men and Women is divided into ten chapters: Attitudes, Education, Health, Income, Labor Force, Living Arrangements, Population, Spending, Time Use, and Wealth. The attitudes chapter, based on data from the 2012 General Social Survey, compares what men and women think and examines how their attitudes differ by age. Also included in this book is a chapter on time use based on unpublished data from the invaluable American Time Use Survey. American Men and Women also provides the latest labor force projections, the latest population projections, and statistics on income, labor force participation, living arrangements, health status, spending and wealth.


You can see the book’s introduction, table of contents, index, and sample pages on New Strategist’s web site, where you can also download this unique reference tool as a PDF linked to Excel spreadsheets of all data tables.

Paper: $89.95 (978-1-940308-05-0) 452 pages