American Consumers Newsletter

by Cheryl Russell, Editorial Director, New Strategist Press
October 2012

Big Spenders Are Spending Less


To see Cheryl Russell’s Demo Memo blog, click here.

1. Hot Trends 

Household Spending Stable in 2011  

The average household spent $49,705 in 2011, according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey. The good news is that household spending has stabilized, rising by a scant 0.16 percent between 2010 and 2011 after adjusting for inflation–an increase of $77. This stability is welcome after two years of decline. The bad news is that household spending remains well below the $54,001 peak of 2006 and is only $8 more than the $49,697 of 2000.


Average annual household spending (in 2011 dollars)

2011: $49,705

2010: $49,628

2009: $51,446

2008: $52,746

2007: $52,044

2006: $54,001 (peak year)

2005: $53,452

2004: $51,674

2003: $49,899

2002: $50,861

2001: $50,193

2000: $49,697


Young Adults Are Spending More 

Between 2010 and 2011, the average annual household spending of the nation’s young adults grew faster than the spending of any other age group. Householders under age 25 spent $29,912 in 2011, according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey. This was 5.5 percent greater than in 2010, after adjusting for inflation, an increase of more than $1,500.


What accounts for the increase? The same factor that explains why the median household income of young adults grew faster than that of any other age group between 2010 and 2011. In a word: attrition. In 2011, there were 291,000 fewer consumer units headed by people under age 25 than a year earlier. With so many young adults abandoning independent living and moving in with their parents, the remaining householders are those with jobs and money to spend.


Biggest Spenders Are Spending Less

Between 2010 and 2011, according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey, the average annual household spending of the nation’s biggest spenders declined more than the spending of any other age group. Householders aged 45 to 54 spent $58,050 in 2011, nearly 3 percent less than they spent in 2010 after adjusting for inflation. Between 2006 (when overall household spending peaked) and 2011, the average annual spending of this age group fell 10 percent–a decline of more than $6,000.

“Downtown is Becoming a Place”

This is the news we’ve been waiting for: “In many of the largest cities of the most-populous metro areas, downtown is becoming a place not only to work but also to live.”


That announcement comes not from mayors or urban developers, but from the Census Bureau in a detailed report on metropolitan growth trends. Along with the report, the Census Bureau released something unusual and amazing–a data file showing population density by distance to city hall for every metropolitan area in the United States. Wow!


“Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, metro areas with 5 million or more people experienced double-digit population growth rates within their downtown areas (within a two-mile radius of their largest city’s city hall), more than double the rate of these areas overall,” reports the Census Bureau. Those words confirm what many have been witnessing–an ongoing urban renaissance as younger Americans flee far-flung suburbs and rural areas for urban centers. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of people aged 18 to 24 expanded by 15 percent in metropolitan areas, grew by only 6 percent in the nation’s smaller cities, and fell 0.7 percent in nonmetro areas.


The resurgence of urban centers is rooted in economics. Not only do young (and middle-aged) adults face dwindling employment prospects in nonmetropolitan areas, but the Internet has made them aware of the alternatives. Who woulda thunk it? Just a few years ago, the pundits were pontificating about how the Internet would allow us to hole up in our rural outpost and still earn a living. Instead, the Internet has revealed the creative energy, networking power, and economic opportunity of the nation’s cities.

Paper Losses 

A shrinking share of the public uses paper to get news and information on a typical day, according to Pew Research Center. Between 2002 and 2012, the percentage of Americans who read a print newspaper yesterday fell from 41 to 23 percent. Printed book readership declined from 34 to 30 percent, and printed magazine readership fell from 23 to 17 percent.


Only 12 percent of the public received or wrote a letter on paper yesterday, down from 20 percent in 2006. Among regular readers of the venerable New York Times, the 55 percent majority usually reads the newspaper digitally.

Doctor Visits Decline   

Americans are going to the doctor much less frequently as they try to control their out-of-pocket health care spending. The number of times people aged 18 to 64 visited a medical provider in the past 12 months fell from an average of 4.8 visits in 2001 to 3.9 visits in 2010, according to the Census Bureau.


Update on the New Baby Bust 

The National Center for Health Statistics preliminary report on births in 2011 confirms the big trend of this post-Great Recession era: a baby bust is in progress. If the government’s writers were permitted to use exclamation marks in their reports, this particular report would be littered with them.

  • In 2011, there were 3,953,593 births in the United States, 1 percent fewer than the 3,999,386 in 2010 and 8 percent below the all-time high of 4,316,233 in 2007.
  • The 2011 fertility rate fell to an all-time low of 63.2 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. All time low!
  • The birth rate for women aged 20 to 24 is the lowest ever recorded, just 85.3 births per 1,000 women in the age group. Young adults are postponing childbearing as they struggle in the wake of the Great Recession.
  • Among women aged 25 to 29, the birth rate fell to 107.2 births per 1,000 women in the age group–the lowest rate since 1976, a baby-bust year.
  • By race and Hispanic origin, the birth rate dropped the most among Hispanics–down 6 percent between 2010 and 2011 to 75.7 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. The rate fell 2 percent among blacks to 65.5 and was unchanged among non-Hispanic whites at 58.8.
  • Births to unmarried women fell between 2010 and 2011, but the percentage of births to unmarried women remains above 40 percent.
  • Teenagers accounted for only 18 percent of births to unmarried women in 2011, the smallest percentage ever recorded and down from 50 percent in 1970.
  • The first-birth rate fell to an all-time low in 2011 as young women postponed motherhood. The second-birth rate fell to the lowest level since 1940.

Fewer Non-Hispanic Whites Under Age 45 

Between 2000 and 2010, the number of non-Hispanic whites under age 45 fell by 10 percent–a decline of 12 million, according to Census Bureau population estimates. In contrast, the number of Asians, blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities in the under-45 age group grew by 22 percent–an increase of 14.5 million. Between 2000 and 2010, the minority share of the under-age-45 population climbed from 36 to 43 percent.


Family Distances

Among Americans aged 50-plus with adult children, according to an AARP survey, this is how far they live from their kids…

Less than a one-hour drive away: 71%

A one- to five-hour drive away:  26%

More than a five-hour drive away: 40%

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


Voting rates among citizens in the 2008 presidential election…
Asians: 47.6%
Blacks: 64.7%
Hispanics: 49.9%
Non-Hispanic whites: 66.1%


2. Q & A

Where is the Minority Majority?       

A few months ago there was a quite a hullabaloo when, for the first time, the Census Bureau’s population estimates showed minorities to be the majority among the nation’s newborns, with non-Hispanic whites accounting for only 49.6 percent of births between July 1, 2010, and July 1, 2011. But the bureau may have been getting ahead of itself and not accounting for the ongoing baby bust, which has affected Hispanics and blacks more than non-Hispanic whites.


According to counts by the  National Center for Health Statistics, the 54 percent majority of babies born in the United States in 2010 and 2011 were non-Hispanic white–a considerably larger share than had been estimated. The reason for the larger-than-expected non-Hispanic white share of births is the Great Recession and its disproportionate impact on the childbearing of Hispanic women and, to a lesser extent, black women.


The fertility rate of Hispanic women plummeted between 2007 and 2011, falling from 97.4 to 75.7 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44–a 22 percent decline. The fertility rate of non-Hispanic black women fell 8 percent during those years–from 71.4 to 65.5. Meanwhile, non-Hispanic white fertility fell by a smaller 4 percent, from 61.0 to 58.8. Consequently, the Hispanic share of births is shrinking rather than growing. Hispanics accounted for 23 percent of births in 2011, down from 25 percent in 2007 and well below the 26 percent that had been estimated by the Census Bureau.

The Census Bureau did a good job of estimating the total number of births in the United States in 2011. Its figure–just under 4 million–was within 1 percent of the National Center for Health Statistics’ count of 3,953,593. But the devil is in the details: the Census Bureau underestimated non-Hispanic white births by 9 percent and overestimated Hispanic births by 13 percent. Only 912,290 Hispanic babies were born in 2011, while the Census Bureau had estimated the figure at more than 1 million. The minority majority will get here, just not as soon as we thought.

By Cheryl Russell, editorial director, New Strategist Publications. Questions or comments, please contact


Percentage of Millennials who say they are…
Democrat: 46%
Republican: 31%
Independent: 24%Source: The Millennials, 5th edition

3. Cool Research Links

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


AARP Probes Boomer Troubles

If you want to know how the baby-boom generation is coping with the aftermath of the Great Recession, you can find out at this link. The AARP survey explores the financial well-being and attitudes of workers aged 50 to 64, finding boomers to be decidedly downbeat. “One of the survey’s most striking findings is the gloomy view participants take of the economic environment,” notes AARP. When asked how their standard of living in retirement would or does compare to that of their parents, the 48 percent plurality of boomers said it was worse. When asked how their economic security in retirement would or does compare to that of their parents, the 51 percent majority of boomers said it was less secure. Insecurity is bad for business, which is why every business should take a look at these survey results.


Working at Home

Working at home was supposed to be the Next Big Thing. Turns out, not so much. According to a new report from the Census Bureau based on the American Community Survey and available at this link, 6 million people worked primarily from home in 2010. That number grew 30 percent between 2000 and 2010, an impressive gain, but the proportion who work at home climbed from only 3.3 to 4.3 percent during those years. The demographics of those who work primarily from home are decidedly downscale. About one-third are aged 55 or older, half are self-employed or unpaid family workers, and half earn less than $25,000 a year. The earnings of those who work at home account for only about one-third of their household’s total median earnings.


2011 School Enrollment

The number of students enrolled in the nation’s colleges climbed yet again, reaching a record high of 20.4 million in 2011, according to the Census Bureau. The 122,000 increase in college enrollment between 2010 and 2011 was the smallest rise in the past five years. Enrollment in four-year colleges grew to a record high of 10.9 million in 2011, which was 470,000 more students than in 2010. In contrast, enrollment in two-year colleges and graduate schools retreated during the year. Two-year college enrollment fell to 5.7 million in 2011 (down 199,000), and graduate school enrollment fell to 3.8 million (down 148,000).


Occupations in which baby boomers account for the largest and smallest shares of the total employed…

Largest: Postal service clerks (73%)
Smallest: Restaurant hosts/hostesses (7%)


New for 2012 – all-new and expanded one-stop resources for understanding who American consumers are, how they live, and how they spend their money.


Demographics of the U.S. 

The new fourth edition of Demographics of the U.S.: Trends and Projections is a unique source that documents the many important socioeconomic trends from 1950 through the first decade of the 21st century. The 4th edition includes 2010 census data as well as comprehensive coverage of historical statistics, including single-year data on many topics such as births, school enrollment, homeownership, employment, living arrangements, and geographic mobility. New to this edition is a look at household spending with an analysis of trends before and after the Great Recession.

Hardcover: $95.00 (978-1-937737-02-3) 544 pages

Paper: $69.95 (978-1-937737-03-0)


The American Generations Series

Each of the four volumes in the just-updated American Generations Series provides an in-depth look at the demographic and lifestyle data most important for researchers who want to understand how each generation is changing and what to expect in the future. New to these editions are all-important 2010 census population data, the latest homeownership rates, trends in household spending and wealth since the Great Recession, and labor force statistics with projections to 2020.


The new fifth edition of The Millennials: Americans Born 1977 to 1994 provides a demographic and socioeconomic profile of the generation that is aged 18 to 35 in 2012. Included in the book is a special section about the iGeneration–children under age 18 and their parents.

Hardcover: $95.00 (978-1-937737-02-3) 544 pages

Paper: $69.95 (978-1-937737-03-0)


The new seventh edition of Generation X: Americans Born 1965 to 1976 tells the story of the small but vital generation spanning the ages of 36 to 47 in 2012. No generation has been hit as hard by the Great Recession as Gen Xers. This reference shows you how their socioeconomic status has changed and how they are coping.

Hardcover: $95.00 (978-1-937737-04-7) 354 pages

Paper: $69.95 (978-1-937737-05-4)


The new seventh edition of The Baby Boom: Americans Born 1946 to 1964 is a definitive reference by Cheryl Russell, a nationally recognized authority on the Baby Boom. In it, Russell analyzes the demographic and spending data you need to fully understand this huge and influential generation whose top concerns are financial security, health care, and retirement.

Hardcover: $95.00 (978-1-937737-06-1) 334 pages

Paper: $69.95 (978-1-937737-07-8)


The new seventh edition of Older Americans: A Changing Market includes the latest statistics on the health, living arrangements, incomes, spending, and wealth of the 55-or-older age group. Because the economic downturn has hurt many older Americans, an understanding of their wants and needs is increasingly vital to both businesses and government. Older Americans tells you what you need to know about this market.

Hardcover: $95.00 (978-1-937737-08-5) 388 pages

Paper: $69.95 (978-1-937737-09-2)


Order all four editions in the newly updated American Generations SeriesThe Millennials, Generation X, The Baby Boom, and Older Americans-and save!

Hardcover: $365.00 (978-1-937737-14-6)

Paper: $265.00 (978-1-937737-15-3)


For your convenience, all of New Strategist’s titles are available as searchable single- and multiple-user pdfs linked to spreadsheets of each data table so you can do your own analyses and create PowerPoint presentations.


Increase in spending on entertainment by households headed by people aged 65 or older, 2000-10 (in 2010 dollars): 40%.

Source:  Older Americans, 7th edition