American Consumers Newsletter

by Cheryl Russell, Editorial Director, New Strategist Press
October 2006

If Cell Phones Could Talk

4. New for Fall 2006: The all new AMERICAN SEXUAL BEHAVIOR, and updates of BEST CUSTOMERS, HOUSEHOLD SPENDING, and the popular WHO’S BUYING REPORTS



Asians, blacks, and Hispanics account for the 54 percent majority of the $2 billion spent by the nation’s households on phone cards in 2004.


If Cell Phones Could Talk

Eighty-two percent of Americans say they have been annoyed by the cell phone use of others in public places, according to a survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project ( r/179/report_display.asp). But for demographers and others who love to track the trends, cell phones are more than an annoyance. They are an astonishing technological marvel that has revealed one of our deepest needs.

Before the cell phone, who knew Homo sapiens wanted to talk so much? Our prehistoric ancestors may have known, since they were the last to be within shouting distance of everyone they knew almost all the time. The African savannahs may have been humming with conversation as ancient humans discussed the latest hunt and gather. Then, as our species populated and migrated to distant lands without any means of communication with those left behind, we were forced to repress our need to stay in touch. Perhaps out of this melancholy longing art was born. We told stories, wrote ballads and poems, and drew pictures to mourn our loss of communication with loved ones far away. Finally, we invented the snail mail system to maintain some vestige of contact, however inadequate.

It has been thousands of years since we could strike up a conversation at will with any friend or family member. Only in the past ten years, as cell phones proliferated and the cost of using them dropped to pennies in our pocket, have we rediscovered our addiction to continuous communication with those we care about.

The cell phone’s evolution over the past decade, from clunky and expensive accessory to sleek and cheap necessity, has revealed talk to be one of our most powerful urges. What we say is far less interesting than the act of saying it, all the time: “Where are you?” “What are you doing?” “Where should we meet?” “How about this for a plan?”

The cell phone’s overarching importance is revealed not just by anecdotes, but in the spending statistics collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its annual Consumer Expenditure Survey. In the past decade, the cell phone’s significance has grown more than any other household item. In 1997, only 10 percent of households spent on cell phone service. In that year, in a ranking of items on which households spend the most, cell phone service was lost in the crowd at 112th place. In 2004 (the latest data available), 46 percent of households spent on cell phone service, boosting it to a lofty 28th place–and climbing. Cell phone service ranks higher in our spending priorities than prescription drugs and not far below cable TV and alcoholic beverages.

The demographics of spending are the tip off that cell phones are primarily a tool for emotional bonding. Married couples with children, who have the broadest network of family and friends, are the biggest spenders on cell phone service. During an average quarter of 2004, the 57 percent majority of married couples with children spent on cell phone service. By household type, the figure peaks at 60 percent among married couples with adult children at home. In contrast, among people living alone, only 34 percent spend on cell phone service. Among those living alone and who are not in the labor force (mainly retirees), only 15 percent have cell phone service.

Of course, cell phone use rises with income because service–although much cheaper than it used to be–is still not free. Sixty-six percent of households in the highest income quintile (with incomes of $81,058 or more) spent on cell phone service during an average quarter of 2004. This compares with only 22 percent of households in the lowest income quintile (with incomes below $16,403). Education, too, plays a big role, in large part because the educated have higher incomes. Fifty-nine percent of college graduates spent on cell phone service during an average quarter of 2004 compared with only 25 percent of householders who did not graduate from high school.

And then there is the all-important generational divide. Among householders under age 65, the 51 percent majority are cell phone users. Among those aged 65 or older the proportion is just 27 percent. Interestingly, this gap is far bigger than the one for Internet use. In an average quarter of 2004, 49 percent of householders under age 65 spent on Internet service compared with 28 percent of householders aged 65 or older. The generation gap in cell phone use will close quickly as younger, technology-addicted cohorts replace older, technology-resistant generations.

Interestingly, while 82 percent of the public has been annoyed by someone else’s cell phone use, only 8 percent of cell phone users say they have annoyed others with their calls. They must have been too busy talking to notice.

For more on the spending patterns of American households, see New Strategist’s just updated 11th edition of Household Spending: Who Spends How Much on What and the 4th edition of Best Customers: The Demographics of Consumer Demand. Visit New Strategist’s web site at to order hardcopies or download these books today.

By Cheryl Russell, editorial director, New Strategist Publications
If you have any questions or comments about the above editorial, e-mail New Strategist at



Average household spending on television sets climbed 29 percent between 2000 and 2004, after adjusting for inflation.

2. Q & A

Does Religion Influence Sexual Behavior?

Does religious belief influence sexual attitudes and behavior? Most would call the question a no brainer–of course it does. But human nature being what it is, religious belief has less influence on behavior than on attitudes.

This becomes clear in an examination of the National Survey of Family Growth (, a survey taken every few years by the National Center for Health Statistics. The NSFG probes the attitudes and behavior of a representative sample of Americans aged 15 to 44 toward sexuality and reproduction. An examination of the results suggests that religious belief affects the talk much more than the walk.

Religious belief shapes attitudes toward premarital sex: The percentage of women who think it is all right for unmarried 18-year-olds to have sexual relations if they have strong affection for one another ranges from a high of 74 percent among women with no religion to a low of 29 percent among fundamentalist Protestants. The 54 percent majority of Catholic women thinks premarital sex is OK.

But it delays first sexual intercourse by only a few months: Among women aged 15 to 44 with no religion, average age at first sexual intercourse was 16.4 years. Fundamentalist Protestants held off for several more months, with an average age of 16.9 years at first sexual intercourse. Catholics just said no for nearly one year longer, with an average age at first sexual intercourse of 17.7 years.

And it has little impact on “saving oneself” for marriage: Among women with no religion, only 12 percent waited until marriage before having sex. The proportion was a slightly higher 15 percent among Catholics and 17 percent among fundamentalist Protestants.

Religious belief drives attitudes toward out-of-wedlock childbearing: Among women with no religion, fully 86 percent think it is OK for an unmarried woman to have a child. A 49 percent minority of fundamentalist Protestants agree. (Among fundamentalist Protestant men, the figure is an even smaller 37 percent.) A surprisingly large 72 percent of Catholic women think out-of-wedlock childbearing is OK.

But it has almost no effect on out-of-wedlock childbearing itself: The percentage of women aged 15 to 44 with children who have had a child out-of-wedlock is similar regardless of religion. Among women with no religion, 49 percent have had a child out-of- wedlock. The proportion is 47 percent among fundamentalist Protestants and a slightly smaller 40 percent among Catholics.

For more on the sexual, reproductive, and family formation behavior of American men and women, see the all new American Sexual Behavior: Demographics of Sexual Activity, Fertility, and Childbearing. Visit New Strategist’s web site at to order hardcopies or download this book today.

If you have any questions or comments about the above Q & A, e-mail New Strategist at



The percentage of men who used a condom the first time they had sex climbed from 22 percent in the years before 1980 to 73 percent today.


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

HOUSING PRICES DatasetMainPageServlet?_program=ACS&_submenuId=&_lang=en&_ts=
Now that housing prices are falling, you can remember the good old days of the price peak, captured by the Census Bureau in its 2005 American Community Survey. At this site, you can access 2005 ACS data, which include housing profiles for nearly every level of administrative unit–from the nation as a whole to individual metropolitan areas, counties, and even selected cities. In San Diego, median home value more than doubled between 2000 and 2005, jumping from $249,000 to $567,000, after adjusting for inflation–the biggest increase among the nation’s large cities. In the United States as a whole, median housing value rose by a much smaller 32 percent during those years to $167,500. Through the Census Bureau’s American Factfinder custom table function, you can create rankings of housing values by whatever administrative level you desire. Here are the five metropolitan areas with the highest median housing values in 2005, all in California:

  • Santa Cruz-Watsonville: $694,100
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara: $679,800
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont: $655,300
  • Santa Barbara-Santa Maria: $646,300
  • Salinas: $645,700
  • (Among metro areas, median housing value was lowest in Odessa, Texas, at $53,100)


Go to this site and scroll down to “Annual Population Estimates.” There you can click on a link to download a Department of Homeland Security report estimating the number of “unauthorized immigrants” living in the United States. According to the report, 10.5 million people without proper documentation were living in the United States in 2005, up from 8.5 million in 2000–a 24 percent increase. Fifty-seven percent hail from Mexico, followed by much smaller cohorts from El Salvador (4 percent), Guatemala (4 percent), India (3 percent), China (2 percent), and other countries.

These figures were calculated using the “residual method” of population estimation. Researchers in the Office of Immigration Statistics subtracted the number of legal foreign-born residents (based on administrative data at the Department of Homeland Security) from the total number of foreign-born (based on estimates from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey), and the difference–or residual–is the number of undocumented foreigners residing in the United States.

The number of unauthorized immigrants is growing by 408,000 per year, according to the report. Not surprisingly, California is home to the largest number–2.8 million, or 26 percent of the total in 2005. Other states in the top five are Texas (1.4 million), Florida (850,000), New York (560,000), and Illinois (520,000). But the number of illegals is growing the fastest in Georgia, where it has more than doubled between 2000 and 2005–climbing from 220,000 to 470,000 between 2000 and 2005.



Health insurance ranks eighth among items on which the average household spends the most, following deductions for Social Security, vehicle purchases, food, mortgage interest or rent, gasoline, federal income taxes, and property taxes.

4. NEW FOR FALL 2006

NEW TITLE: American Sexual Behavior: Demographics of Sexual Activity, Fertility, and Childbearing is a groundbreaking new title that brings you the facts about reproductive health and family formation in the United States. Its eleven chapters cover sexual initiation and orientation, AIDS and STDs, cohabitation and marriage, fertility and infertility, pregnancy, births, caring for children, and much more. $79.95 ($89.95 after November 1, 2006; ISBN 978-1-933588-09-4)

NEW EDITION: The fourth edition of Best Customers: Demographics of Consumer Demand reveals the best customers for hundreds of products and services ranging from alcoholic beverages to gasoline, bedroom linens, and cell phone service. It identifies which households spend the most on a product or service and which control the largest share of spending. $79.95 ($89.95 after November 1, 2006; ISBN 978-1-933588-06-3)

NEW EDITION: The eleventh edition of the annual Household Spending: Who Spends How Much on What gives you detailed analyses of consumer spending on hundreds of products and services by the demographics that count–age, income, household type, region of residence, race and Hispanic origin, and education. The book begins with an overview chapter, then goes on to examine spending on apparel, entertainment, financial products and services, food and beverages, gifts, health care, household operations, shelter and utilities, transportation, personal care, reading, education, and tobacco. $84.95 ($94.95 after November 1, 2006; ISBN 978-1-933588-05-6)

NEW EDITIONS: The updated Who’s Buying Series, which is based on the new eleventh edition of Household Spending, gives you even more demographic detail about how much Americans spend by the demographics that count–age, income, household type, race and Hispanic origin, region of residence, and education. To round out the spending picture, you also get “who are the best customers” analyses of the data.

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  • Who’s Buying: Executive Summary of Household Spending, 2nd ed. $49.95 ($59.95 after November 1, 2006; 1-978-933588-22-3)

You can order online (where you can also see tables of contents and sample pages) at Or call toll free 800/848-0842 (or 607/273-0913), fax your order to 607/277-5009, or mail your order to New Strategist Publications, P.O. Box 242, Ithaca, NY 14851. Please note that you must order directly from New Strategist to get these special prices.


Households with incomes below $50,000 control 57 percent of the cigarette market.