American Consumers Newsletter

by Cheryl Russell, Editorial Director, New Strategist Press
January 2014

The Top 10 Demographic Trends
4. All New Editions of our Reference Tools: 
To see Cheryl Russell’s Demo Memo blog, click here.

1. Hot Trends 

The Top 10 Demographic Trends   

We live in interesting times, and this is what makes our times so interesting. Below are the 10 demographic trends that are changing the way we live…


1. Cities are growing. Between 2010 and 2012, the nation’s largest cities (with populations of 50,000 or more) grew 2.1 percent. This was nearly double the 1.1 percent growth elsewhere. During the same time, the USDA reports population loss in nonmetropolitan areas–the first ever recorded. For more about this trend, see  City Growth by SizeWhy Metros Are Growing, and Population Change along the Rural-Urban Continuum.


2. Minorities now have power. In 2012, Asians, blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities accounted for 37 percent of the nation’s population. Rising above the one-third threshold is an important milestone for minorities because of the One-Third Rule: when a segment of the population surpasses one-third of the total, it wields enough economic and political power to change the status quo. For more about this trend, see Race and Hispanic Origin, 2012.


3. Nuclear families are declining. As young adults postpone marriage and childbearing, the number of married couples with children under age 18 fell from 27 million (24 percent of households) to 25 million (21 percent of households) between 2007 and 2013. Nuclear families are the only household type in decline. For more about this trend, see 2 Million Fewer Nuclear Families.


4. Fertility rate is at a record low. The fertility rate continues to set a new record low each time the National Center for Health Statistics issues an updated report. For the 12-month period ending in June 2013, the fertility rate (the number of births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44) fell to 62.7, yet another record low. For more about this trend, see Births Stable, Fertility Rate Fell through June 2013.


5. Women’s earnings are no longer growing. Over the years, the rise in women’s earnings has kept families afloat as men’s earnings stalled. Since 2010, however, the growth in women’s earnings has come to a halt. Consequently, household incomes are stagnant. The $51,017 median household income of 2012 was lower than the $51,892 of 2010 and well below the $55,627 of 2007, after adjusting for inflation. For more about this trend, see The End of the Rise in Women’s Earnings and Median Household Income in 2012.


6. Household spending is growing. Despite stagnant incomes, the average household spent 1.4 percent more in 2012 than in 2011, after adjusting for inflation. The $51,442 spent by the average household in 2012 was still 6.7 percent below the 2006 spending peak, when the average household spent $55,119 (in 2012 dollars). But the trend is in the right direction. For more about this trend, see Household Spending Rises.


7. First-time homebuyers are aging. Before the collapse of the housing market in the wake of the Great Recession, the nation’s first-time homebuyers were aged 30 to 34–meaning the homeownership rate typically surpassed 50 percent in that age group. That is no longer the case. Only 47.5 percent of householders aged 30 to 34 were homeowners as of the third quarter of 2013. Today the typical first-time homebuyer is aged 35 to 39, almost in middle age. For more about this trend, see First-Time Homebuyer Watch: 3rd Quarter 2013.


8. College enrollment is declining. After years of rising enrollment, the number of college students plunged between 2011 and 2012. The 467,000 decline (from 20.4 million in 2011 to 19.9 million in 2012) occurred primarily among students at four-year schools. Colleges are scrambling to adjust to the lower numbers. For more about this trend, see College Enrollment Plunges.


9. Household wealth is below peak. You might have seen news reports about how the nation’s net worth is at a new peak, based on Fed data. Those reports are about the aggregate and do not account for inflation or population growth. After adjusting for inflation and population growth, net worth per household is still well below the 2007 peak, according to the St. Louis Fed. For more about this trend, see Wealth: Crawling Out of the Hole.


10. The Internet is stealing our time. Millions of us are spending a lot of leisure time online, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study of American Time Use Survey data. On an average day in 2012, a substantial 13 percent of Americans aged 15 or older spent some leisure time online. Those who spent leisure time online devoted one-third of their day’s leisure to online activities–a figure that does not include time spent gaming (a separate time use category). For more about this trend, see “What Are We Not Doing When We’re Online” and More about Computer Use for Leisure.


The American Demand for Credit 

According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, most American households have tried to get a loan in the past 12 months: 41% of households applied for credit and were accepted; 12% of households applied for credit and were rejected; 7% of households wanted credit but did not apply because they thought they would be rejected.


The Persistence of Books  

Most Americans aged 18 or older are book readers, and the percentage who read a book in the past year has not changed over the years despite growing numbers of distractions.


According to a survey by the National Endowment for the Arts, the 54.5 percent of adults who read a book in 2012 was virtually identical to the 54.3 percent of 2008. Book reading varies little by age and exceeds 50 percent in every age group. Books are more popular among women (64 percent read a book in 2012) than men (45 percent). The biggest differences are found by educational attainment. Only 41 percent of adults with no more than a high school diploma read a book in 2012. Among college graduates, the figure was 74 percent.


Many College Students Major in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM)  

A substantial 28 percent of college students choose to major in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) field, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In an analysis of 2003-04 beginning bachelor’s degree students, the NCES finds more students opting for a STEM field than business (26 percent), social sciences (21 percent), humanities (13 percent), or education (13 percent).


Besides math and engineering, STEM fields include biology and life sciences, physical sciences, and computer and information sciences. Many students who choose a STEM field ultimately abandon it–48 percent of 2003-04 beginning bachelor’s degree students eventually switched to a non-STEM major or dropped out of school entirely. The STEM attrition rate ranges from a low of 38 percent for those majoring in math to a high of 59 percent for those majoring in computer or information science.


While those attrition rates are high enough to raise eyebrows, the analysis shows STEM dropout rates are no higher than dropout rates in non-STEM fields. Among students majoring in education, for example, 62 percent switched majors or dropped out of school. The attrition rate was 45 percent for social science majors, 50 percent for business majors, and 56 percent for those majoring in the humanities.


Generation Status Varies  

by Race and Hispanic Origin

Among all Americans, 13 percent were born in another country (defined as first generation). Another 12 percent were born in the United States but at least one of their parents was born elsewhere (defined as second generation). The 76 percent majority of Americans were born in the United States as were both parents (defined as third generation or higher). According to the Census Bureau, the generation status of the population differs considerably by race and Hispanic origin…


First generation

Asians: 56%

Blacks: 10%

Hispanics: 36%

Non-Hispanic whites: 4%


Second generation

Asians: 32%

Blacks: 7%

Hispanics: 31%

Non-Hispanic whites: 6%


Third or higher generation

Asians: 12%

Blacks: 83%

Hispanics: 33%

Non-Hispanic whites: 90%


Debt Delays Retirement 

Older Americans with debt are more likely to delay retirement, according to a study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. The study finds a growing share of older Americans in debt and their debt load rising.


The percentage of 62-to-69-year-olds with debt grew from 48 to 62 percent between 1998 and 2010, according to the study, which analyzed the financial and labor force status of a nationally representative sample of older Americans from the Health and Retirement Study. Among those with debt, the median amount owed grew from $19,020 to $32,130 per person during those years, after adjusting for inflation. Mortgages account for the largest share of debt, and the percentage of 62-to-69-year-olds with mortgage debt grew from 29 to 39 percent between 1998 and 2010.


The study found “striking differences” in the labor force participation of older adults with and without debt. Those with debt were much more likely than those without debt to work (46 versus 33 percent), and the debtors were less likely to receive Social Security benefits (71 versus 78 percent).


“It is encouraging to find that older adults with debt are delaying both retirement and Social Security benefits,” conclude the authors. But they add: “At some point, however, age and health prevent most people from working. When that time comes, how will those with debt manage their monthly mortgage and credit card payments? Possibilities include selling their homes, buying reverse mortgages, or declaring bankruptcy.”


Children in Wireless-Only Households 

In 12 states, at least half the children under age 18 live in wireless-only households–meaning their household has a cell phone but no landline phone, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The 12 states are Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.


Nationally, 45 percent of children live in wireless-only households. Among adults, a smaller 38 percent are wireless-only. Children are more likely to be wireless-only because parents of children under age 18 are younger than the average adult and more likely to own a cell phone.


Another reason children are more likely than adults to be wireless-only is the low incomes of many of today’s parents. Among the poor, the 55 percent majority are wireless-only. Among those who are not poor, the figure is just 33 percent. The poverty factor explains why Mississippi, the poorest state, has the largest share of children living in a wireless-only household: 63 percent in 2013.


Identity Theft in 2012 

Seventeen million Americans aged 16 or older were victims of identity theft in 2012, but only 14 percent of victims experienced out-of-pocket losses of $1 or more. Most were able to resolve the problem in a day or less, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ report Victims of Identity Theft, 2012. Despite the relatively minor inconvenience identity theft poses to most of its victims, a substantial 36 percent of identity theft victims reported moderate to severe emotional distress because of the incident.


Victims of identity theft are more likely than nonvictims to take measures to reduce the future risk of theft. Here is the percentage of identity theft victims (and the percentage of nonvictims) who took selected actions in the past 12 months…


Checked bank or credit statements: 92% (74%)

Shredded documents with personal information: 80% (67%)

Changed passwords on financial accounts: 56% (27%)

Checked credit report: 53% (37%)

Used identity theft security program on computer: 25% (16%)

Purchased credit monitoring service: 12% (5%)


Overweight: Fantasy vs. Fact

Only 36 percent of Americans think they are overweight, according to a Gallup survey. But fully 63 percent of Americans are actually overweight, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.


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


The average household had $14,037 in discretionary income in 2012, with the figure peaking in the 55-to-64 age group.


2. Q & A

Why Are So Many Babies  

Born to Unmarried Women?  

Every year in the United States, millions of babies are born out of wedlock. Of the 4 million babies born in 2012, fully 40.7 percent were born to an unmarried woman. In 1970, the figure was just 11 percent. With so many out-of-wedlock births, single-parent families have become more common. Twenty-eight percent of children under age 18 live with only one parent, up from 12 percent in 1970. As single-parent families have increased, so has the poverty rate among the nation’s children. Twenty-two percent of children are poor, up from 15 percent in 1970.


What if these problems had the same root cause–the dysfunctional American health insurance system? New data being collected from birth certificates suggest that, in fact, this might be the case.


Among babies born in 2011, Medicaid paid for fully 45 percent of deliveries, according to an analysis by the National Center for Health Statistics (Newly Released Data from the Revised U.S. Birth Certificate, 2011). This figure almost equals the 46 percent of deliveries paid for by private health insurance. Medicaid is the government’s health insurance program for the poor. With a normal hospital delivery averaging $9,000 today, the many young adults who do not have employer-provided health insurance (48 percent of the nation’s 18-to-34-year-olds) are making a rational economic choice to stay single as they become parents. If they marry, the combined income of husband and wife–even if they earn no more than minimum wage–would boost their household income above the Medicaid threshold. For many young parents, marriage would result in financial ruin because of the lack of health insurance.


As the Affordable Care Act unfolds, it may have the unforeseen benefit of reducing out-of-wedlock births, single-parent families, and childhood poverty. By mandating maternity coverage in health insurance plans, and by subsidizing health insurance for low-income workers, getting married before having a baby may begin to make sense again.


The non-Hispanic white population will peak in 2024 at 199.6 million, then begin to shrink. In 2034, there will be fewer non-Hispanic whites in the United States than there are today.


3. Cool Research Links

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


Dwellr is a new Census Bureau app that shows you the characteristics of your current location based on GPS coordinates and searches for the best places for you to live based on your profile and preferences. Tap on Dwellr’s compass to pull up the American Community Survey’s demographic, socioeconomic, and housing statistics for thousands of locations. Do it when you’re on the road and discover the facts about the community surrounding you. Search for places you want to know more about. Create your own profile and specify your preferences, then let the Census Bureau find the 25 Best Places for you. Dwellr can be downloaded from the Apple App and Google Play stores and is available for iPhones and iPads, Androids, and 10-inch tablets.


The State of the Nation’s Fathers  

At this link you can access a National Survey of Family Growth report on the nation’s fathers. Fathers’ Involvement with Their Children: United States, 2006-2010 examines fathers aged 15 to 44, their living arrangements, what they do with their children, and how good a job they think they are doing as fathers. Among all men in the age group, 38 percent live with one or more of their children under age 18 and 12 percent live apart from one or more children. Among those who live with their children, 88 percent think they are doing a good job as a father. Among those who live apart from one or more children, only 54 percent think they are doing a good job at fathering.


Household Income Growth by County     

Between 2007 and 2012, only 111 of the nation’s 3,142 counties experienced a statistically significant increase in median household income, according to the Census Bureau. In an analysis of county income trends between 2007 and 2012, the bureau finds that nearly half the counties with growing incomes were located in only two states: North and South Dakota. Overall, 55 of the 119 counties in those two states had a statistically significant increase in median household income between 2007 and 2012. In the nation’s other 3,023 counties, only 56 had significant gains in median household income.


The 52 metropolitan areas with 1 million or more people grew 2 percent between 2010 and 2012, twice as fast as the rest of the United States.

Here are three 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 9th edition of American Incomes: Demographics of Who Has Money is your map to the changing consumer landscape, exploring and explaining the economic status of Americans in the aftermath of the Great Recession. It looks at household income trends through 2012 by age, household type, race and Hispanic origin, education, region, and work status. It examines trends in the incomes of men and women by a variety of demographic characteristics. It includes an analysis of discretionary income, produced by New Strategist’s statisticians specifically for this book. It provides data on the wealth of American households, showing the impact of the Great Recession on household assets and debt. 

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. Call 800-848-0842 for information about Multi-user Licenses. 450 pages.

Single-user pdf: $103.95 (978-1-940308-32-6)

Hardcover:  $138.00 (978-1-940308-31-9)

Paper: $103.95 (978-1-940308-37-1)


Quick and easy access is the goal of the new 11th edition of
The American Marketplace: Demographics and Spending Patterns. Designed for convenience, The American Marketplacedraws on scores of government sources to give you a population profile of the United States in one handy volume. Its hundreds of tables are organized into 11 chapters covering attitudes, education, health, housing, income, labor force, living arrangements, population, spending, time use, and wealth.

The American Marketplace reveals the latest demographic trends and tells the American story. It examines changing lifestyles in rich detail, from growing racial and ethnic diversity to declining homeownership, from disappearing nuclear families to recovery in household spending, from another baby bust to new attitudes toward gay marriage. New to this edition of The American Marketplace are 2012 population estimates for the nation, states, and metropolitan areas, revealing changing patterns of growth. The Attitudes chapter has data from the 2012 General Social Survey. The Income chapter, with 2012 income statistics from the 2013 Current Population Survey, reveals the struggle to stay afloat. The American Marketplace is a reference tool that will help you cut through the clutter and track the trends.


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. Call 800-848-0842 for information about Multi-user Licenses. 612 pages.

Single-user pdf: $103.95 (978-1-940308-35-7)

Hardcover: $138.00 (978-1-940308-33-3)

Paper: $103.95 (978-1-940308-34-0)


The 7th edition of American Attitudes: Who Thinks What about the Issues That Shape Our Lives coaxes the results of the latest (2012) General Social Survey out of the shadows of academia and makes them readily available for researchers who want to explore Americans’ changing attitudes. In hundreds of tables, the 7th edition of American Attitudes taps into the General Social Survey gold mine, revealing what the public thinks about topics ranging from gay marriage to the American Dream, how Americans feel about their financial status, their hopes for their children, how often they socialize and with whom, their religious beliefs, political leanings, and standard of living. It shows those answers by the demographics that shape perspective-sex, age, race, Hispanic origin, education, and region. American Attitudes reveals 2012 attitudes by demographic characteristic, and for every 2012 question for which historical data are available, it shows the history of response all the way back to the first appearance of the question on the General Social Survey. American Attitudes provides the latest data and is an invaluable resource for historic trends


American Attitudes is organized into nine chapters: Public Arena, Government and Politics, Science and Information, Religion, Work and Money, Family and Friends, Diversity, Personal Outlook, and Sexuality.


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. Call 800-848-0842 for information about Multi-user Licenses. 484 pages.

Single-user pdf: $103.95 (978-1-940308-30-2)

Hardcover: $138.00 (978-1-940308-29-6)

Paper: $103.95 (978-1-940308-36-4)