American Consumers Newsletter

by Cheryl Russell, Editorial Director, New Strategist Press
August 2017

Top 10 Emerging Trends of the 2000s


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1. Hot Trends 


Top 10 Emerging Trends of the 2000s
The 21st century has been a wild ride so far, and it has only just begun. The speed with which events are unfolding is creating turmoil and confusion, necessitating a step back to see the big picture–the emerging trends behind so many of today’s headlines. This is no idle exercise, but imperative for businesses intent on surviving the next decade and for policymakers struggling to adapt to profound changes in the way we live.
What are the emerging trends of the 21st century, the tipping points that have occurred since 2000? Many trends are important, but a handful stand out because of their far-reaching consequences. These are documented in New Strategist’s Demographics of the U.S.: Trends and Projections, a reference tool for trend trackers. Using consequences as a measure of importance, these are the 10 most important emergent trends of the 2000s.
1. The income decline: The decline began long before the Great Recession, and it has hit the American middle class hard. Men’s incomes were falling well before 2000, the household income decline began in 2000, and women’s steady income growth came to a halt in the 2000s. The political repercussions of the resulting economic anxiety are well known.
2. The wealth decline: To rub salt into the economic wound of waning incomes, household net worth collapsed with the Great Recession as the housing bubble burst. Median household net worth fell 40 percent between 2007 and 2013, after adjusting for inflation.
3. The homeownership decline: The homeownership rate peaked in 2004. The number of homeowners peaked in 2006. By 2015, there were 1.4 million fewer homeowners than in the peak year. The homeownership rate in 2015 was the lowest since 1967.
4. Majority acceptance of gay marriage: The percentage of Americans who support the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry climbed from just 31 percent in 2004 (the first year the General Social Survey asked the question) to 59 percent in 2016. Rarely has massive social change occurred so rapidly.
5. Increase in health insurance coverage: The percentage of Americans without health insurance fell to a record low in 2015, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Although still reviled by many, the ACA has grown in popularity now that Americans better understand the alternatives. But continual threats to repeal the Affordable Care Act are taking their toll on the nation’s already fragile sense of well-being.
6. The marriage decline: The Millennial generation is postponing marriage longer than any previous cohort of young adults. Delayed marriage has contributed to other emerging trends–the decline of homeownership, the baby bust, and population loss in nonmetropolitan areas.
7. The birth decline: The number of births in the U.S. peaked in 2007 at 4.3 million. Since then, births have fallen in nearly every year and have been stuck below 4 million since 2009. Fertility rates are at a record low for women under age 30, with Hispanic fertility falling the most. The steep decline in Hispanic fertility may delay by a few years the coming minority majority forecast for the 2040s.
8. The life expectancy decline: Life expectancy at birth fell in 2015 for the first time since 1993. All of the decline was due to rising death rates among people under age 65. What’s going on? A big factor is a rise in “deaths of despair,” a consequence of rural and small town stagnation.
9. City growth and rural decline: Urban centers have been experiencing a resurgence, thanks to Millennials seeking job opportunities. At the other extreme, since 2010 for the first time, nonmetropolitan America has been losing population. The disparity between flourishing urban centers and languishing small-town and rural America has upended the nation’s politics.
10. The mobility decline: The geographic mobility rate hit an all-time low in 2015-16, in part because some residents of small towns and rural areas are trapped in their shrinking local economies. Many either cannot or will not move to pursue an American Dream in which they no longer believe.
These are the top emerging trends of the 21st century. Most are stories of decline–which is a trend of significance in itself. For more of the trends shaping American society right now, see New Strategist’s  Demographics of the U.S.: Trends and Projections.


The American Dream Is Disappearing in Rural America

In rural areas, the American Dream is slipping away. At least that’s how those who live there feel, according to a Demo Memo analysis of the General Social Survey.

The GSS asks respondents whether they agree or disagree with the statement: “The way things are in America, people like me and my family have a good chance of improving our standard of living.” This is the percentage who agree that the American Dream still applies to them by urban status…

Belief in the American Dream by urban status, 2016
74% of those who live in central cities of 12 largest metros
60% of those who live in central cities of 13-100 largest metros
58% of those who live in suburbs of 12 largest metros
58% of those who live in  suburbs of 13-100 largest metros
57% of those who live in other urban areas
47% of those who live in rural areas

Only 47 percent of Americans who live in rural areas have faith in the American dream versus 74 percent of the residents of the largest central cities. It gets worse. Analyzing the data by race and Hispanic origin shows that only 40 percent of non-Hispanic Whites in rural areas think the American Dream works for them. This pessimism is not shared by their counterparts in cities and suburbs, most of whom still believe in the American Dream–including 71 percent of non-Hispanic Whites in the largest cities. Blacks, too, do not share the pessimism of rural non-Hispanic Whites. About two-thirds of Blacks have faith in the dream, whether they live in rural areas, suburbs, or cities.

Belief in the American Dream among non-Hispanic Whites in rural areas was much greater in 2000, when 68 percent believed they had a good chance of improving their living standard. By 2010, the figure had fallen to 54 percent. Because of the Great Recession, belief in the Dream also took a hit during those years among non-Hispanic Whites in central cities and suburbs. Since 2010, faith in the American Dream among non-Hispanic Whites in cities and suburbs has rebounded. There has been no rebound for non-Hispanic Whites in rural areas.


47% Took Prescription Drug in Past Month

Nearly half of Americans (47%) took at least one prescription drug in the past 30 days, according to the National Center for Health Statistics annual statistical reference, Health, United States, 2016. The use of prescription drugs rises with age to more than 90 percent of people aged 65 or older…

Percent who took at least one prescription drug in past 30 days
Under age 18: 21.5%
Aged 18 to 44: 37.1%
Aged 45 to 64: 69.0%
Aged 65-plus: 90.6%

The use of multiple prescription drugs is becoming more common, especially among people aged 65 or older. Overall, 21.5 percent of Americans took three or more prescription drugs in the past 30 days in 2011-14, up from 11.8 percent who did so two decades earlier in 1988-94. Among people aged 65 or older, 67 percent took three or more prescription drugs in the past month, up from 31 percent in 1988-94.


Research Shows 65-Plus Income May Be 30% Higher
The income of households headed by people aged 65-plus may be much higher than estimated by the Current Population Survey. An analysis of 2012 data by Census Bureau researchers finds substantial under-reporting of retirement income when compared to administrative records. Among older Americans who receive retirement income, the researchers say, none of it is reported 46 percent of the time! Here are some other startling findings from the analysis…
  • The 2012 median income of householders aged 65 or older was 30 percent higher based on administrative records versus the Current Population Survey–$33,800 reported by the CPS and $44,400 based on administrative records.
  • The poverty rate of people aged 65 or older was 2.1 percentage points lower (6.9 percent instead of 9.0 percent).
  • The income drop after retirement is much smaller than has been estimated based on CPS data. “We do not find large, abrupt declines in income or increases in poverty upon retirement,” say the researchers.
The analysis is based on 2012 CPS data, prior to the Census Bureau’s 2014 redesign of the Current Population Survey to better capture retirement income. In the future, the researchers hope to evaluate the effectiveness of the redesign in capturing more retirement income.


Work Gap among Older Americans

College graduates are a big reason for the rising rate of labor force participation among people aged 65 or older, according to an Urban Institute study. Not only are college graduates more likely to be in the labor force than those with less education, but the labor force participation rate of older Americans is rising faster among the college-educated…

Labor force participation rate of people aged 65 or older, 2016
No high school diploma: 10.0%
High school graduate only: 15.3%
Some college/associate’s degree: 22.0%
Bachelor’s degree or more education: 29.3%

Between 1995 and 2016, the labor force participation rate of people aged 65 or older with a bachelor’s degree climbed 7.5 percentage points. This compares with a gain of 5.3 percentage points for those with some college, a 3.8 percentage point gain for those with no more than a high school diploma, and a 2.5 percentage point gain for those without a high school diploma.

“As economic security in old age increasingly depends on delaying retirement, less-educated older adults who retire early will likely face financial challenges in later life and fall further behind their better-educated counterparts,” notes the study.


Glory Days Are Here Again for Tech

Since 2010, employment in the tech industry has been growing twice as fast as private-sector employment overall, and tech wages are outpacing the average. The glory days are back for tech, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, which defines the sector as comprised of seven industries…

Industries in the tech sector (and publicly-owned firm with largest revenue)
1. Computer manufacturing (Apple)
2. Electronic shopping (Amazon)
3. Software publishing (Microsoft)
4. Data processing, hosting, and related services (Xerox)
5. Internet publishing, broadcasting, and web search (Google)
6. Computer systems design (IBM)
7. Scientific research and development (QuintilesIMS)

The tech sector has seen ups and downs over the decades. Tech employment as a share of total private employment climbed through 1990s and hit a high of 4 percent in 2000, then fell as low as 3.4 percent after the tech bubble burst in 2001. The Great Recession also shook the industry, but in 2010 the turnaround had begun. Tech employment as a share of total private employment reached 3.9 percent in 2015–nearly matching the all-time high of 2000.

Between 2010 and 2015, jobs in the tech sector grew 20 percent versus an 11 percent gain for all private-sector employment. Tech-sector wages grew 5 percent annually during those years. Wage growth has lifted the earnings of tech workers far above those of the average private-sector worker. In 1990, the average tech worker made 1.6 times as much as the average private-sector workers. By 2015, tech workers made 2.2 times as much.

“Innovations in digital computing systems and automation have triggered tectonic shifts in consumer and business behaviors across the economy” says the St. Louis Fed. All true, but the tectonic shifts to come may be even greater than the ones in our past–especially if a theory about the low productivity growth of recent years turns out to be correct (see the New York Times article, “Maybe We’ve Been Thinking about the Productivity Slump All Wrong”). The theory goes like this: depressed wages have discouraged businesses from widespread deployment of productivity-boosting technologies. Why bother investing in capital equipment and software when workers are so cheap? As the labor market tightens and workers become more costly, businesses will deploy labor-saving technologies on a massive scale. The glory days may turn into glory years.


Going Online for Science and Tech

The majority of Americans get most of their information about science and technology from the internet (56 percent), according to a Demo Memo analysis of the 2016 General Social Survey. But where do they go online for most of that science and tech news? According to a follow-up question, these are the main online sources for those who get most of their science and tech information from the internet…

Main online source of science and tech information
Search engine: 37%
Online newspaper: 25%
Online magazine: 15%
Online news site: 6%
Online science site: 5%
Social media: 4%
Wikipedia: 1%
Other site: 7%


12% Currently Smoke Marijuana

Nearly half of Americans aged 18 or older have tried marijuana, according to a 2017 Gallup survey. The 45 percent who have ever tried marijuana is the highest figure recorded in all the years Gallup has been tracking marijuana use beginning in 1969 (when only 4 percent had ever tried it). A substantial 12 percent of Americans currently smoke marijuana, with younger adults most likely to do so…

Currently smoke marijuana
Aged 18 to 29: 18%
Aged 30 to 49: 10%
Aged 50 to 64: 8%
Aged 65-plus: 3%


Who Counts on Family for Financial Help?

Many Millennials would have a lot of trouble paying an unexpected bill of $1,000, according to a GenForward Survey, which defines Millennials as 18-to-34-year-olds. The bimonthly survey is a project of the University of Chicago and administered by NORC. The survey’s purpose is to examine “how race and ethnicity influence how young adults or Millennials experience and think about the world.”

Percent saying they would have a lot of difficulty paying unexpected $1,000 bill
Asians: 28%
Blacks: 50%
Hispanics: 43%
Non-Hispanic Whites: 35%

One factor that would make it difficult for many to pay an unexpected bill is the lack of family resources. When asked whether they could turn to their family for help in paying an unexpected $1,000 bill, the percentage who say yes ranges from a low of 38 percent among Blacks to a high of 64 percent among Asians…

Percent saying they could turn to family for help paying unexpected $1,000 bill
Asians: 64%
Blacks: 38%
Hispanics: 54%
Non-Hispanic Whites: 56%

Asians also are most likely to say their family could help with a down payment for a new car (51 percent) or house (49 percent). They are also most likely to say their family could help them with college tuition or paying off student loans (58 percent).


Who Shops for Groceries Online?

Grocery shopping is slowly moving online, according to the findings of a Gallup survey. Nearly 1 in 10 American families (9 percent) say they shop for groceries online for pickup or delivery at least once or twice a month. Here are the percentages by age…

Shop online for groceries
18 to 29: 15%
30 to 49: 12%
50 to 64: 10%
65-plus: 2%

Despite the significant presence of online grocery shopping, going to a store for groceries is still a universal activity. The percentage who shop for groceries in person at a store at least once or twice a month varies little by age, ranging from 97 to 99 percent.


Income Shocks Are the Norm for Men

In a study of men’s incomes over time, researchers for the National Endowment for Financial Education found income shocks to be the norm. Fully 61 percent of male workers aged 25 to 70 had experienced the loss of an entire year’s worth of income at least once. Among older men, such devastating losses are a nearly universal experience…

Percentage of male workers who have lost all earnings for at least one year
Aged 25 to 34: 40%
Aged 35 to 54: 56%
Aged 55 to 61: 75%
Aged 62 to 65: 87%
Aged 66 to 70: 93%

These income shocks lower the retirement savings of workers in the bottom 50 percent of the income distribution (with annual earnings of $26,531 or less), who struggle to save money. By linking data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation with Social Security and IRS records, the researchers tracked men’s lifetime earnings as well as their contributions to retirement plans and account balances by demographic characteristic. The researchers found that lower-income men are most likely to experience income shocks–82 percent had experienced at least one versus 53 percent of middle-income men and 45 percent of high-income men (with annual earnings of $80,040 or more). When lower-income men experience an income shock, their retirement savings take a hit. For each one-year episode of income loss, workers in the bottom 50 percent of the income distribution saw their retirement savings decline by an average of $3,786. There was no effect on the retirement savings of men in the top 50 percent of the income distribution.

“Nearly everyone will suffer multiple income shocks during their working lives,” conclude the researchers.” Educators and policymakers should “prepare individuals to expect income shocks and educate them on how to manage and recover from financial setbacks with the least possible impact on their retirement savings.”

How Much Money Is in 401(k) Accounts?

According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 54 million American workers were active 401(k) participants in 2015. Total 401(k) assets amounted to $4.4 trillion at the end of 2015–19 percent of all retirement assets. But how much have individual participants stashed away?

EBRI has the answers. The median 401(k) account balance was $16,732 in 2015. The average balance was $73,357. Here is the distribution of participants by the size of their account…

Distribution of 401(k) participants by size of account, 2015
$10,000 or less: 41.3%
$10,001 to $50,000: 28.2%
$50,001 to $100,000: 11.1%
$100,001 to $200,000: 9.1%
$200,001 or more: 10.2%


More than 1 in 8 Use Antidepressants

Millions of Americans are taking antidepressants, according to data collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Among the population aged 12 or older, more than one in eight (12.7 percent) took an antidepressant medication in the past month in the 2011-2014 time period. Women are far more likely to take antidepressants than men (16.5 versus 8.6 percent), and older women are most likely to take them–nearly one in four women aged 60 or older took an antidepressant in the past month.

% of women (and men) taking antidepressant in past month
Aged 12 to 19: 5.0% (1.9%)
Aged 20 to 39: 9.8% (5.9%)
Aged 40 to 59: 21.2% (11.6%)
Aged 60-plus: 24.4% (12.6%)

Antidepressant use has increased since 1999-2002, when 7.7 percent of Americans aged 12 or older had taken medication in the past month. One reason for the growing use of antidepressants is their long-term use. Among those taking an antidepressant in the past month, one in four had been taking the medication for 10 or more years.

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 non-Hispanic White population declined in 18 states between 2000 and 2015, including California, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

Source: Demographics of the U.S., 5th ed


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Change in the fertility rate (number of births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44) by race and Hispanic origin, 2000 to 2015:

Asian: -11%
Black: -10%
Hispanic: -25%
Non-Hispanic White: +1%