American Consumers Newsletter

by Cheryl Russell, Editorial Director, New Strategist Press
March 2011

What’s So Special about Detroit?


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

1. Hot Trends 

What’s So Special about Detroit?

During the Super Bowl, a two-minute television advertisement aired for the 2011 Chrysler 200 automobile, showcasing Detroit with Eminem as soundtrack. The ad was such a sensation (9 million views on YouTube so far) that the company proceeded to wrap (literally) its Auburn Hills, Michigan headquarters with an enormous banner carrying the newly legendary tagline: “Imported from Detroit.” T-shirts promoting those strangely powerful words were rushed into production and sold out within hours. Chrysler promises to produce more.

Americans can’t seem to get enough of Detroit. Entire web sites are devoted to images of its abandoned buildings. Some Detroit residents–current and former–are offended by the online ogling of Detroit’s “ruin porn,” as it is sometimes called. But those coming to the defense of Detroit need not worry. The root of our obsession has shifted from condemnation to admiration. The metropolitan area has become a  mirror of America, and we can’t tear our eyes away from what we see. Take a look at Detroit:

  • Unemployment rate: 11.1% (December 2010).
  • Median housing value: – 36% (2003 to 2009, after adjusting for inflation).
  • Homeowners underwater on their mortgage: 19% (2009).
  • Median household income: -23% (1999 to 2009, after adjusting for inflation).

It looks bad, and it is bad. But Detroit is doing no worse than the rest of the United States–it is just a few steps ahead of us. Nationally, the unemployment rate is a stubbornly high 8.9 percent. Nationally, the decline in housing values exceeds that of the Great Depression–a 26 percent loss since prices peaked in 2006, according to the Zillow Home Value Index. Nationally, the percentage of homeowners who are underwater on their mortgage doubled from 4 to 8 percent between 2003 and 2009. Nationally, median household income fell 5 percent between 1999 and 2009, after adjusting for inflation. Detroit has been there, done that.


The reflective power of Detroit has Hogwarts-like magical properties. In the mirror of Detroit, we can see ourselves as we used to be, as we are now, and as we might be in the future. In Detroit’s world-class industries, we see our past glory. In Detroit’s devastated landscape, we see our ruined economy. In the rebirth of Chrysler and General Motors, we see our resolve to make things work again.


The metamorphosis of Detroit in the American psyche occurred in three distinct stages. In the first stage we were bystanders watching the train wreck of Detroit from afar. In the second stage we discovered, much to our horror, that we were on the train ourselves. Now in the third stage, we–like Detroit–are climbing out of the wreckage and trying to figure out what happens next. That’s why “Imported from Detroit” struck such a chord with the public. It called us back from a faraway land where we had become expatriates from the American experience, separated from what made us great: hard work, real products, modest goals, and good ideas. Americans are obsessed with Detroit because Detroit is us. But to make Detroit’s future–and our own–something we want, we have to bet our money on it. So far, sales of the 2011 Chrysler 200 have been disappointing.


By Cheryl Russell, editorial director, New Strategist Publications. If you have questions or comments about the above editorial, contact


Percentage of households spending out-of-pocket on prescription drugs during an average week: 18%.

Source: American Buyers: Demographics of Shopping

2. Q & A

Update: How Many Americans Are Gay?
Every few years the National Center for Health Statistics surveys the American public about its sexual behavior and orientation. The latest survey results have just been released, and they are a lot less interesting than you might expect–mostly because little has changed.


Asking the kinds of questions that would make your mother blush, the National Survey of Family Growth examines family development from first sexual encounter to ongoing sexual behavior, sexual orientation, sex practices, contraceptive use, fertility, infertility, pregnancy, marriage, and divorce. By focusing on people aged 15 to 44, it captures current trends. The survey was once limited to women, but expanded to include men in 2002. The latest data, from the 2006-08 cycle of interviews, confirms many of the findings from the 2002 survey.


According to the latest report, Sexual Behavior, Sexual Attraction, and Sexual Identity in the United States: Data from the 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth, 4.6 percent of women aged 18 to 44 identify themselves as lesbian or bisexual. This is up from 4.1 percent in 2002. Among men in the age group, 2.8 percent identify themselves as gay or bisexual, down from 4.1 percent in 2002. While the numbers have changed, the changes are minor.


In another take on the issue of sexual orientation, the survey asks whether people are attracted to the opposite sex or the same sex. Among women aged 18 to 44, 83.3 percent say they are sexually attracted only to men. Among men in the age group, 93.5 percent say they are sexually attracted only to women. These figures are also similar to 2002 results (85.7 percent of women and 92.2 percent of men).


When asked whether they had ever had any same-sex contact, 12.5 percent of women and 5.2 percent of men aged 15 to 44 answered yes (in 2002, the figures were 11.2 and 6.0 percent, respectively). Among men, same-sex contact was specifically defined as oral or anal sex. Among women, the questions were about oral sex and a broader “sexual experience of any kind.” The broader question posed to women may account for the much larger percentage of women who have had same-sex contact.


You may scoff at the notion that respondents will answer questions about sexual behavior and orientation honestly. It is no doubt true that many are lying. But they are lying consistently over the years. Consistency makes this survey a valuable addition to our knowledge about sexual behavior and orientation in the United States.


By Cheryl Russell, editorial director, New Strategist Publications. If you have any questions or comments about the above Q & A, contact


Share of cigarette spending controlled by householders with a high school diploma or less education: 53%.

Source: Household Spending: Who Spends How Much on What, 15th edition

3. Cool Research Links

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

2010 Homeownership Statistics
Homeownership statistics for 2010 by age, household type, race, region, and other characteristics are now available on this Census Bureau site. Some of the findings: the number of homeowners fell to 74.8 million in 2010, which is 805,000 less than the peak number of 2006. The homeownership rate fell 2.1 percentage points to 66.9 percent since peaking at 69.0 percent in 2004. Between 2004 and 2010, the homeownership rate fell the most (5.8 percentage points) among householders aged 30 to 34.

Race and the Recession
Blacks are far more optimistic than whites about the future of the United States, according to this new poll by Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard University. Fifty-nine percent of blacks think America’s best days lie ahead compared with only 40 percent of whites and 44 percent of Hispanics. Sixty-five percent of blacks feel financially secure, almost as high as the 67 percent of whites who feel that way. When asked whether the current economic situation is a cause of stress in their life, only 43 percent of blacks say yes compared with 56 percent of whites and 58 percent of Hispanics.

Arts Participation Study
The National Endowment for the Arts surveys the American public every few years to determine their participation in the arts. Over the years it has found declining participation in certain types of arts activities. A new study available at this link, Age and Arts Participation: The Case Against Demographic Destiny, examines the demographics of arts participation and concludes that perhaps the NEA has been defining the “arts” too narrowly. Other studies cited in the report find greater participation in the arts when the definition is broadened to include activities such as watching television shows like Glee and dancing at clubs.


Age group that spends the most on cash gifts for people in other households: 75+.

Source: Best Customers, 7th edition

4. Find out how American Consumers Spend their Money

Consumers are cutting their spending, making it vital to get the answers to Who buys? What do they buy? How much do they spend? And, most importantly, what will they cut as their incomes fall and expenses rise?

  • NEW TITLE American Buyers: Demographics of Shopping is a groundbreaking new guide to buying patterns, essential information in these difficult economic times. Its weekly and quarterly spending data show you how many households buy certain products and services and how much buyers pay for them, all broken down by age, household income, household type, race and Hispanic origin, region of residence, and education.
  • Starting a new business? Repositioning your products? In the new 15th edition of the annually updated Household Spending: Who Spends How Much on What, you get dollar-for-dollar answers to who is buying hundreds of products and services ranging from laundry detergent and phone cards to motorcycles, wine, and restaurant meals.
  • Best Customers: Demographics of Consumer Demand, 7th ed., is a unique guide to how changing demographics are reshaping the consumer marketplace. Find out who spends the most and who controls market share–often surprisingly different–for over 300 products and services.
  • The 14 volumes in the Who’s Buying Series, which can be purchased individually or as a set, give you the big picture about consumer spending by age, income, household type, race, Hispanic origin, region of residence, and education. Each volume focuses on an individual product category, ranging from apparel and beverages to restaurants, consumer electronics, and travel.

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


Married couples with adult children living at home are the biggest spenders on luggage.

Source: Who’s Buying for Travel, 7th edition