The Crybaby Factor, Loving The Blues, Etc.

High gas prices bring out the crybaby in Americans. The wording of a Gallup poll catered to that tendency as it asked people whether they believe current gas prices are “fair” or “unfair.” Such terminology seems better suited to a kid’s temper tantrum than to characterizing the impersonal workings of global commodity markets. Still, 78 percent of respondents seized the chance to declare current gas prices unfair, while 20 percent (less querulously, though no more logically) said they’re fair. One wonders how much this sense of ill-treatment will spill over to other matters that people find not to their liking. Ever since the ’90s boom ended, it’s been hard for marketers to gain what economists call “pricing power.” Now, along with conventional economic factors, companies will have to cope with consumers’ rubbed-raw belief that price rises are intrinsically unfair.

Among the things men find puzzling about women, female insistence on toting handbags must be near the top of the list. A new report from The NPD Group quantifies women’s fidelity to this accessory. For starters, 44 percent of girls and women age 13-plus said they’ve bought at least one in the past year, whether for themselves or as a gift for someone else. On average, each of them bought three, helping push to six the number of handbags the typical woman owns. During any given week, though, most women use just one. Teens are more likely than their elders to switch handbags, in part because they’ve spent fewer years accumulating stuff in their primary bag. Women would have more cash in those bags, of course, if they didn’t buy so many. The average price of the handbag the women bought most recently is $42.

When an ad says a husband is his wife’s “personal mechanical bull,” you might start looking for the medical-disclaimer info about four-hour erections and whatnot. But this ad for Kemo Sabe is touting a retailer of western wear, not anything pharmacological. And, rightly or otherwise, ads for cowboy hats and such aren’t obliged to disclose possible adverse side effects. The ad was created by Bezos/Nathanson of New York, whose offices on Fifth Avenue leave it suitably straddling the East and West sides.

Color matters to consumers, but not in simply predictable ways. That becomes clear in perusing the results of a study by BuzzBack Market Research and Pantone, in which participants were shown a palette of 44 colors and asked questions about them. Shades of blue fared best when people were asked to pick their favorite color, winning three of the top four spots. (The most-disliked colors were Bright Chartreuse and Plush Moss.) Still, that doesn’t mean consumers necessarily want to buy stuff that’s blue. “With the exception of apparel, there is little relationship between what people say is their favorite color and their color preference in a given category.” Thus, while the report notes that people don’t choose Bright White as their favorite color, it’s nonetheless the color of choice for personal-care items like toothpaste and body lotion. And it shares that status with Black Limo when it comes to household appliances. The study also makes it clear how varied people’s reactions can be to the same color. In a word-association section of the poll, Bright White was called “boring” by 18 percent of respondents, while 13 percent each called it “healthy,” “trustworthy” or “fresh.”

Women’s labor-force participation rate has declined a shade—from 60 percent in 1999 to 59 percent last year. Nonetheless, a new report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics documents the continuing transformation of a workforce that as recently as 1970 was lopsidedly male. For one thing, motherhood has not deterred younger women from staying in the workforce: Of those with kids under age 18, 71 percent worked last year. Even among those with kids under age 6, 62 percent were in the workforce. The same goes for 57 percent of mothers whose kids are under age 3. Among the numerous other info-tidbits in the report: “Women held half of all management, professional and related occupations in 2004.” But the study adds that the female share varied dramatically from one occupation to another. The chart (above right) gives a small sampling of job categories and the degree to which they are populated by women. Employed women were more than twice as likely as employed men to be working part-time last year (26 percent vs. 11 percent). There was a smaller gender gap in the incidence of self-employment among people who worked last year (5.6 percent of women, 8 percent of men). Women were somewhat more likely than men to hold multiple jobs (5.6 percent vs. 4.9 percent), though that phenomenon has been on the decline for both sexes in recent years.

If only “rush hour” really lasted just an hour. A report on travel conditions in 85 urban areas, issued last week by the Texas Transportation Institute, was full of data about growing congestion on the roads. The conventional rush hours are worse than ever, naturally. Among the most striking findings, though, was the fact that traffic is miserable during more and more of the day. Comparing conditions in 1982 with those of 2003, the report said: “The number of hours of the day when congestion might be encountered has grown from about 4.5 hours to about 7.1 hours.” Though congestion has worsened the most in very large metro areas during the past couple decades, it was bad there to begin with. Thus, the most conspicuous changes have been in smaller metros, which enjoyed relatively free-flowing traffic 20 years ago. Traffic congestion in the small urban areas, “although not a significant problem for most peak-period travel, has increased to about 30 percent of peak-travel miles.”

No wonder Father’s Day hasn’t become the marketing extravaganza that Mother’s Day is. Adult offspring just aren’t as enamored with the old man. A poll by AARP The Magazine found 40 percent of baby boomers picking their mothers as their “favorite parent,” vs. 20 percent choosing their fathers. Likewise, 63 percent of boomers said love is “the strongest emotion they felt toward their mother, compared with 41 percent who say the same about their father.” Despite being seen more often as the “primary disciplinarian,” mom outpointed dad as the more fun parent (39 percent vs. 32 percent).