Free-Spending Optimists, Drinkers vs. Smokers, Etc.

Downward mobility just can’t get much traction. Amid recession and war, we might expect Americans to feel they’re living worse than their parents did at the same age. But few of them do. In a poll conducted for Adweek by Alden & Associates Marketing Research of Hermosa Beach, Calif., 77 percent of adults said they’re living better than their parents did, versus 7 percent faring worse. (The rest said they’re doing “the same.”) The “better” vote was highest among 50-64-year-olds (82 percent) and 18-24s (81 percent). The laggards, relatively speaking, were the25-34s (68 percent) and 35-49s (73 percent). Perhaps people who are now stressed by child-rearing forget how much trouble they gave their own parents a generation ago.

It’s a lucky thing for marketers that Americans are inveterate optimists. A study by Publicis Dialog finds optimists more likely thanpessimists to keep spending in the face of recession. Indeed, “optimists with lower incomes spend the same as pessimists with higher incomes.” Pessimists are more likely than optimists to cope with post-Sept. 11 stress by saving money; optimists are more likely than pessimists to cope by shopping.

If the recession forces women to spend less on self-indulgence, what will they forgo? Given a menu of choices in an online poll by Allure, women said they’d be least likely to cut back on skin-care and hair-care goods and most likely to skip jewelry and nail-care products. Economics aside, 54 percent plan to change their looks in 2002. The leading candidate for a makeover is weight/physique (cited by 40 percent). Other top areas are hairstyle (38 percent) and clothes (27 percent).

Guess who makes the most money: (a) people who work exclusively at home, (b) people who work at home and at a workplace other than home, or (c) people who toil only at an away-from-home workplace? A new Census report (analyzing data for 1997) says home-and-away workers average about $15,000 more per year than those who work solely at home or away from home. In all, 9.3 million Americans (7 percent of the labor force) worked at home at least one full day per “typical week” in spring/summer 1997.

What separates man from the lesser beasts? Dental floss. Polling by ORC International finds 80 percent of adults claiming to floss, though a bare majority (53 percent) say they do it every day. While 72 percent go to the dentist at least once a year and 50 percent go two or more times, that leaves a large minority as fugitives from dental justice. Nonetheless, 92 percent of adults say their teeth and gums are healthy, including the 50 percent who rate them “very healthy.”

Latest instance of the media’s newfound zeal for family togetherness: The new Gourmet devotes its main cover line to “4 Family Feasts,” while a secondary teaser promises insight into “Eating with children.” Are ordinary Americans as fixated on family as trend-spotters seem to believe? There have been surveys in which people say they’re now spending more time with family. But it would take exceptional gumption these days to tell a pollster you’re spending less time with family or to confess you care no more than usual about your near and dear ones. Even if it is real, a sudden mania for family is apt to yield a backlash. Don’t be surprised if the airlines start offering “escape-from-your-family fares” before long.

Choose your vices carefully. The chart below, based on a Gallup poll, suggests the wisdom of doing so. As you can see, regular drinkers are more likely than adults in general to feel healthy, while smokers are markedly less likely. If the poll broke out data on tobacco-free drinkers (it doesn’t), we can surmise they’d be sickeningly robust. Then there are the souls who never drink. How do they feel? As lousy as smokers, with 19 percent of teetotalers rating their health excellent and 32 percent calling it fair/poor. Thirty percent of respondents never touch a drop, while 24 percent do so “only on special occasions.” At the other end of the spectrum, 7 percent drink every day and 12 percent do so a few times a week. Twenty-six percent smoked in the week prior to being questioned.