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THE GOLDEN PAST: Is the World Better Now Than When You Were a Kid?
Ask people how they're faring in the prosperous '90s and large majorities will say they're thriving. They routinely tell pollsters they're better off than their parents were at the same age. So this is the best of all possible worlds, right? Not quite. Booming or not, it can't compete with the remembered world of our youth. In a survey conducted for Adweek by marketing research firm Alden & Associates of Hermosa Beach, Calif., people were asked: "In general, is the world a better or worse place than it was when you were a kid?" "Worse" drubbed "better" by a margin of 65.2 percent to 34.8 percent. Women were even more likely than men (70.3 percent versus 56.5 percent) to say the world is worse now than it was when they were kids. Might it be that women have a jaundiced view of the "progress" they've supposedly made in recent decades? Age was another dividing line on this issue, with respondents 65 and over yielding the highest "worse" vote (75.9 percent) and the 18-24-year-olds recording the lowest (60.7 percent). The polling also found a disparity along economic lines. Among people whose household income is under $15,000, 83.3 percent said the world is now a worse place; among those with incomes of $100,000 or more, the "worse" vote was a much lower (though still substantial) 43.5 percent. And what is it that makes today's world worse than it was when the respondents were kids? Of those who voted "worse," 80.7 percent pointed to "increased violence." The only other factors tallying double digits were "decline in morals, ethics and values" (cited by 17.5 percent) and "drugs" (13.5 percent). Those who said the world is now a better place cited such benign factors as improved technology (49.1 percent) and higher standards of living (25.6 percent).

HAPPY 21ST: Blast Off for Planet Bonzo!
Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the world does not come to an end when 2000 arrives. What will the 21st century look like? An outfit called the Billennium Organizing Committee commissioned a poll to gauge Americans' expectations on that matter. Conducted by National Family Opinion Research, the survey found 56 percent of respondents saying a woman will be elected president--which leaves a remarkably high number who must expect another century of male presidents. On the scientific front, the number who expect the century to yield a cure for AIDS (42 percent) wasn't much higher than the number who think a human clone will be produced (35 percent). Turning their attention skywards, 14 percent believe humans will establish a colony on another planet. We'll get to make new friends, too, if the 12 percent predicting "contact with alien life" are proved correct. Imaginative in some respects, respondents were realists in other ways, with just 5 percent foreseeing "poverty eliminated worldwide" and the same number expecting an end to global pollution.

SOCIAL STUDIES: Ignore the Neighbors And Spank the Children
Surveys consistently show that a majority of Americans like their neighborhoods. But it doesn't always mean they socialize with their neighbors. So one gathers from the latest incarnation of the General Social Survey, a vast study produced each year by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. As the chart shows, Americans have sustained their social contacts with relatives and friends who live outside the neighborhood. "Social evenings" with neighbors, though, have dwindled over the past couple of decades. The report speculates that "work-related contacts" have taken up some of the slack--a plausible guess, given the influx of women into the workplace during those years.
The rise in labor-force participation may also be changing parents' expectations for their kids. One part of the survey asked parents to pick the trait they consider "most important for a child to learn to prepare him or her for life." Forty-nine percent cited "to think for himself or herself," a negligible shift from the 51 percent in 1986's survey. And there was scant change in the number citing "to help others when they need help" (13 percent now, 14 percent then) or "to be well-liked or popular" (1 percent now, 0 percent then). But far fewer picked "to obey" (18.5 percent now, 23 percent then). Maybe obedience matters less for parents who aren't around as much to face the spectacle of their kids' misbehavior. The one trait gaining ground was "to work hard," picked by 11 percent in 1986 and by 18 percent last year. The report surmises that time-pressed parents "are expecting their children to become more responsible."
In the event kids do misbehave, parents are not averse to corporal punishment. While the number approving of a "good, hard spanking" has declined steadily from the 83.5 percent recorded in 1986, it still amounts to 75 percent in the latest survey.

MOMS AND DADS: Hi, Honey, I'm Home
Will the next generation of fathers stay home and raise the kids? If they don't, it'll be a shock to many in the next generation of mothers. Polling among teens by Roper Starch finds 38 percent of girls expecting their husbands will stay home with the kids. A surprising number of them may turn out to be correct, as 25 percent of boys see themselves as stay-at-home parents. A slim majority of the girls (52 percent) have that expectation for themselves. The kids' grandparents better be ready to pitch in: 54 percent of the teens expect to settle near their parents. Leaving aside the issue of offspring, 93 percent of boys and 87 percent of girls expect to work outside the home.

MIXED BLESSINGS: The Lives of a Fruitcake, Student Princes, Etc.
If somebody gives you a fruitcake during the holidays, don't assume you were its first recipient. A poll by Victoria magazine finds 15 percent of participants expecting to receive a fruitcake, and 2 percent said they'll "re-gift" the unloved confection as a present for someone else.
The pursuit of knowledge does not so fully occupy today's college students that they have no time for pursuit of products. In fact, a study by Berkeley, Calif.-based EdVenture Partners finds some students spending so much that one wonders how they find time to study. Asked to quantify their "non-school-related discretionary spending" per month, 10 percent of the collegians put the figure at "more than $1,000." Another 22 percent said they lay out $501-1,000, while 26 percent fell into the $251-500 range. Conforming more closely to the stereotype of the indigent scholar, 42 percent said they spend $250 or less.
Christmas ads are easy (at least in terms of climatological imagery) in the snowbelt. The holidays are tricky, though, for clients in hotter climes. How to create the seasonal mood? A billboard for Randalls, a Texas grocery chain, copes by replacing the usual snowman with a topiary analogue. Ogilvy & Mather's office in balmy Houston created the piece.
There's something about a 9-year-old in uniform. A recent Star-Ledger/Eagleton Poll asked New Jersey parents whether they'd like their kids' schools to require uniforms. Sixty-eight percent said they would; 26 percent termed it a "bad idea." Evidently parents do not live in fear that their kids' individuality will be squelched.
Would you rather drive a BMW than flip burgers? If so, Community College of Southern Nevada is your kind of place. The school happens to have a campus across the street from a McDonald's in Las Vegas. Inspired by that happenstance, R&R Partners of that city created a clever billboard with one arrow pointing to the burger joint and bearing the words, "Ten billion served." Pointing to the college, another arrow said, "How to avoid a life of serving them." We suspect R&R does not have a wealth of McDonald's billings in its future. But perhaps it will scoop up a BMW account on the strength of another execution for the college, in which an education there is graphically linked to one's prospects of owning a Beamer someday and driving it through a nearby car wash.

AUTO GRAPH: So the Horn Isn't a Car's Most Important Part?
Fast-food chains know there's a market for entrƒes people can eat as they're driving. Cell phone companies have tweaked their technology to make it easier to drive and call at the same time. We're happy to report, though, that there's no market whatsoever for books one might read at the same time one drives. A poll of drivers by Firestone found 21 percent confessing they eat and drive and 12 percent saying they phone and drive, but 0 percent said they read as they're driving.
Chances are they do daydream about celebrities as they drive--wondering, for instance, which celeb's help they'd like to have if they got a flat tire. Respondents to the poll sensibly made Mario Andretti their top choice for that task (35 percent), with Michael Jordan their second pick (17 percent). Revealing a gender gap in matters pneumatic, 26 percent of the men preferred Cindy Crawford as guest tire-changer while just 1 percent of the women did so. Meanwhile, aficionados of New York's senatorial contest will note that Hillary Clinton won just 6 percent of the flat-tire vote. Her sometimes-interlocutor, Eleanor Roosevelt, stands higher in driver esteem, judging by another question in the poll. Asked to pick a tour guide for a trip "back in time in the 20th century," 23 percent of respondents opted for FDR's spouse. Only Will Rogers tallied more votes (35 percent), while Mae West trailed badly (9 percent).
As you can see from the chart, drivers are not always a jolly bunch behind the wheel. Elsewhere, the poll found men more likely than women to exceed the speed limit (60 percent versus 53 percent), but that didn't keep men from regarding themselves as the better drivers. Asked whether men or women drive more safely, 69 percent of male respondents said men do. Female respondents thought otherwise, as 76 percent said women are safer. One happy note: Asked to name the component that "affects the safety of your vehicle the most," 0 percent picked the horn. Brakes won the most votes (56 percent), followed by tires (20 percent).

RICKY! JENNIFER!: Latino Friends and Lovers
While Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez have "crossed over" to pan-ethnic stardom, that hasn't diluted their appeal to a Latino audience. Polling by People en Espa„ol asked Hispanics to pick the star with whom they'd most like to film a love scene. Lopez was men's top choice, with Salma Hayek as runner-up. Martin was the fave of female respondents, with Antonio Banderas the second choice. Elsewhere in the poll, Hispanics were asked to name the English-language TV show they'd most like to see with an "all-Latino cast." Friends was the easy winner (picked by 43 percent), with ER a distant second (23 percent).

THANKSGIVING INDEED: Adding Up Adweek's Classified Ads for Jobs
If you want to treat yourself to a new job for the new millennium, the volume of help-wanted linage in Adweek indicates the time is ripe. A couple months ago saw the biggest October total in classifieds history. Not to be outdone, last month was the biggest November ever, with all six regions getting into the act. As has often been the case this year, high-tech jobs are driving the numbers upward.

THE HORROR, THE HORROR: Stars of the Scary Screen
You just can't keep a good monster down. Though many recent movies have been gorier than any in Frankenstein's oeuvre, the big fella was top vote-getter in a Zogby poll that asked adults to pick the century's most-frightening horror character. Freddy Krueger, the manicurically challenged man in the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, ran second, polling 21.2 percent of the vote to Frankenstein's 22.5 percent. Dracula came in third, at 15.6 percent. The data showed a split along ethnic lines. While Frankenstein was top vote-getter among whites (at 23.3 percent), Dracula won among blacks (24.2 percent) and Krueger topped the Hispanic vote (37.7 percent). Political advertisers should bear that in mind as they craft spots to demonize an opponent in the eyes of key constituencies.