Disdaining Wal-Mart, Meeting Strangers, Etc.

They probably don’t shop at Wal-Mart, but that doesn’t stop high-income Americans from having strong opinions about it. A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg survey asked adults whether they think Wal-Mart is, on balance, good or bad for the U.S. economy, or has no effect either way. The overall responses: 12 percent “very good,” 26 percent “fairly good,” 16 percent “fairly bad,” 14 percent “very bad” and 12 percent “no effect.” Fifteen percent said they haven’t heard enough about it to have an opinion, and another 4 percent fell into the “don’t know” category. As you might guess, respondents in the $100,000-plus income class were more likely than others to voice a negative opinion about Wal-Mart’s impact (20 percent “very bad” and 26 percent “fairly bad,” vs. 14 percent “very good,” 22 percent “fairly good” and 12 percent “no effect”). What’s as striking, though, is that just 5 percent said they hadn’t heard enough to give an opinion, with another 2 percent in the “don’t know” column. Compare that with the responses of people in the under-$40,000 bracket—i.e., those who actually tend to shop at Wal-Mart. They were more apt to say “good” (12 percent “very,” 28 percent “fairly”) than “bad” (16 percent “fairly,” 12 percent “very,” with another 10 percent saying “no effect”). But they were also much more likely than the high-income respondents to feel they weren’t sufficiently informed to opine on the topic, with 19 percent picking that answer and another 4 percent saying they simply don’t know.

Does this tell you something about their table manners? Thirty-seven percent of men have bought some sort of stain-resistant apparel, says a report from The NPD Group, while just 15 percent of women have done so. Then again, this may reflect the inclinations of menswear makers more than those of menswear buyers. The report says makers of men’s clothes have been quicker than manufacturers of women’s apparel to embrace “technical fabrics.” One other example: 58 percent of men report purchasing wrinkle-resistant clothing, vs. one-third of women.

As consumer brands enthuse about the marketing potential of social-networking sites, they’ll also wish to keep an eye on the riskier aspects of the phenomenon. The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania surveyed people age 14-22 who use such sites. One question asked them whether “a stranger, not known to them or their friends, had ever contacted them online without their consent in order to get to know them.” Forty percent said this has happened to them—a number that will alarm people who already view the medium as a godsend for sexual predators and other bad apples. Among respondents who use the Internet but don’t use social-networking sites, 20 percent reported being contacted online by strangers. Elsewhere in the poll, 3.3 percent of those who use the sites said they have had offline meetings with strangers who’d contacted them online. As Annenberg remarks in its analysis of the findings, these rendezvous “may well have had nothing to do with sexual predation.” But if even a few of them did, that’s enough to give the whole enterprise an iffy reputation in the eyes of parents, if not in the eyes of the young folks themselves.

Though a gap remains, women continue their inexorable march toward income parity with men. A new report on the topic from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that median earnings for women last year were 81 percent of those for men, among full-time wage and salary workers. In 1979, when comparable data was first collected, women earned 63 percent as much as men. The current gap is considerably smaller among young workers than among their elders (see chart below), another sign that the labor force is outgrowing the earnings gap. Women do continue to be comparatively scarce at the upper end of the income scale. “Just 6 percent of women earned $1,500 or more per week, compared with 14 percent of men,” notes the report. This is consistent with the fact that managerial/ professional men are still more likely to be employed in such high-paying professions as engineering, while managerial/professional women are more likely to be in such low-paying fields as teaching. More broadly, though, college-educated women have seen much bigger income gains in the past few decades than have college-educated men. Between 1979 and 2005, inflation-adjusted earnings for women with college degrees climbed 34 percent, vs. 18 percent for men with degrees.