Mark Dolliver’s Takes

diverging paths: Life Would Be Simpler if Men Were More Marriageable
It’s not that men are from Mars and women from Venus. They begin on the same planet but head in different directions. So suggests a new report by the National Marriage Project, a research effort based at Rutgers University. In this installment, it looked at never-married noncollege Americans in their 20s–i.e., those who neither attend nor hold degrees from four-year colleges. In focus groups, researchers found these men and women “enter their 20s with nearly identical goals. Their first priority is to achieve independence by getting a decent job and a place of their own.” Marriage isn’t an issue. Nor does “romantic love”
figure much in the “mating culture” of these 20somethings. “The men and women in these focus groups rarely volunteer the word ‘love’ or use the phrase ‘falling in love.’ Instead of ‘love,’ they talk about ‘sex’ and ‘relationships.’ ” Alas, the nonmarital marriage of true minds doesn’t last, and “by the second half of their 20s, men’s and women’s timetables for marriage begin to diverge.” Single men are content as is; single women “become more serious about the search for a marriage partner.” Little wonder the latter look askance at the former. “The more they advance into their 20s, the more disenchanted these young women seem to become about the pool of prospective mates and the likelihood of finding a husband.” The researchers share this disenchantment. The women “appear more ‘together’ than the men–more confident, articulate, responsible and mature.” The men are “less able to articulate clear goals”; the goals they do articulate “are often unserious, unfocused or unrealistic.” This disconnect helps explain why marriage rates are declining. “If the present marriage trend continues, some demographers are predicting that fewer than 85 percent of current young adults will ever marry.” Moreover, despite ample data documenting the “economic benefits of marriage,” these men and women “tend to see marriage as exposing them to economic risk and possibly jeopardizing their hard-won individual independence.”

unhated After all: Beyond Health-Plan Phobia
It’s the recurring theme of ads: People hate their healthcare plans. But that premise is false, judging by a Kaiser Family Foundation/Consumer Reports survey of 18-64-year-olds who are insured. Asked to grade their health-insurance plan, 22 percent gave it an A and 42 percent gave a B. Just 2 percent handed out an F. Of those who had contact with their plan during the past year, 84 percent found its staffers “friendly and helpful.” Even among those who had a problem with their health plan in that period, 71 percent “report their recent experiences as positive.” On the downside, 3 percent of those who had a problem said they suffered a “very serious decline in health” as a result. And as you can see from the chart, health plans stand high in the hierarchy of institutions that get on people’s nerves. Still, the bulk of the polling data suggests consumers won’t be responsive to ads that depict health plans as villains. One other intriguing info-tidbit:
15 percent of respondents said they’ve been treated for a “serious or life-threatening health condition” during the past 12 months.

what, me worry? Detecting a Potential Fly In Greenspan’s Ointment
When the Fed pushes up interest rates, it hopes to blunt consumers’ enthusiasm for big-ticket purchases. And it works–sort of. Unfortunately, a Gallup poll indicates the higher rates exert this sobering effect mainly on people who weren’t big spenders in the first place. Among those earning less than $20,000 a year, roughly four in 10 said higher loan rates have put a damper on major spending decisions. But the same is true for just 28 percent of respondents making $50,000 and up–i.e., the people whose vigorous spending threatens to overheat the economy. If you’re a net lender (with money-market accounts in your portfolio, say) and not a net borrower, might a rise in interest rates make you feel more prosperous rather than more cautious? Given consumers’ natural bias in favor of spending, it’s a fair guess.

satisfaction: Precarious Finances Don’t Necessarily Spoil the Party
It takes more than the biggest boom in history to exhaust Americans capacity for spending every cent they’ve got. The chart below, using data from a Bloomberg News poll, shows a strikingly high proportion of people living from paycheck to paycheck. Does the anxiety of doing so cast a pall on their overall quality of life? Not to judge by another of the findings. Asked whether they’re “satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in your own life today,” 83 percent of respondents declared themselves satisfied. Obviously, they’re factoring in more than their bank balances when they make this judgment. But it’s not as if all those who live hand to mouth think it reflects poorly on their finances. While the chart shows 18 percent of respondents scraping by from paycheck to paycheck, just 12 percent said (in response to another of the poll’s questions) they’re in “poor shape” financially. Nonetheless, the survey did detect a surprising degree of negativity when it asked whether this is “a good time or a bad time” to make some major purchases. For example, 25 percent of respondents said it’s a bad time to buy a car; 33 percent said it’s a bad time to buy a house. Finally, what would Americans do with a $50,000 windfall from the lottery? Something prudent, for the most part. Nearly half those polled would either save the cash (15 percent) or invest it in stocks (32 percent). Another 29 percent would use it to pay bills, while just 20 percent would “spend it on things I need and want.”

‘burban boomers: Tracing the Wrinkles In Urban Demographics
Will empty-nest baby boomers revive the nation’s central cities by moving in from the burbs? Don’t bet on it, says an article in The Brookings Review. The author, demographer William H. Frey, says boomers look more likely to “age in place” or to make a “local move” within the burbs. The boomers are a “suburban generation,” and he notes that 35-54-year-olds (except for Hispanics) “are less likely to reside in the city than either today’s elderly or adults now in their 20s and early 30s.” Frey also discusses a possible trend toward a “racial generation gap” in urban areas, with Los Angeles as the model. At present, “Los Angeles County’s elderly population is still majority white, its working-age population is only about one-third white, and its child population is predominantly Hispanic and other racial and ethnic groups.”

heaven and hell: Quantifying Religion As a Glamour-Reader ‘Do’
It may not rise to the level of a fashion accessory. But religion plays a large enough role in the lives of young women that Glamour takes note of it this month in what it terms “The Soul Poll.” Polling its readers on their beliefs and practices, the magazine found 40 percent saying they “attend religious services at least once a month.” Another 18 percent show up for “services on holidays.” Just over half of the survey participants (52 percent) said, “Spirituality and religion are a part of my everyday life.” The formulation of that question is telling as it treats “spirituality” and “religion” as distinct phenomena. But that’s the way young women (and men) feel about the matter. As you can see from the chart, the respondents are ecumenical in their views of what constitutes a spiritual experience. But don’t interpret that to mean they’ve wandered off into New Age byways. Asked whether they “hold the same spiritual and religious beliefs as your parents,” 60 percent said “yes.” Moreover, 47 percent would have a “problem” dating or marrying “someone who holds different spiritual and religious beliefs than you.” As for an afterlife, 49 percent believe “you either go to heaven or hell” when you die; 14 percent think “you get reincarnated.” Incidentally, Glamour isn’t the only Condƒ Nast title to get religion lately. A study conducted for Gourmet by the Y&R Brand Futures Group (since relaunched as The Intelligence Factory) found many of that magazine’s readers “seek social interaction by sharing meals with members of their church or spiritual affiliation.”

mixed blessings: Keeping Down the Vote, Dead Rodent of the Week, Those Welcome Dopes, Etc.
If interest in the presidential race continues to decline at this pace, the election could hinge on which candidate has more relatives of voting age. A Washington Post/ABC News poll this month found 13 percent of adults saying they’re following the race “very closely”–down from 17 percent in April and 24 percent in February. The number who say they’re “certain to vote” is also on a downward trajectory, tumbling from 72 percent last October to 60 percent this month. In light of such numbers, one can’t say voters are indifferent to the campaign. They must be downright hostile to it.

Cute babies in ads are a dime a dozen, but conspicuously uncute ones are rare. Thus, the American Academy of Dermatology will grab attention with an ad urging parents to slather their youngsters with sunscreen lest the tykes fall prey to “premature aging and even skin cancer.” The pro bono campaign was created by Publicis & Hal Riney of Chicago.

No actual mice died of old age in the making of Cypress Communications’ new ad. But the skeletal photo aptly illustrates the impatience an Internet user can feel when stuck with a slow connection. The ad (via Huey/Paprocki of Atlanta) also supports a Takes theory about cyberspace-related advertising: Ads that complain about the shortcomings of the Internet age are almost always more engaging than ones that rhapsodize about its great glories. The former ring true as the latter seldom do.

You wouldn’t guess it from the way they’re depicted in popular culture, but born-again Christians are less and less likely to fit the stereotype of a semiliterate white yokel. A study by Barna Research finds Asian-Americans are now the fastest-growing component of the born-again population, with the percentage expressing such faith up from 5 percent in 1991 to 27 percent today. The born-again population also skews farther up the income scale: 25 percent live in households with incomes of $60,000-plus. The regional part of the stereotype retains more validity, with born-agains still concentrated in the South. “In fact, there are 40 percent more born-again adults living in the South than in the Northeast and West combined,” says the Barna report.

What a poor thing human knowledge would be without fashion magazines to fill in the gaps. The current Harper’s Bazaar, for instance, describes a Clinique poll of women about their hair. Los Angeles women have the greatest hair contentment, perhaps because the lack of humidity means fewer bad hair days. Miami women use above-average amounts of conditioner “to combat the effects of color-fading rays and frizz-causing humidity.” New York women spend the most time styling their hair each day (on average, 26 minutes!). The article expresses skepticism about the blondes of Dallas, which has “the lowest number of women admitting to coloring their hair.”

Ten years ago, commercials featured sad-sack characters getting fired for choosing the wrong phone system and soon-to-be-downsized middle managers who couldn’t figure out their computers. In the current boom, we’re more apt to see characters getting rich through online trading or picking the perfect software for their dynamic startup companies. And let’s face it: It’s tedious to see smart, successful types day in, day out. That’s the key to the appeal of Reebok’s Survivor-themed commercials (via Berlin, Cameron & Partners, New York). Showing dorks who can turn a stroll through the woods into a fiasco, they satisfy our hunger to see people far stupider than we are. In the spot shown here, the lads have drifted onto an unfamiliar shore while out fishing in a dinghy. Convinced they’re marooned on a desert island, they promptly eat the worms they’ve brought as bait. No sooner have they done so than a jogger goes by, indicating the comforts (and foods) of civilization are not out of reach. Unless you’ve just eaten worms yourself, the scene provides a welcome sense of superiority