Mark Dolliver’s Takes

the ethical scorecard: Maybe if Ad People Performed the Occasional Surgery
If Americans gave ad executives high marks for honesty, you’d hear of it on the nightly news. The results of a recent Gallup poll were more of the “dog bites man” variety, though, as advertising practitioners ranked near the bottom of the list when Americans were asked to assess 45 professions on “honesty and ethical standards.” Few respondents rated ad people “very high” (1 percent) or “high” (8 percent) on that basis, while plenty branded them “low” (33 percent) or “very low” (7 percent). Who fared well in the rankings? Nurses topped the list, with a combined “very high” and “high” score of 73 percent.
Rounding out the top five were pharmacists (69 percent), veterinarians (63 percent), medical doctors (58 percent) and schoolteachers (57 percent). Judges and policemen were also in the top 10, as were dentists. No doubt these professions are chock full of honest people. Still, one wonders if an element of wishful thinking is at work in respondents’ judgments. Perhaps we believe these people are trustworthy because the contrary possibility is too scary to abide. By contrast, there’s little at stake for us in our choice of cola or paper towels, so we needn’t overcome any psychological impediment to distrusting the people who tout those things. Indeed, we take pride in our ability to see through them. And while few of us get a second opinion from medical people–which could easily cast distrust on the person who gave us the first opinion–we’re always getting second opinions from the ads of rival brands. Under the circumstances, advertising practitioners could be the most ethical souls on earth–as surely they are!–and they still wouldn’t score well in these surveys. Does this analysis make you feel better? If not, it probably reflects the fact that journalists don’t fare particularly well in the rankings either.
a quiet night at home: Best News in 1,000 Years
Sure, some have worried that the world will go haywire on Jan. 1, 2000. That’s nothing, though, to the anxiety people have felt about a once-in-a-millennium New Year’s Eve. Would they be left sitting at home while everyone else on earth partied like mad? Happily, early evidence indicates that most people will be sitting at home. Listen carefully and you’ll hear a sigh of relief encircling the globe in response to this news. A Time/CNN poll does its bit for national equanimity by revealing that 72 percent of Americans don’t expect to do “something special” that evening. Just one in five said their plans for New Year’s Eve are “bigger than usual.” Seventy-five percent plan to stay home, and 68 percent expect to spend the evening with friends and family. (But what if those friends and relatives also plan on being at home? Now there’s a Y2K problem!) Twenty percent intend to be having sex when the clock strikes midnight–and no, the data did not indicate whether this cohort overlaps with the respondents who plan nothing special.
contented: More Signs That the ’90s Will Be the Good Old Days
Where are the downward-mobility plaints of yesteryear? As recently as the early ’90s, no comparison of generational finances was complete without a remark that young adults could never afford to buy the homes in which they grew up. Now they buy the older generation’s houses and tear them down to build fancier ones. The chart here, drawn from polling conducted for Parade magazine, shows that a significant minority of Americans don’t feel they’ve surpassed their parents in key measures of well-being. But there’s no mistaking the preponderance of belief that people are better off than their parents were at the same age. (The survey sample consisted of parents over the age of 45 with adult children and adult children over the age of 25 who have at least one living parent.)
That comparative sense of well-being reflects a more basic contentment. Asked to assess their lives “overall,” 38.9 percent of respondents were “very satisfied” and 50.5 percent “somewhat satisfied,” versus 7.7 percent “somewhat dissatisfied” and 1.2 percent “very dissatisfied.” When the poll inquired about particular aspects of respondents’ lives, marriage and family relationships tallied especially high levels of satisfaction. Dissatisfaction was highest with regard to people’s “financial situation,” with “physical fitness” and “sex life” not far behind. Asked to specify their “biggest financial concern/hardship,” respondents put “college/education costs” atop the list, just ahead of “health care” and “house payments/mortgage.”
Another section of the survey invited respondents to express their approval or disapproval of various phenomena of life today. People were fairly indulgent about premarital sex, with 23.1 percent saying they “strongly approve” and 40.9 percent “somewhat” approving, versus 17.6 percent saying they “somewhat disapprove” and 16.7 percent “strongly” disapproving. Far less slack was cut for extramarital sex, with 76.2 percent saying they “strongly disapprove” and 15.3 percent “somewhat” disapproving. Even cloning elicited strong disapproval from fewer of the respondents (72.9 percent). Also scoring high in the “strongly disapprove” column were “same-sex marriages” (53.8 percent), “adoptions by same-sex partners” (50.3 percent) and “same-sex relationships” (47.3 percent).
old news: So Much for the Notion Of an Ever-Youthful Nation
As baby boomers enter their AARP years, are Americans psychologically prepared to live in a nation of geezers? More than you might think. As a matter of fact, a Harris Poll finds vast numbers of people think the U.S. is already replete with old folks. Although 13 percent of Americans are now age 65 or older, respondents’ median guess put the figure at 36 percent. Similarly, while the Census Bureau estimates the 65-and-over cohort will still be 13 percent of the population in 2010, respondents believed it will rise to 46 percent. Given the youth-oriented skew of pop culture, it’s all the more striking that so many Americans misperceive the U.S. as Florida writ large. Conducted in conjunction with the International Longevity Center, the polling also found that older Americans are not a bunch of layabouts–or, at least, would prefer not to be. Among people age 55 and up, 3.7 million who don’t currently work would like to do so. The ranks of the “ready, willing and able” include 1 million age 55-64 and 2.7 million age 65 and older. At present, 36 percent of those age 55-plus are employed, including 17 percent who work full-time, 10 percent who toil part-time and 9 percent who are self-employed.