Mark Dolliver’s Takes

The phrase “status symbol” has a musty flavor to it, recalling bygone brands of whisky and big-finned ’50s Cadillacs. With traditional notions of hierarchy having faded in recent years, we may imagine status symbols no longer animate people’s ambitions. But we’d be wrong! For all its air of jeans-and-T-shirt egalitarianism, the Internet age has not extinguished these old notions. People may be more circumspect in pursuing emblems of status. On the other hand, they don’t feel obliged to achieve a status before displaying the symbol. In that respect, the trend toward instant gratification has made status symbols more rather than less a presence in daily life. What counts as such a symbol these days? One part of a study by Yahoo! Internet Life and Roper Starch examined the opinions of online adults (i.e., those who’d gone online within the 30 days before being polled). Seventy-four percent said frequent travel abroad is a “symbol of achievement or status to most people,” and49 percent desire this good for themselves. A similar number (71 percent) said owning an expensive car is widely acknowledged as a status symbol, but markedly fewer (37 percent) said they want one. There was a smaller gap between onliners who said owning a vacation home is a status symbol (69 percent) and those who’d like one of their own (58 percent). While you might think eating at expensive restaurants is a treat irrespective of status, there was a wide disparity between the number seeing it as such a symbol (64 percent) and the number who want to do it (41 percent). A seat of power was less appealing than a table at a good restaurant: 39 percent said great status attaches to being a “top executive,” although just 16 percent wanted such a role for themselves. Likewise, 31 percent said there’s high status in holding an “important public position,” even as a mere 9 percent coveted one. It’s more appealing simply to know “famous/prominent people,” regarded as a status symbol by 37 percent and personally desired by 19 percent.

More Money or More Time?
Some high-minded souls believe an economic downturn will be a good thing, liberating Americans from their mania for money and forcing them to stop and smell the flowers. Trouble is, lots of folks simply prefer money to flower-smelling. In a poll conducted for Adweek by Alden & Associates Marketing Research of Hermosa Beach, Calif., respondents were asked: Would you rather have more free time or more money? A majority (albeit a narrow one of 53 percent) said they’d rather have the money. The only age group preferring more leisure was the frazzled 35-49 cohort, among whom 54 percent chose free time. Among people 65 and older, who tend to have time on their hands, 69 percent would rather have more money. Partly reflecting a skew in age, married respondents preferred free time by a slim margin (52 percent), while single people decisively favored more money (59 percent). Income was another salient factor. Among those with household income under $30,000, 66 percent would prefer to have more money; among people in the $100,000-plus bracket, just 39 percent would do so.

Just Blame it on Ignorance, If Not on Improvidence takes
A recent piece in The New York Times said the average retirement age is rising as many Americans find they don’t have the funds to quit working. The article cited several factors, including the trend away from traditional pensions. But a “financial literacy” survey commissioned by Quicken points to a more basic reason: Many people haven’t a clue how much they need to save. Thirty-five percent couldn’t hazard a guess at how large a nest egg it would take tosustain their current way of life. Among respondents who did offer a number, the “overwhelming majority” underestimated what they’ll need. “For example, median estimates for families earning more than $35,000 per year were 44 percent below their expected needs,” the survey found. That helps explain why 30 percent of full-time workers don’t stash money in tax-deferred retirement plans. Another survey, conducted for Northwestern Mutual, found further evidence of financial cluelessness. One glaring example with respect to retirement planning: “Even among those who have started saving, 25 percent are not sure how much they currently have saved.” Still, these folks are in better shape than the 23 percent of adults who save nothing at all on a monthly basis for “long-term goals” like retirement or kids’ college educations. Mainly due to the pressure of current expenses, 34 percent “have not yet even begun to prepare for retirement.”

Better Safe Than Fired
There’s nothing like a recession (or the threat of one) to turn “risk taking” from a term of praise to one of disapprobation. A survey of marketers by New York-based Hawkeye Communications finds 54 percent saying they’re now taking less risk with their ad strategy and 49 percent doing so with their creative. Likewise, 38 percent are using the same ads for a longer time in order to avoid the risk entailed in doing something new. Just as well, since approval processes are slowing as caution takes hold: 71 percent said it now takes longer to get work approved. Respondents also report a “greater emphasis on sales over branding.” And the use of celebrity endorsers is said to be in decline. The poll’s oddest finding: Casual Friday is in retreat as marketers attempt to look more businesslike, with67 percent saying they’ve dressed more conservatively in the past six months.

Apparently Marriage Isn’t So Dreadful After All takes
You wouldn’t guess it from the divorce statistics, but Americans are enamored of marriage. At least, the undivorced ones are. A CBS News poll found 93 percent of married people saying they’d “marry their current spouse if they had to do it all over again.” Similarly, 83 percent of husbands reported feeling “very satisfied” with their marriages, as did 79 percent of wives. Eight in 10 respondents said they “trust their spouse all the time.” Even the rigors of parenthood can’t spoil the marital fun, though the “very satisfied” number is higher among those without a child living at home (84 percent) than among those with resident kids (77 percent). There is a sharper divide by income: 84 percent of marrieds in households earning $30,000 or more per year are very satisfied, versus69 percent of those earning less. The link between income and romance isn’t confined to married people, judging by Yankelovich polling for Hilton Hotels. Among people making less than $35,000 a year, 36 percent (whether married or otherwise) said they would consider taking on a new “romantic partner.” The number drops to 18 percent among those making $75,000-plus.

The More Tempting Ordeal, Still Planning to Spend, Etc.
We may be tacky, but we’re not fools. Inspired by the “reality” TV shows now airing, a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics survey asked Americans whether they would prefer to be “stranded on an island to test your stamina and endurance” or “taken to a luxurious resort to test your fidelity to your mate.” The fidelity-testing resort outpointed the endurance-testing island by a margin of 43 percent to 26 percent, while the other 31 percent of respondents couldn’t work up an opinion on this grave matter.