Mark Dolliver’s Takes: Going Out to Movies, Praising Children, Etc.

Like a second marriage, a trip to a movie theater often represents the triumph of hope over experience. Undeterred by recollection of the cinematic stink bombs they’ve endured in the past, plenty of people keep on going to the movies. In an Associated Press/AOL survey conducted last month by Ipsos Public Affairs, just 29 percent of adults said they’d made it through the previous 12 months without going to a movie theater. Thirty-four percent reported seeing one, two or three movies during that period, while 36 percent said they’d gone to four films or more. It’s not as though movies benefited from great word-of-mouth last year. Among the respondents who went to the theater at least once, 25 percent said the year’s movies were generally “worse than usual,” while 14 percent said they were “better than usual.” (Most of the rest said the movies were “about the same as usual,” which does not sound like high praise.) Perhaps people venture out to the movie theater because they despair of finding anything good to watch on TV. At any rate, 23 percent of respondents said the shows on television last year were worse than usual, while 19 percent said they were better than usual.

It is a distinction that eludes people who regard the U.S. as a hyper-individualist society. Americans don’t like being coerced into social do-gooding, but they willingly take on plenty of selfless tasks. A report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics says 27 percent of the adult population participated in volunteer work between September 2005 and September 2006. (The report looks exclusively at unpaid work done “through or for an organization” and does not include individual freelancing for the greater good.) Consistent with their reputation as the socially responsible sex, women were more likely than men to have volunteered during that period (30 percent vs. 23 percent). You might suppose people are most inclined to volunteer when they’re in a life stage that gives them lots of free time. The chart at lower left suggests otherwise, though, as the incidence of volunteering is highest at an age when people are most likely to be enmeshed in the dual responsibilities of family and career. In fact, the presence of children in the household greatly raises the likelihood that an adult will be involved in volunteer work: 34 percent of those with minor children in the household volunteered during the period covered by the report, as did 24 percent of those without kids at home. People who work part-time were more likely to volunteer than were those employed full-time (36 percent vs. 27 percent). College graduates had a much higher incidence of volunteer work than those with a high school diploma but no college (43 percent vs. 19 percent). Among people who do volunteer, the time they spend at it is considerable: a median of 52 hours during the 12-month period.

Personal-finance marketers take note: While consumers’ contributions to their IRAs average a national total of $40 billion-plus per year, rollovers to their IRAs amount to some $200 billion a year, says a report by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. (The rollovers come from employment-based nest eggs like 401(k) accounts, as when a worker changes jobs.) IRA assets totaled $3.67 trillion at the end of 2005. Ninety-two percent of these assets are in traditional IRAs. However, the newer Roth IRAs are getting slightly more new contributions than the traditional IRAs.

As hard data showed crime decreasing during the 1990s and the first half of this decade, surveys showed Americans persisting in the belief that crime was on the rise. Maybe those folks were just watching too much prime-time TV. A report by the Parents Television Council says the “instances of violence per hour” on prime-time shows rose 75 percent between 1998-99 and 2005-06. Characters in shows airing between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. suffered a particularly sharp increase in their peril, as the rate of violent incidents in that viewing hour jumped 167 percent. And we’re not talking about scraped shins: In the 2005-06 season, a majority of violent scenes included either a depiction of death (13 percent) or an implied death (41 percent). The performances on a show like American Idol might be agonizing, but at least they’re not fatal.

When a worker leaves one job to take another, money is often the motivation. But some people make such a move in order to escape from their dreary co-workers—even if they’ll end up amid a new batch of dreary co-workers. An eye-catching campaign for plays on the downside of office society as it offers a sort of field guide to one’s more useless colleagues. The “office chameleon” featured in the ad at upper right is one of “the most elusive of the office creatures,” disappearing “whenever work arises” and deftly “deflecting blame for any mistakes onto unsuspecting interns.” (The interns have doubtless been making their own disastrous mistakes.) The ad offers advice on how to get this person out of the way for a little while so you can quietly log onto and “find a better job.” Chicago-based agency Cramer-Krasselt created the campaign.

The good news for Big Pharma: 53 percent of U.S. adults take prescription medicine each day, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health poll. But that’s also the bad news for pharmaceutical companies, as it means a majority of Americans can feel personally aggrieved about the price of such drugs. That creates a large constituency for efforts by Congress to siphon revenues away from the industry and/or to rein in its marketing efforts.

Do children become less praiseworthy as they grow from toddlers to teenagers? Or do parents weary of giving praise that may or may not be deserved? Either way, a new report by the Census Bureau (crunching data collected in 2003) offers this intriguing tidbit: “About 72 percent of kids under 6 were praised by mom or dad three or more times per day, compared with 51 percent of children 6 to 11 years old and 37 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds.” The report is silent (perhaps just as well) on the number of times per day parents scream at their kids. It does, though, examine other sorts of parent-child interaction, including family meals. Fifty-seven percent of kids under age 6 eat breakfast with a parent every day, as do 37 percent of the 6-11-year-olds and 24 percent of the 12-17s. As for dinner, 79 percent of the under-6 contingent had that meal with a parent every day. So did 73 percent of the 6-11s and 58 percent of the 12-17s. We can guess that some of the 12-17s were packed off to bed without any dinner on occasion: 14 percent of the boys and 8 percent of the girls that age were suspended or expelled from school during the year under study.