Mark Dolliver’s Takes: Mixed Blessings

It’s not that Americans oppose saving money for the future. The problem for many, suggests a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, is that they’ve got nothing left at the end of the month after paying for such essentials as food, shelter and clothing. While 53 percent of adults said they manage to put some money into savings each month, 40 percent said they’re tapped out once they’ve paid the bills. (The other 7 percent either didn’t know or don’t receive a paycheck.) Elsewhere in the same poll, people were asked whether they’re optimistic or pessimistic about the U.S. economy. Twenty percent said they’re “strongly optimistic” and 31 percent said they’re “somewhat” so; 13 percent said they’re strongly pessimistic and 28 percent somewhat so. By comparison, a February 2002 survey found 31 percent of respondents strongly optimistic and 35 percent somewhat so, vs. 10 percent strongly pessimistic and 18 percent somewhat so.

Not expecting a holiday bonus this year? If it’s any consolation, neither are most of your compatriots. A Maritz Poll finds a mere17 percent of respondents expecting such largesse from their employers. Even that number, diminutive though it is, probably reflects some wishful thinking on the part of young employees who haven’t been through a recession before. Fifty-six percent of those who expect a bonus this year are in the 18-34 age group, while just 19 percent are in the sadder-but-wiser 45-64 cohort.

Forget the carols. Play some traveling music! A survey conducted for American Express found 70 percent of Americans plan to travel during the holidays. Bringing special cheer to travel marketers, 13 percent of respondents expect to spend $500 or more on their holiday jaunts—up from 10 percent saying the same last year and 9 percent in 2000. Along the same lines, a report by Accenture says 35 percent of adults expect to travel more than 250 miles during the Thanksgiving-through-Christmas season. By comparison, 29 percent traveled as much during last year’s holidays.

The high-profile incidents of school violence in recent years have spooked many parents. Among schoolkids, though, fears of being attacked at school (or on the way to and from it) have been declining. Drawing on data from the federal government, a report by Child Trends DataBank says 6 percent of students age 12-18 had such fears last year, vs. 7 percent in 1999 and 12 percent in 1996. These anxieties are highest among the youngest students: 11 percent of sixth graders and 9 percent of seventh graders expressed these fears of attack, while3 percent of 12th graders and 5 percent of 11th graders did so.

Marriages may not last long, but engagements do. According to a bulletin from Condé Nast’s Modern Bride and Bride’s, today’s average engagement lasts 16 months—up from a whirlwind 11 months in 1990. The betrothed probably need the extra time to drum up financing for their nuptials, as the average wedding costs $22,360. That’s cheap at the price when you note that the average wedding now has 168 guests. Meanwhile, statistical evidence suggests more couples are driven to matrimony by “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” than by “My Funny Valentine”: 13 percent of proposals are made around Christmastime, vs. 8 percent on or around Valentine’s Day.

What factors lead people to shop at a specific store? A RoperASW poll quizzed people on this matter. With all due respect to customer service (cited by 54 percent of respondents), a store’s main attractions are discounts(71 percent), convenient location (70 percent) and convenient hours (68 percent).

Young men aren’t pulling their weight when it comes to America’s weight-loss obsession. As you can see from the chart’s display of data from a Gallup Poll Tuesday Briefing, twice as many men in the 18-24 age bracket want to bulk up as want to slim down. No wonder young women feel young men are from another planet. At the same time, who can blame the nation’s scrawny young men if they feel neglected in a culture that fixates on weight loss? Anyhow, it’s a singularly unproductive fixation. Though 59 percent of all adults say they’d like to lose weight, just 25 percent are “seriously trying” to do so.