Mixed Blessings

When does one become a grownup in this era of prolonged adolescence? Around age 26, said the adults responding to a survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. That’s the point at which a person ought to have completed the “seven steps toward adulthood.” Foremost among these is completing one’s education, rated as “extremely important” by 73 percent of respondents. The other key “transitions” to adulthood are being employed full-time (cited by 61 percent), supporting a family (60 percent), being financially independent (47 percent), living independently of one’s parents (29 percent), being married 19 (percent) and having a child (16 percent).

We don’t need no stinkin’ retirement. According to a new report from the Census Bureau, 18 percent of men age 65 and older were in the civilian labor force last year. So were 10 percent of women in that age group. Why are men in this open-ended age bracket nearly twice as likely as women to work? Maybe because women far outnumber men among the very old. The gender ratio is more equal in the 60-64 cohort, with 57 percent of men and 44 percent of women in the workforce. And among the 55-59s, 77 percent of men and 63 percent of women are toiling away.

Never underestimate the power of inertia. For the past couple of years, the media have run countless reports on homeowners saving tons of money by refinancing their mortgages. As interest rates keep falling, you’d think every mortgage in creation has been refinanced at least once. But a Fox News/ Opinion Dynamics poll reveals that lots of people haven’t roused themselves to make the effort. Among the homeowners surveyed, 47 percent said they hadn’t refinanced their mortgages at all during the past three years. Thirty-eight percent said they’d done it once, 12 percent had done it twice and 1 percent claimed to have refinanced three times.

The old car-as-mistress shtick is alive and well, to judge by an ad for Skip Barber Racing School. “She makes me smile, she makes me laugh out loud,” the fellow in the ad says of his automotive amour. “I can’t wait to see her again, because this time I’ve learned the meaning of commitment.” And people say men aren’t romantics. Creative Partners of Stamford, Conn., created the ad.

One poem will speak of undying love; another will insist that new passions eclipse our memories of past loves. Clearly, we need some empirical data to settle this disagreement on the nature of human behavior. And that’s what we get from an online poll by American Consumer Opinion. Asked how often, if ever, they think of someone they loved in the past, 16 percent of respondents said “almost every day,” 13 percent said “once or twice a week” and 13 percent said “once or twice a month.” A less-devoted 24 percent answered “every few months,” while 10 percent said “once a year” (on Groundhog Day, perhaps?). A stone-hearted 24 percent said they think of past loves “almost never.” If these numbers seem to give more credence to the undying-love poets, a breakdown of the data by age tends to do the opposite. While 20 percent of respondents age 18-24 said they summon up remembrance of loves past almost every day, the figure tumbles to 13 percent among those over the age of 55.

Are today’s fathers as involved with their kids as they often claim to be? A poll by Family Circle finds some gaps, even while concluding that the fully engaged father is more than a mythical creature. Ninety-five percent of the fathers polled said they know what foods their child likes; 87 percent know the name of the kid’s doctor; 82 percent know who the kid’s best friend is; 73 percent know the child’s biggest fear. On the other hand, just over half (54 percent) know the offspring’s shoe and clothing sizes. And while 95 percent know the kid’s birthday, that leaves a non-trivial minority who don’t.

Teenagers would be more relaxed if it weren’t for higher education. According to a Gallup Tuesday Briefing, 22 percent of teens age 13-17 feel their parents put “a great deal of pressure” on them to get into a good college. Another 41 percent believe their parents put “some” pressure on them to do so. Being a good student doesn’t get you off the hook. Students “near the top” of their class are as likely to experience such pressure as those who are merely “above average” or “average.” Whether parental or self-induced, pressure extends beyond schoolwork, as kids feel obliged to pad their résumés with worthy extracurricular activities. Asked whether they “miss out on fun and relaxation” due to all the schoolwork and after-school commitments, 47 percent said they do.

Think of it as passive fat. A new study described in Health Affairs magazine says annual medical spending is 37.4 percent higher for obese Americans than for their non-obese compatriots. The price tag for all the illness related to obesity: $93 billion. The people incurring these costs aren’t necessarily the ones paying for them, though. The study says the biggest single chunk of this expense falls on the government’s Medicare program. In that sense, then, excess weight could become a political issue as people begin to view it as a national budget-buster.

In the unlikely event that Jim Carrey turns up in a Colombian coffee ad, he’ll just be returning a favor. Juan Valdez and his mule appear as bit players in Carrey’s Bruce Almighty movie. Print ads by Sawyer Miller of New York publicize the movie debut of the two characters, already famous from years of Colombian Coffee Federation ads.

Maybe it’s because they’re born knowing everything. Whatever the reason, men are less likely than women to see a college education as a necessity. In a poll of adults by The Chronicle of Higher Education, 46 percent of men and 55 percent of women said “a four-year college degree is essential for success in our society.” Among respondents who are college graduates, 60 percent rated their degree as “very important” to their own success, with another 21 percent calling it “important.” Forty percent of all respondents said a four-year college education is “always” worth the price, and 35 percent said it “usually” is. And a good thing, too, as 82 percent agreed that it’s “very difficult for a middle-class family to afford a college education.”

Motherhood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, judging by a new Parents magazine poll. Conducted among mothers with kids age 12 and under, it found 44 percent of at-home mothers “feel under stress all or most of the time.” Thirty-five percent “actually wish they had a job outside the home.” But lest one suppose that a job would provide a respite from the demands of motherhood, note that just 11 percent of mothers who work outside the home find their jobs fulfilling. Forty-six percent of employed mothers would prefer to be home full-time; 36 percent would like “to spend less time at work and more time at home with their kids.” Two-thirds of working mothers feel “very or somewhat guilty about the amount of time they’re away from their kids.” Apart from that, everything’s fine!

While judging cars and roads to be safer, Americans believe drivers have become more dangerous. And they’re in a position to know, since many confess to all sorts of reckless driving of their own. As summarized in a CNN.com article, a survey conducted for the Drive for Life campaign found 37 percent of drivers use their cell phones while at the wheel. Even more (59 percent) eat while driving, though fewer (14 percent) said they read at the wheel. Speeding is more the rule than the exception these days, as 71 percent of drivers said they do it.

Why do men become entrepreneurs? To get rich. Why do women? They wouldn’t mind getting rich, either, but a study by Rochester Institute of Technology researchers indicates many are drawn more by a wish to balance work and family. As described by an article in USA Today, the study found 65 percent of female entrepreneurs (vs. 29 percent of the male variety) saying that “creating a job with family-friendly benefits was a top reason for starting a company.” Meanwhile, 29 percent of women (vs. 76 percent of men) pointed to “building wealth” as one of their foremost priorities in starting their own business. The researchers say their findings help explain why female business owners are more likely than their male counterparts to be content with a slow-growth strategy.