Mixed Blessings

So that’s why the population is growing. A study commissioned by Self and the Kaiser Family Foundation finds 13 percent of women age 18-49 are either pregnant or trying to get that way. Among those classified as “married or living as married,” the figure is 18 percent, vs. 4 percent for those “single or never been married.” (The polling sample for this query was limited to women who are “sexually active and can get pregnant.”) Equal percentages of women in the 18-29 and 30-39 cohorts are pregnant-or-trying-to-be (15 percent). The number is lower, but not insignificant, among women in their 40s (5 percent). Elsewhere in the poll, women were given a list of health issues and asked to identify the ones they’ve discussed with a doctor, nurse or other healthcare provider. Atop the list was breast self exams (cited by 92 percent), followed by birth control (88 percent), weight/physical activity (79 percent), blood pressure (74 percent), sexual history (73 percent) and mammograms (72 percent). Half have discussed HIV/AIDS with a healthcare provider; 52 percent have discussed other sexually transmitted diseases.

True or false: It’s a national crisis that healthcare spending keeps rising in the U.S. Political leaders certainly stand in the “true” camp, as do business owners—i.e., those who partly pay the bills. Americans in general, though, think healthcare is a perfectly sensible thing on which to spend our money (and others’ money). As Harris Interactive says in analyzing its polling data on the subject, “This is because the public sees healthcare as a ‘superior good’—as a better way of spending money than on bigger and better cars, more clothes, more food, more vacations, more jewelry, bigger houses or more entertainment.” The fact that they also covet most or all of these inferior goods is neither here nor there. This preference is reflected in people’s responses when they’re asked which sectors of the economy ought to have “the highest priority for future growth.” In the most recent Harris poll on this issue, 67 percent of adults made healthcare their first or second choice. Public goods like education and defense were relatively close behind, with housing a distant fourth and food a poor fifth.

Big Tobacco has the edge over Big Porn in what we might regard as a competition for Share of Vice. In polling by Barna Research, 26 percent of adults said they use tobacco products in a typical week, while 20 percent confessed to seeing “a magazine, movie or video that contained explicit sexual messages.” The latter figure doesn’t include the 5 percent who “visit an adult-only Web site” in a typical week. Elsewhere on the vice front, 12 percent said they “drink enough alcohol to be considered legally intoxicated or drunk.”

It’s the age of the well-doctored-but-disgruntled employee. According to a new study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 24 percent of adults have “stayed at a job you didn’t like just to keep health-insurance coverage” during the past 12 months. Unenviable as they may be, they’re likely better off than the 10 percent who’ve “been dropped from a health-insurance plan or refused coverage” during that period. Another 12 percent said they’ve been refused coverage due to “specific pre-existing conditions or medical problems.”

If Americans don’t smell better this year than last, they aren’t getting their money’s worth. Research by Vertis indicates fragrance sales have rebounded in 2003 after a poor 2002. In this year’s survey, 65 percent of women said they’ve bought perfume in the past 12 months, vs. 55 percent in 2002. Among men, 59 percent said they’ve bought cologne in the past 12 months, vs. 47 percent in 2002. On average, men’s fragrance spending in those months ($51.40) didn’t lag far behind women’s ($61). One intriguing gender gap: “Men are 11 percent more likely than women to allow what others think of a fragrance to influence their purchasing decision.”

They may get away from it all, but this summer’s vacationers won’t necessarily get far away. In the latest Cambridge Consumer Credit Index poll, 54 percent of Americans said they don’t plan to take a vacation more than 75 miles from their homes. That’s up from 49 percent last summer. Conducted by International Communications Research, the survey found 23 percent of respondents plan to charge their vacation expenses on credit cards. Most of the rest will draw on their checking or savings accounts, but 4 percent will tap their investment accounts(!).

Which of the major pro sports faces the most serious problems? Given big-league baseball’s trajectory, it’s no surprise that sports fans put it atop the list. Responding to a Gallup poll, 39 percent of sports fans said baseball is the most troubled, exceeding the sum of those who pointed to NBA basketball (20 percent) or NHL hockey (17 percent). Just 11 percent cited NFL football. When self-identified baseball fans were asked whether they’re following the big-league game more or less closely than they did three years ago, “less” beat “more” by 30 percent to 16 percent. (The rest said there was no change in their level of interest.) The numbers were even worse when Gallup put this question to sports fans in general (see the chart). This suggests that baseball isn’t winning over many of the people who (one would expect) are the most plausible candidates to become real fans. One oddity in the data: People are more likely to call themselves baseball fans if they aren’t asked about it in the heat of the season. In Gallup polls fielded in July and August since 1993, an average of 37 percent of the respondents said they’re baseball fans. In surveys conducted November-through-February, the average was 40 percent. Perhaps advertisers should save their baseball-themed commercials for when the snows are falling.