Sedentary Pastimes, Low-Carb Tippling, Etc.

The pen is mightier than the television antenna. In this year’s edition of the annual Harris Poll on Americans’ favorite pastimes, reading held its customary position atop the list. Adults were asked (without prompting from a list of choices) to name their “two or three most favorite leisure-time activities.” Twenty-four percent included reading among their faves, putting it ahead of “spending time with family/kids” (17 percent) and watching TV (17 percent). Nothing else registered in double digits. In its analysis of the data, Harris noted that the popularity of physically active pastimes has waned—thus contributing to the national weight problem. For instance, after rising during the late 1990s (to a high of 15 percent in 1999), gardening has declined steadily: Just 6 percent of the current poll’s respondents listed it among their favorites. Swimming took a dive, too. Having ranged between 5 percent and 8 percent in previous polls dating to 1995, it fell to 2 percent this time. Walking is also at a low point (4 percent this year, vs. a high of 9 percent in 1999), as is golf (3 percent this year, vs. 8 percent in 1997). It’s a pity that watching sports events doesn’t burn a lot of calories, as that activity’s score climbed vigorously from 2 percent last year to 5 percent this year.

Old folks are less likely to travel than young adults. Among those age 65-plus who do travel, though, their average travel expenditures are higher than those of other age groups. According to the latest Consumer Expenditure Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, analyzing data collected in 2000, 65-plusers who took at least one trip that year spent an average of $1,025 on their travels. Among 25-34s who took at least one trip, their travel outlays averaged $717. The figure was much lower for adults under 25 ($392). Travelers in the 35-44 bracket spent $922. There was negligible difference between the 45-54s ($973) and the 55-64s ($970).

Adding further muddle to the question of how holiday sales are faring, gift-card sales are on the increase. Based on polling fielded by BIGresearch, the National Retail Federation forecasts that people will spend $17.24 billion on the cards this holiday season—nearly 8 percent of all holiday sales. Lovely though this may be for the recipients, it complicates the sales data. “Many retailers do not count a gift card as a sale,” the NRF notes, until the card is redeemed and some merchandise changes hands. Thus, strong gift-card sales will end up giving a boost to next January’s retail data. Among people who buy them, the number of cards purchased will average 3.34 and the amount spent will average $114.44, the NRF predicts. Men are expected to spend more on the cards than women are ($120.57 vs. $109.23). But then, men are more generous in any case (in holiday gift-giving, anyhow). A Maritz Poll forecasts that men will spend an average of $794 on holiday gifts this year, while women will spend $759. Naturally, men extend this generosity to themselves. Among the 33 percent of Americans who plan to buy a gift for themselves, men will spend far more than women on average ($329 vs. $212).

Talk about lives of quiet desperation. In a recent survey by Vertis on the topic of ad inserts and circulars, a majority of respondents said they read such material either “occasionally based on need” (40 percent) or “for products and services I want and need” (28 percent). But 17 percent said they “read all available.” Women were more likely than men to place themselves in that disturbing category (21 percent vs. 13 percent).

Anti-globalists enjoy pitching bricks through Starbucks’ windows, but caffeine enthusiasts should thank the company—even if they never set foot in its ubiquitous cafes. The company’s success has elevated standards for the market as a whole. That’s reflected in a Packaged Facts report, which predicts that U.S. consumers will have spent $19 billion on coffee in 2003. The market is skewing toward higher-quality products as companies cater to people who’ve become habituated to fancy coffees. “Indeed, the most new-product activity in coffee is in the category of packaged whole bean coffees, which come in a variety of roasts, blends and flavors,” the report says. Refrigerated drinks have won new adherents for coffee, notably among young folks.

It’s a sign of the Atkins-crazed times when a drinks company commissions a poll to gauge awareness of alcohol’s low-carb status. Conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for Diageo, the poll found 52 percent of adults believe the carbohydrate count in vodka is “high” or “medium”; 55 percent believe this of tequila. In fact, says the report, neither of those drinks has any carbs. Another part of the survey found 67 percent of respondents believing (mistakenly) that fruit juice and regular soda are lower in carbohydrates than spirits are.

The halls of learning will be getting more crowded, but at a slower pace. A report by the National Center for Education Statistics forecasts that enrollment in elementary and secondary schools will rise by a modest 5 percent between 2001 and 2013. Between 1988 and 2001, enrollment jumped by 19 percent. As for higher education, enrollment in degree-granting institutions is expected to grow by 19 percent between 2000 and 2013, vs. a 17 percent rise between 1988 and 2000. One theme of the next 10 years will be the increasingly female skew of higher education’s clientele (see the chart). Since women go to college to get a degree (rather than to drink beer), the gender gap among students who actually graduate will be even wider. The report forecasts that women will receive 59 percent of the bachelor’s degrees conferred in 2012-13. And while men are still expected to earn more professional degrees than women(in such fields as law and medicine), women’s share will have risen from 35 percent in 1987-88 to 48 percent in 2012-13.