Their Humble Châteaux, Reading The Wills, Etc.

There was a time when the owner of a million-dollar home could be presumed to have a lavish lifestyle. Not anymore, now that a million bucks is chicken feed in the real estate market. Commissioned by Coldwell Banker Previews International, International Communications Research polled owners of homes worth at least $1 million (or, in pricey California, $2 million) about their household amenities and other such matters. It found the typical respondent “likes to live well” but is “not living an ultra-lavish lifestyle.” So, while 65 percent of the homes have a designer kitchen, 37 percent an in-ground swimming pool and 35 percent a hot tub, many fewer have heated floors (14 percent), backyard putting greens (5 percent) or tennis courts (4 percent). A majority of the homes (59 percent) have a room “devoted exclusively to entertainment,” and more than eight in 10 of these have “either a big-screen HDTV (50+ inches) or media systems such as DVD players and surround-sound system.” Thirty-seven percent already have or are considering the addition of a wine cellar, but that’s surely more a necessity than a luxury. Just 5 percent of the homeowners have a personal assistant, 4 percent a live-in housekeeper and 1 percent a driver. Perhaps because life is so spartan at their primary home, 35 percent of the poll’s respondents own a second home.

The mystique of the family dinner has grown even as its frequency has waned. Get everyone together for dinner most nights (says the conventional wisdom), and the family will flourish; fail to do so, and the kids will end up in juvie. It’s a bit surprising, then, that mothers of young kids consign the family dinner to the middle of the pack when gauging the status of some maternal behaviors. In a TracyLocke/Yankelovich Monitor Perspective poll, women under 40 with at least one kid under 12 were given a list of items and asked to say which are the most important characteristics of “great moms.” Four out of five cited the attitude that “no matter what else is going on in her life, her family always comes first.” Sixty-three percent said a great mom is one who has “achieved the right balance in her life of work time, family time and time to herself.” The same number said she “puts own needs on hold for her children” and “keeps a close eye on her kids’ friends.” Sixty percent said “her kids are her whole world” and that she limits the time her kids spend with video games and the Internet. A non-landslide 53 percent said a great mom is one whose family always eats dinner together. (Maybe they should read Adweek together instead.)

The current debate about immigration policy has taken place against a backdrop of general pessimism about where the country is headed. As it happens, recent immigrants to the U.S. are less likely to share this dour outlook. A recent Pew Research Center poll asked U.S. residents (immigrant or otherwise), “When children today in the U.S. grow up, do you think they will be better off or worse off than people are now?” For the total survey sample, the tally was 50 percent “worse” vs. 34 percent “better.” There was scant difference between whites and blacks, but Hispanics were more upbeat, with 44 percent saying “better” and 40 percent “worse.” Among first-generation Hispanic immigrants, the split was 50 percent “better” vs. 38 percent “worse.” Among all first-generation immigrants, “better” beat “worse” by 47 percent to 39 percent.

They live on the edge, those high school kids. The latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey, issued this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reveals that few high schoolers are eating their fruits and vegetables, drinking their milk or otherwise watching their diets in a healthy way. Nineteen percent of girls and 21 percent of boys consumed the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables last year. The numbers get worse as kids get older: 21 percent of 9th graders ate the five daily servings, vs. 18 percent of 12th graders. The pattern was similar with respect to drinking three glasses of milk per day: 14 percent of 9th-grade girls did so, vs. 10 percent of 12th-grade girls; 24 percent of 9th-grade boys did so, vs. 18 percent of 12th-grade boys. As if all that weren’t enough, just 12 percent of girls and 6 percent of boys routinely wear sunblock with an SPF of 15 or higher. Larger numbers (16 percent of girls, 21 percent of boys) practice such “sun-safety behaviors” as staying in the shade, wearing long pants, wearing hats and so on. Of course, the 36 percent of girls and 38 percent of boys who watch TV for three-plus hours per day likely aren’t in the sun too much anyhow.

Silence may not be golden, but it beats a commercial. An Associated Press/Ipsos Public Affairs poll asked adults what they like to hear when they’ve phoned a business and been put on hold. Music had the most takers (picked by 82 percent), followed by a computerized estimate of how long they’ll have to wait (59 percent) and talk radio (40 percent). While just 29 percent said they like to hear silence in these circumstances, that exceeded the 26 percent who’d welcome “advertisements for the company’s products and services.”

Given the lackluster job many people do of saving for their retirement, one might think they’re counting on inheritances to bail them out. Actually, though, a new report by AARP (crunching numbers from the Federal Reserve Board covering 2004) finds that a minority of adults have received or expect to receive an inheritance (see chart below). Nor do inheritances tend to be huge. Among baby boomers who’ve received one, the median amount is $49,000 (in 2005 dollars). The figure is $70,000 for pre-boomers and $24,000 for post-boomers. While there’s been talk of a massive transfer of wealth to boomers via inheritance, the report estimates that their take thus far has totaled $2.1 trillion—not pocket change, but not much per capita when spread over a whole generational cohort.