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September 15, 2022

SPECIAL ISSUE: WHO IS THE U.S. CONSUMER?

 

On Monday, September 19th, MDI will release its latest special report, Consumer Demographics 2022 & Beyond. It provides a complete rundown on the changing demography of the U.S. population based on the recent census and other governmental sources. The findings are distilled into over 70 easy-to-read tables on sex, age, marital status, education, income, occupation and race/ethnicity. We also include the latest data on household consumption and personal time spent on daily activities, to present a complete picture of today's U.S. consumer. Data includes the most current year available, plus trending and projections. In this special edition of Media Matters, we present highlights from this report.

Population Growth

Population growth in the post-World War II baby boom era averaged about 1.7% per year, but it is now just under 1% and further declines are expected. Still, the overall growth of the country is impressive. In 1950, the resident population numbered 152 million; currently, it stands at 331 million. At the same time, the median age of the resident population has risen from 30 years in 1950 to 38 years currently. During this period, the percentage of Americans who were under 18 years of age declined from 31% to 22% while average life expectancy rose from 68 years to 77 years.

Not surprisingly, the 65+ age group has witnessed the greatest proportionate growth over the years and the largest decline has been in the representation of children under the age of 5. In 1950, only 8.6% of the total resident population was 65 years old or older and 10.7% were children under the age of 5. By 2020, the percentages had flipped, with the 65+ segment accounting for 16.0% and young children only 6.0%. According to the latest projections, the older population will represent 22% of all Americans by 2050, and the young children percentage will decline slightly.

Marital Status

With more and more adults delaying their first marriages and an increase in divorces and separations, the proportion of adults who at a given point in time could be considered “married” declined from 74% in 1960 to only 52% in 2021. Over the same period, the “single” component of the population doubled from 15% to 30% and those widowed, divorced or separated increased from 11% to 18%. While the annual marriage rate hovered around 1% until as late as 1995, it has since declined to only .61% in 2019 (the most recent year available). The divorce rate has also declined to .27%, which is the lowest reported since 1960.

Educational Attainment

The number of college educated Americans have exploded since the early-1950s. Then, only 2.1 million people were enrolled in colleges and universities, 30% of which were female. Seventy years later, the collegiate/university ranks have increased to 17.7 million and women constitute 57% of the students. To put it another way, the proportion of adults with college educations rose from only 17% in 1960 to 62% in 2021, with the sharpest increases among women.

In the early-1960s, 18% of the total adult population was aged 55+ and had never graduated from high school; in contrast, only 3% were the same age and had a college education. By 2020, only 4% of the total adult population consisted of those aged 55+ who had not graduated high school. Over the same period, the college educated segment also grew in the young (18-34) and middle aged (35-54) sectors, but far less dramatically than among the older generation.

Employment & Occupation

In 1950, half the population aged 16+ was employed outside the home, and this workforce was 73% male and 28% female. The stats for 2021 reveal how much this has changed; 58% of persons aged 16+ worked; for men, the ratio was 64%, down from the norms of 70-75% from 1950-2000, but for women the employment rate almost doubled over the 1950 figure, rising to 53%.

In terms of broad occupational categories, the major shift during the past five decades has been away from manual labor fields to white collar work. Bureau of Labor Statistics data for 2021 reveal that, among males aged 20+ with earnings, those in management and professional vocations (39.6%) far exceeded those in construction/maintenance and production/transport/material moving jobs (33.3%). Women’s careers were centered in the professional/technical category (30.1%), followed by service (18.7%) and administrative support (16.1%).

Income

Although household and individual income levels experience more or less continuous growth across time (despite the leveling effects of periodic recessions), these gains are mostly eaten up by cost-of-living increases. Nevertheless, at first glance the figures are impressive. In 1950, the median income of America’s households stood at $2,990, but by 2020 it was $67,521. Higher individual earnings and the increase in the number of workers per home drove this increase; however, the role of inflation cannot be ignored. In 1950, the typical household had 3.37 residents, but only 1.3 of them, or 39%, contributed any earnings. A typical home now has many fewer residents (2.51) but retains the same number of wage earners (1.3), hence 50% of its residents contribute earnings.

One of the most contentious and ongoing issues raised in political circles is the remunerative disparity between male and female wage earners in America. Even though the picture for women has brightened considerably in recent decades, the differences are still evident. In 1960, the median income of employed females aged 15+ was only 61% that of their male counterparts, and this margin held up with stubborn regularity through the mid-1980s. Currently, females earn 83% of the wages that males take home; this disparity between the sexes is smallest among younger earners and greatest among the older segments.

Race & Ethnicity

Approximately one in every seven Americans is foreign born, a ratio comparable to that in the early-1900s. According to current projections, if immigration continues at its present rate, more than one-fifth of Americans will be foreign born by 2050. While Europe once accounted for the vast majority of our immigrants, Asia currently leads with 37%, followed by North America (Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean) and Central/South America.

The proportions of the resident population that are of Black, Hispanic, or Asian ancestry have been growing steadily, particularly the latter two. In 1950, only 10% of the population was Black and the other segments did not number enough to be reported separately. By 2020, however, while Blacks represented over 12% of the population, Hispanics had overtaken them with 19% and Asians represented 6%. The Black sector of the population is not expected to increase its share over the next 35-40 years, but Hispanics and Asians will continue to gain proportionately.

Household Consumption Profiles

As might be expected, there is a direct correlation between household size and consumer expenditures. In 2020, a typical home headed by an adult aged 35-44 contained 3.4 residents and had 1.6 income earners. Such households spent $74,200 on annual consumer expenditures, or $21,800 per resident. In contrast, a typical home headed by an adult aged 65+ had only 1.7 members and only .5 wage earners. While it spent more per resident ($28,000), on a household unit basis, the 35-44s outspent it by $10,000.

The average home headed by an adult under the age of 25 (5% of all homes) spent nearly all of their after-tax income on goods and services. In contrast, a typical home headed by an adult aged 45-54 had an after-tax income of $100,200, but spent only $74,800, leaving them money to save or invest.

In the early-1900s, 40-45% of a typical home’s expenditures were for food and beverages, while clothing and housing accounted for about 15% each. Through the decades the proportions spent for food and drink have declined steadily, and now represent barely 12%, whereas housing related expenses have risen from only 23-24% a century ago, to about 35% today. Overall, expenditures increased by 28% between 2010 and 2020, but there are major variations among individual categories. Particularly noteworthy are the 30% rise in property taxes, a 56% increase in spending on vehicle insurance and a whopping 100% increase in health insurance.

How Americans Spend Their Time

In 2019, the most recent year available, the average person aged 15+ claimed to spend 8.84 hours per day sleeping (an interesting claim, considering that so many claim to be sleep deprived), followed by 3.61 hours working, 2.81 hours watching TV, and 1.78 hours on household activities such as housework and food prep. Taking a longer view, between 2003 and 2019, Americans increasingly spent time on themselves, with significant declines in the amount of time spent taking care of others, and a rise in time spent on personal care, pets, and watching TV, which should be good news for marketers.

Regionality

Between 1970 and 1980, the overall population grew by 11%, but the number of Mid-Atlantic residents fell 1%, and the Mountain states grew 37%. Projections for 2020-30 predict a nationwide increase of about 8%, but the Mid-Atlantic states will grow by less than 1%, whereas the Mountain states will gain 17%, the Southern states 14%, West South Central states 13%, and the Pacific states 11%.

One of the best ways to look at regional shifts is to review individual metro area data, for this is where some of the more dramatic changes are evident. Taking California as an example, between 2010 and 2020, Los Angeles’s population rose only 2.7%, Sacramento’s was up 11.6% and San Diego rose 6.5%. In comparison, in the booming Carolinas, Charlotte’s population grew by almost 52% in the same time period, and the Myrtle Beach area saw an increase of an astonishing 83%.

A detailed editorial outline--including all of the tables in Consumer Demographics 2022--is available here. Plus, this week only, save an ADDITIONAL $50 off the already discounted price; that’s a $100 savings. Simply enter code MMCD22 when you pre-order this report.


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