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Generation Gap: Are schooling standards sinking?

June 20, 2012 2 comments

In an election year, important issues are top of mind and above the fold, and I’ve seen all things from the economy, health care, Social Security, gas prices…..but not education. Sadly, the majority of Americans (65.2%) feel the quality of education in the U.S. has gotten somewhat or much worse in the past 10 years. This number increases with age: a whopping 74.8% of the Silent Generation thinks schooling standards have sunk. 74.5% of Boomers, 61.7% of Generation X and 46.5% of Generation Y agree.

Not surprisingly, given our society with such luxuries as T9, auto correct and basic spell check, writing and spelling top the list of suffering subjects along with knowledge of historical events. The majority of Americans also said children’s abilities in the areas of life skills, reading and basic mathematics have gotten worse in the past decade:

Although fewer than the majority think science, vocational skills and creative skills are worse these days than in the past, they certainly aren’t any better. Only 18.2% believe trade/vocational skills are somewhat/much better and just 1 in 5 has seen improvement in children’s understand of scientific principles (20.8%) and creativity (21.9%).

Whether or not technology plays a part in the plunging principles of education is still up in the air. 51.3% of Americans say technology has had both a positive and negative effect on the quality of education—however, general consensus leads towards the positive:

Younger generations are more likely to recognize the positive effects of technology on education (learning basic computer skills, research and data analysis, virtual simulations from bacterial growth to flight imitation). More than one-third of Gen Y (35.5%) say overall technology has had a positive effect on learning. However, Boomers are more skeptical of technology’s educational benefits and may be thinking about how devices like smartphones can take the place of brainwork at times. Slightly more members of this generation (23.1%) believe technology has had a somewhat or very negative affect on education vs. those who say the outcome has been positive (21.7%). Perhaps these older Americans are thinking of things like spell checkers, instant access to the Internet to look up facts and even the ease of plagiarism with the web.

Although the majority has noticed a drop in educational quality, technology does not appear to be the culprit (or at least not the only reason why young Americans can’t spell basic words without the help of auto correct!)

Source: American Pulse™ Survey, June 2012 #1, N = 3603

© 2012, Prosper®

Talking to Text – Harmless or Hindering for Drivers?

June 8, 2012 1 comment

Last month we explored the idea of voice activation on mobile devices and found many smartphone and tablet owners use this feature for directions (55.2% regularly or occasionally ask for navigation help). I know I’ve done this while driving, speaking the name of the place I am looking for so I can get turn by turn instructions. I’ve also been guilty of talking to text while driving. With many states like Ohio looking to pass laws regulating the use of electronic devices while driving* (not just texting, which is already a no-no in 39 states), we wanted to know if Americans thought speaking to a device was any safer than using hands-on methods, or if voice commands were just as distracting.

The majority of Americans say it is slightly or much less dangerous to talk to a device instead of engaging in traditional hands-on activities while driving. However, 1 in 4 believes voice capabilities like talking to text bring with them the same amount of danger as talking with your fingertips:

While the different generations (Gen Y, Gen X, Boomers and Silent Generations) agree on the perceived level of danger, these age groups disagree on what specific mobile activities should be banned by law. The majority say hands on activities (texting, hands on phone calls, browsing the web, playing games, etc.) should be illegal, but older generations are most likely to also want to ban hands-free activities like talking to text. Those in Generations X and Y on the other hand, are less likely to be willing to give up talking to text, asking for directions or using other voice commands.

Perhaps members of Gen X and Gen Y are more accustomed to multitasking and technological gadgets in general while older generations are more likely to see these devices as potential distractions.

The late Ray Bradbury wrote in his novel Dandelion Wine:

Every time man and machine look like they will get on all right –boom! Someone adds a cog, airplanes drop bombs on us, cars run us off cliffs.

He may not have been able to predict how dangerous texting while driving can be (or playing Words with Friends—sadly, I’ve seen this), but he warned his readers 50+ years ago of the dangers and diversions technology can create.


*In Ohio, a law will soon take effect banning those under 18 from using ANY sort of handheld electronic device for ANYTHING. Drivers have to be pulled over first, so luckily adults like myself who look like highschoolers won’t be pulled over when making phone calls or checking a GPS 🙂


Source: American Pulse™ Survey, MAY-12 #2

© 2012, Prosper®

American Pulse™ is a trademark of Prosper Business Development.

A Dog’s Life is for the Birds: “Low Price” Isn’t Key When Buying Food for these Family Members

June 4, 2012 1 comment

Dogs have been described as loyal, loving, protective, happy, companions, smart, even a little spoiled. But is Fido really man’s best friend?

What ONE WORD best describes your Dog?

What ONE WORD best describes your Dog? Owners were most likely to say “Loyal” or “Loving.”

In our latest American Pulse survey, we posed this very question to the portion of our nearly 4,000 respondents who reported they were dog owners (46.0%). Not too surprisingly, the majority of dog owners somewhat or strongly agreed (63.4%) that their dog(s) was indeed a “best friend.” But the really interesting part? More dog owners (66.8%) were willing to acknowledge that their four-legged friend(s) seemed “more intelligent than some humans I know.” [I wonder if a similar proportion of dog owners feels the same way in more educated countries.]

While many dog owners weren’t ready to cop to best friend status with their canine companions, they were willing to toss Fido a bone. The vast majority of dog owners (87.7%) agreed that they were proud to call their pooch(es) “family.”  Now as for [insert “choice” family member here], that’s another story…

Please rate your level of agreement with the following statements regarding the Dog(s) in your household.

In addition to family member status – or perhaps because of this – health is a top priority for our cherished canines (according to 87.6%). And, in an economy where many shoppers have been opting for generic brands, couponing like crazy, and zeroing in on lowest prices to keep food on their own tables within budget, it’s interesting to note that a “low price” isn’t the top reason to buy a particular brand of dog food. In fact, this penny pinching motivator barely cracks the Top 10 (#9 with 12.4%). Instead, the majority of dog owners (49.4%) most often choose the “brand I trust,” followed by “taste/dog seems to like it” (40.5%). Money does enters the purchase decision with 33.9%, but because the dog food brand is a “good value.” Quality ingredients (27.0%) and nutritional value (25.8%) round out the Top 5. Side note: fewer than one in ten (9.2%) are motivated to buy a particular brand of dog food because it’s natural or organic.

For which of the following reasons do you buy a particular brand of Dog Food most often?

A few other facts related to Fido:

Purina is Top Dog. Purina (i.e. Dog Chow, Beneful, ONE, etc.) is the dog food brand purchased most often by the largest proportion of shoppers (25.3%), while Pedigree (12.9%) and Iams (8.3%) follow. Fewer than one in ten (7.3%) opt for a Natural/Organic brand like Blue Buffalo, Nutro, Orijen, etc., while just 5.0% buy Walmart’s Ol’ Roy most often.
Gen Y Might Have an Attitude Problem. While nearly three-quarters of owners say their dogs are well-behaved, this number lowers to 68.8% among Gen Y. These youngsters are also less likely than their older counterparts to regularly exercise their furry friends. Hmmm…
Keep Calm and Carry On. Most (81.4%) agree that their dog is a comfort to them or helps relieve stress. This is especially true among Boomers (84.6%) and Silents (88.2%).
Empty Nest, but Cozy Canine Companionship. Among members of the Silent generation, nearly all (94.1%) admit that their dog is a member of the family, higher than any other generation. Seven out of ten (70.0%) in this group are also best buds with…well…Buddy, higher than the overall average.
Spare the Rod, Spoil the Dog? About three out of five dog owners (58.2%) confess that they overindulge their dogs with treats and toys. Perhaps too busy spoiling their children, Gen X-ers (54.5%) are the least likely to admit to this.

Girl's Best Friend - All Bark and No Meow

Girl’s Best Friend – All Bark and No Meow

And what’s the best part about dogs? They aren’t cats.

For more information on this data, please contact BIGinsight™.

* Generations were defined for this analysis in the following manner:

Silent (born 1945 or earlier)
Boomers (born 1946 – 1964)
Gen X (born 1965 – 1982)
Gen Y (born 1983 – 1993)

Source: American Pulse™ Survey, MAY-12 #2

© 2012, Prosper®

BIGinsight™ and American Pulse™ are trademarks of Prosper Business Development Corp.

Pain at the Pump: Great Expectations

May 18, 2012 2 comments

Earlier this month, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) significantly downgraded the forecast for summer (April through September) pump prices by 16 cents per gallon to $3.79. With the EIA changing their expectations for the summer, are consumers doing the same? Will the pain at the pump impact Memorial Day? And how do gas price expectations impact consumer behavior?

Let’s start with the upcoming holiday weekend. Less than half (43.3%) of Adults 18+ indicated that increased gas prices will impact their spending for Memorial Day, down more than 10 points from last year (53.7%) when gas prices were more than 30 cents higher on average. This is on par with May of 2007 (43.2%) when gas prices were $3.10 on average and below May of 2008 (56.4%) when prices were $3.66 per gallon. What a difference a few years can make; $3.10 per gallon would feel like a clearance sale at this point.

Note: The EIA gas price data is from the first week of each month which corresponds with the timing of the survey collection.

What do consumers expect prices to be by the time the holiday weekend has passed? On average, Adults 18+ anticipate that prices will be $3.95 by the end of May. Consumers have lowered their expectations after an increase in April ($4.17). While this is still above the $3.79 average expectation the EIA recently released, it’s important to note that they announced their new forecast on May 8, 2012, the same day we completed fielding the Monthly Survey. Stay tuned for June to find out if consumer expectations continue to lower and if these decreasing pump price forecasts help boost their confidence in the economy after it fizzled in May.

Why all this talk about expectations for gas prices? Do they really matter? In the April BIG Call, we learned that the answer is yes. When gas prices exceed consumer expectations, they make changes quickly. The chart below shows the percentage of consumers who said they are driving less because of gas prices compared to actual gas prices. From February to March of 2012, we see a more than ten point jump in those who are thinking twice before putting their foot on the gas pedal. While there was a 30 cent upswing in the average gas price during this time, the percentage who were driving less remained flat from March to April when prices increased 15 cents per gallon. Wouldn’t we expect to see some sort of increase in consumers driving less often in April if the 30 cent upswing in March had such a dramatic effect?

After taking a closer look, we came across a BIG insight. The differentiating factor from February to March is that gas prices exceeded consumer expectations. In February, consumers had only expected gas prices to be $3.69 per gallon by the end of the month. By the first week of March, they were at $3.85 per gallon. So, the consumer expectation was below the actual gas price. In March, consumers had an expectation of $4.08 per gallon by the end of the month and prices were only $4 per gallon by the first week of April. The expectation was higher than the actual price.

 *The actual gas price data is from the first week of the following month.

To keep a pulse on how gas prices and other economic issues are impacting consumers, sign up for the Consumer Vital Signs InsightCenter™.

Source: BIGinsight™ Monthly Consumer Survey – MAY-12 (N = 8789, 5/2 – 5/8/12)

© 2012, Prosper®

BIGinsight™ is a trademark of Prosper Business Development Corp.

Gen Y’s Financial Lessons from Forrest Gump

By now we all should be aware that Gen Y* is a group of savers. According to our May Monthly Consumer Survey, more than two in five (41.9%) of these youngsters maintain plans to pad their piggy banks over the next three months. This compares to fewer than a third of Gen-Xers (29.6%) and just one in five Boomers (22.9%). (Silents clock in at 14.8%, but you’ve got to account for the large proportion of retirees in this group.)

Planning to Increase Savings Over the Next 3 Months

Maybe Gen Y hasn’t taken on enough life “experience” in the form of children, mortgages, loans, credit, etc. to put paying down debt at the forefront of their financial priorities. Maybe Gen Y is still relying on $upport from their Boomer and Gen X parents while working their way up the pay scale. Or perhaps – having just experienced the Great Recession – Gen Y has learned a few lessons from its elder generations. Let’s examine some of these would-be lessons à la one of my faves, Forrest Gump.

[While I do realize that the oldest members of Gen Y were 11 when this classic hit the theaters, please…just humor me on this.]

Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. Financial crisis, anyone? How about the housing meltdown, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, dot-com bubble, war in the Middle East, or rocketing oil prices? [OK, we should have been prepared for a few of those.] Utopian society we are not; on both macro- and micro-environmental levels, we are always going to have something to be worried about. The difference between Gen Y and its older counterparts, though, is that the youngsters seemed to be preparing themselves for life’s uncertainties by improving their financial foundation. When asked to compare their personal financial situation to the previous year, more Gen Y-ers called their monetary “better off” (27.4%) than “worse off” (25.8%). In each of the older generations, those “worse off” outweighed those “better off.” Nearly two in five Boomers (38.0%) say they are “worse off” financially compared to this time last year, while just 14.5% think they are “better off.”

Stupid is as stupid does. Consumers buying on credit drove much of the spending growth we saw in the pre-recession 2000. Keeping up with the Joneses and living beyond their means left a lot of families in a lurch – and unable to keep up with their bills once the value of their McMansions plummeted, credit card fees and interest rates ratcheted up, and pink slips put many on the unemployment line. “Save not squander” might be the Gen Y financial mantra, as more than two in five (42.8%) say they are saving enough for future needs. This figure eclipses the rate of the second-highest financially prepared generation (Silents, at 31.0%) by a full 38%. Just over one in four Gen X-ers feel they are contributing enough to their piggy banks, while Boomers are the least likely to feel secure in their savings.

I am Saving Enough for Future Needs

It happens. Is anyone 100% secure in their place of employment? Unfortunately, a high unemployment rate is currently a fact of life, and – let’s face it – the current 8.1% doesn’t account for those underemployed or discouraged workers. Gen Y may be having trouble securing their first jobs, working up the pay scale, and avoiding LOFO [last on first off] layoffs. But in the event that “it” does hit the fan, this generation is making the most of the income that they have – by saving at rates higher than any other group. Nearly half (45.4%) plan to save more than 10% of their annual income, much higher than Gen X-ers (31.3%) and Boomers (22.9%). Of course, this may in part be the result of fewer financial obligations [*coughs* mortgages…children], but at least Gen Y is consciously saving and not burning through their paychecks, right?

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

Inspiration for this post wasn’t completely random…I recently visited the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in Miami.

For more information on this data, please contact BIGinsight™.

* Generations were defined for this analysis in the following manner:

Silent (born 1945 or earlier)
Boomers (born 1946 – 1964)
Gen X (born 1965 – 1982)
Gen Y (born 1983 – 1993)

Source: BIGinsight™ Monthly Consumer Survey – MAY-12 (N = 8789, 5/2 – 5/8/12)

© 2012, Prosper®

BIGinsight™ is a trademark of Prosper Business Development Corp.

Pain at the Pump: Running on Empty

I have always heard that you shouldn’t let your gas tank run too low on a regular basis because it’s bad for your car (mostly from my dad). In my 10+ years of driving experience, I have let my gas light come on one time and it was in the last month (yes, dad, I listen to you sometimes). When gas is nearing $4/gallon, I’m just less inclined to pull into a station and fill up. I’d rather figure out how many miles I can drive before it is necessary. I’m also one to gamble – filling up when I see prices drop betting that they won’t be any lower when I really need gas.

In this month’s American Pulse survey, we asked consumers what changes they are making regarding their fill-up habits as a result of fluctuating gas prices. More than one-third are filling up less often by letting their tank run close to Empty, just under three in ten are filling up as soon as they see prices drop, and just under one quarter are filling up more often so that the cost isn’t as high each time they go to the pump. When breaking this down by generation, Gen Y-ers are more likely to make changes in general, while this youthful bunch and Gen X are likely the people you will see stranded on the side of the road because they let their tanks get a little too close to empty.

If they don’t run out of gas before they get there, consumers are making many different changes when shopping for groceries. Using coupons more often and purchasing only needed products are at the top of the list for Adults 18+. Boomers are the most likely generation to coupon, stay away from impulse purchases, and buy more store brand and generic. Gen Y and Gen X are the most likely to switch to a different brand because they are cheaper or on sale (hint to CPGers: here’s your chance to steal some share). Gen Y shoppers are much less likely to make a list and stick to it, providing room for some in-store promotion to influence their purchases.

When it comes to clothing, shoes, and accessories, two in five Adults 18+ are only buying sale items because of gas prices. Gen X-ers are least likely to peruse the sale racks while Gen Y-ers are the most likely group to be shopping at discount stores more often and, not surprisingly, shopping at malls less often. More than three in ten Boomers are making clothing, shoes, and accessories a smaller part of their budget.

While gas prices have been flirting with the $4/gallon average, I have yet to see the amount of walkers and stranded cars that were abundant when we first saw that mark in the summer of ’08. I keep thinking of the scene from Forrest Gump where he runs across the country with Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” playing in the background. It might not be a bad idea for all of us find some good running shoes (on sale, of course) and hit the pavement.

Source: American Pulse™ Survey, APR-12 #1, N = 3738

© 2012, Prosper®

BIGinsight™ is a trademark of Prosper Business Development.

Generation Gap: Webaholics Anonymous

Hi. My name is Randi and I am a Webaholic (along with nearly half of the American population!). According to the American Pulse™ Survey from March, 47.5% of Adults 18+ admit that they are addicted to the Internet. The World Wide Web is also the top tech addiction among all generations:

While TV is the #2 digital drug of choice among all Americans, members of Gen Y and Gen X seem more hooked on Facebook. Perhaps keeping up with friends and bartering farm animals is more addicting than tuning in to the boob tube for younger Americans.

Like many of my Gen Yers (although I hate to admit it) I am also addicted to Facebook and my smartphone. However, I can’t whole-heartedly agree with the 33.0% addicted to TV (unless you count reruns of Law & Order SVU on Netflix!). I actually cancelled my cable service a year ago and now rely on Wii streaming and DVDs via snail mail.

Similarly, if they had to choose, the vast majority of Americans (83.0%) would cut the cable and fasten to Wi-Fi. This intention spans across all generations; however, a few more members of the Silent Generation would opt to keep their cable:

Regardless of age, Internet appears to be a necessity. It’s also the more practical option—you can always watch TV episodes online!

Source: American Pulse™ Survey, MAR-12 #1, N = 3892

© 2012, Prosper®

BIGinsight™ is a trademark of Prosper Business Development.

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