the new-food fight: Displaying Our Gut-Level Fear of the Unfamiliar
Euro-sophisticates sneer that the only culture in America is agriculture. Now it’s clear they don’t even like the latest fruits (and vegetables) of our agribusiness know-how. An eight-country survey for The Economist by Toronto-based Angus Reid Group documents a deep hostility in Europe to genetically modified (a.k.a. “gm”) foods–which, to date, are mainly produced in the U.S. In Germany, for instance, 82 percent of those who are aware of the phenomenon said they’d be less likely to buy a food if they knew it contained gm ingredients. That view was shared by 78 percent of respondents in France. In Britain, 34 percent said they see “no advantages” whatsoever to the new foods. Of course, North Americans have their doubts as well, with 57 percent in the U.S. and 68 percent in Canada saying they’d be likely to steer clear of them. Overall, a mere 15 percent of the survey’s gm-aware respondents thought the technology would yield a higher quality of food. For the most part, women were more wary than men. In the U.S., 69 percent of women and 46 percent of men said they’d be less likely to buy foods that included gm components. In Australia, the split was 70 percent of women and 57 percent of men; in Japan, 74 percent of women and 66 percent of men. Only in urban Brazil (68 percent of men, 57 percent of women) was there a significant disparity in the other direction. What is it that worries people? The catchall “food safety/health concerns/allergies” was the fear most often cited (by 31 percent of gm-conscious respondents in the eight countries), followed by the “unknown impact/experimental nature” of gm foods (30 percent). The high level of fear would be easier to comprehend were it not obvious that people are being slaughtered by their current diets of genetically unmodified fare. The aversion to gm foods seems to reflect a basic ambivalence toward technology. Even if our experience has taught us that new is generally safer than old in everything from medicine to aviation, our brains are hard-wired to fear the unknown. Until we’ve been genetically modified ourselves, this tendency will dull our appetites for the new.
perish the thought: Can Money (Quite a Lot) Buy Happiness?
A multimillion-dollar windfall might brighten one’s day, but would it fundamentally change one’s life? A majority of Americans think not, to judge by polling conducted for Adweek by marketing research firm Alden & Associates of Hermosa Beach, Calif. Asked whether winning a lottery jackpot of that size would give them a happier life, 60.7 percent of respondents said it would not. Nor would it necessarily change how they spend their weekdays. When asked whether they’d keep working even after winning a $10 million jackpot, 62.4 percent of those who now have jobs said they would keep toiling. Single people were significantly more likely than married ones to believe a lotto jackpot would bring them happiness. You can interpret this to mean married people are already blissful or that they’re sunk in a despair no amount of money could alleviate. In another breakdown of the data, women were likelier than men to think a windfall would bring a happier life. While a majority of respondents did not believe a pot of money would transform their own lives, many of them doubted that others would feel the same way. Asked whether they believe “most people think money can buy happiness,” 63.4 percent answered “yes.”
satisfaction: It’s a Love of Labor
Is there an inverse proportion between job dissatisfaction and the ease with which people could ditch their current posts and latch on elsewhere? So one might suppose after reading a Harris Poll on “The Mood of American Workers.” Against a backdrop of low unemployment and ample opportunity for job-hoppers, 54 percent of respondents declared themselves “very satisfied” with their current gigs. Another 37 percent are “somewhat satisfied,” leaving just 6 percent who are “not very satisfied” and 3 percent “not satisfied at all.”
Levels of job contentment varied widely among different segments of the labor force. While 60 percent of workers over age 50 said they’re very satisfied, the figure fell to 47 percent among the 18-24-year-olds. Race was also a salient factor, with 56 percent of white workers saying they’re very satisfied with their current jobs, versus 32 percent of black workers. Gender wasn’t a dividing line, with the numbers nearly identical for men and women.
As the chart shows, half of the workers polled think they’re likely to change jobs on their own steam in the next five years. As you’d expect, the likelihood of job-hopping declines with age. Sixty-five percent of the 18-24-year-olds expect to change jobs in the next five years, as do 41 percent of the 25-29s. The figure falls to 29 percent among the 40-49s and to 17 percent in the 50-plus cohort. If you don’t plan to jump, do you expect to be pushed? Just 4 percent said it’s very likely they’ll be fired or laid off in the next five years, with another 7 percent saying it’s somewhat likely. By contrast, 58 percent think it’s not at all likely they’ll be ejected from their current posts.
pack up: Still on the Move, But Not Quite as Much
A self-respecting time capsule of American life in the 20th century would be incomplete without a change-of-address card. We have fully lived up to our stereotype as a mobile people. Moving is a young person’s game, though. With an aging population, will the U.S. start to see less of this famous restlessness? A report issued this month by the Census Bureau indicates it might. Analyzing data from March 1997 to March 1998, it detected a small decline in the number of people who’d moved from one home to another. One-third of people in their 20s had moved during that 12-month period, but just 4 percent of those 65 and over had done so.
If prosperity continues to drive up the incidence of home ownership, that also could slow the nation’s mobility. During the period covered by the report, one-third of renters moved from one home to another, while only 8.2 percent of home-owners did so.
Among other tidbits from the report: Of those who moved during the 12-month period, 27.1 million shifted within the same county, 7.9 million went to another county in the same state and 6.4 million moved out of state. Contrary to stereotypes of a depopulated Rust Belt, “significantly more people moved from the West to the Midwest than vice versa.”
they’ll be backi
An Online Holiday Customer Is a Happy Customer
Here’s disappointing news for those who’d hoped online retailers would fall on their digital faces during the category’s first big Christmas rush: Customers were generally pleased, notwithstanding a few high-profile fiascoes. A Goldman Sachs/PC Data Online survey of people who’d done Internet shopping from home during the holidays found 97 percent saying they plan to buy online again. As to delivery and exchange processes, 95.6 percent of these consumers said their expectations were met or even exceeded. The leading complaint was from the 51.6 percent who said the items they wanted were sometimes out of stock. An Andersen Consulting study found similar results, with 96 percent of “experienced Internet users” saying they plan to use the Web for shopping again next Christmas. And why not? After all, they gave higher marks to Internet retailers for overall
satisfaction than to brick-and-mortar stores or catalogues. Along the same lines, a study by Jupiter Communications found just 4 percent of online shoppers saying they plan to spend less in that venue in 2000, based on their experience during the 1999 holidays. As in the other two studies, out-of-stock items were a leading cause of consumer complaint.
A Wealth of Ignorance,
Car dealers often try to cut through the clutter by annoying us. Now one of them gets our attention by apologizing for the annoying commercials it has run in the past. As the camera displays an array of propitiatory goods–flowers, an “I’m sorry” balloon with sad-faced puppies, an apologetic greeting card, etc.–a mournful voiceover tells us Rogers Pontiac of Chicago “would like to say we’re sorry. Sorry for the car-dealer advertising we’ve subjected you to for as long as you’ve lived.” Will viewers take this as a sincere expression of remorse or as a calculated ploy? Probably the latter. But does it matter? There’s a certain
pleasure in seeing someone grovel before us, even when we assume he doesn’t mean it. Indeed, the tactical grovel pays more tribute to our power as consumers than would the guileless variety, since the latter has more to do with the advertisers’ own guilt-ridden conscience. The Ungar Group of Chicago created the spot.
To those who say we’re a money-mad society, here’s a refutation of sorts: Two-thirds of Americans can’t correctly define the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Nor do 57 percent have more than the most rudimentary idea of what is and is not deductible on their income taxes. And 34 percent are clueless about the amount of money they’ll need to retire comfortably. The figures come from a survey commissioned by Quicken, the personal-finance software, and they add up to a tale of “fiscal illiteracy.” This lack of acumen may reflect the fact that 54 percent of respondents turn to friends and relatives (not to professionals) for financial advice. It’s not as if people think money is unimportant. Forty percent said it’s the “biggest cause of disagreements between spouses or
significant others,” while 15 percent said they feel stress about their finances “every day or almost every day.”
The phrase “quality time” comes up most often in the context of parents and kids. A poll by Town & Country applies it to husbands and wives, asking the magazine’s readers how much quality time they spend with their mates. The respondents averaged 16.8 hours a week. For 2.2 percent, the answer was “none.” At the
opposite end of the spectrum,
10.1 percent enjoy over 30 hours a week of Q.T. For many, this is the equivalent of spending time with Barbara or George (the elder) Bush. We know this because the survey also asked readers to say which of several famous couples they identify with. The Bushes led the list (32.5 percent), followed by Harry and Sally (25.4 percent), Prince Charming and Sleeping Beauty (19 percent), Al and Tipper Gore (13.5 percent) and Scarlett and Rhett Butler (9.5 percent). Sadly, the magazine didn’t offer Homer and Marge as an option.
Why have Americans never warmed to soccer? Not enough scoring. Blink your eye at an inopportune moment and you’ll miss the only goal of the day. But that’s not true of the outdoor game’s indoor counterpart. So, an ad for the indoor league’s Milwaukee team (via Nelson & Schmidt of that city) assures potential fans they’ll see plenty of action at a Waves match–even if they don’t turn their lives around.
This week’s Best Gratuitous Slap at Canadian Rock Music comes in an ad for Garageband.com. So nice to see the Internet used to promote the comity of nations, isn’t it? The Web site gives music fans access to demos by “tons of great underground bands. And a couple of mediocre ones.” You can guess where the latter sort originate. Butler, Shine & Stern of Sausalito, Calif., created the ad
the new-food fight: Displaying Our Gut-Level Fear of the Unfamiliar