The Magazine

78 Percent of You Will Read This

David Brooks, trend-getter.

Mar 17, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 26 • By DAVID BROOKS
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ASIDE FROM the one you're holding in your hands and a few others, the best magazine in existence is American Demographics. This thin journal serves up on a monthly basis a relentless stream of facts, data, and theories that seem at first glance to be highly significant and culturally revealing. I pay nearly $60 a year of my own money to subscribe to this periodical, and when it comes I take out my pen, underline the amazing statistics packed into its stories, and rip out the important pages and file them away. Usually I can't find them later, but at least for a moment I have my finger on the pulse of the American public.

For example, you probably don't know who eats more frequently, female teenagers or male teenagers. But I do, because I have the March issue of American Demographics open in front of me. Male teens eat on average 4.6 times a day. Female teens eat only 4.2 times. Female teens are more than twice as likely as males to drink diet soda, but the males are more likely to study product labels for vitamin content.

I happen to know that people with household incomes under $25,000 a year are 38 percent less likely to do yoga than their fellow countrymen, and 54 percent less likely to go to museums. I happen to know that while only 3 percent of Americans are members of a country club, 5 percent are members of a fraternal order. I happen to know that while 34 percent of Hispanics say they would like to get liposuction treatments, only 12 percent of blacks and 20 percent of whites say they'd like to go through the fat vacuum.

Sometimes a page in American Demographics prompts me to do my own research. For example, thanks to an exclusive survey sponsored by the magazine, I've learned that 28 percent of Americans consider themselves "attractive." I walked down the street in Washington recently to check out the accuracy of these figures, and I came to the conclusion that at least 9percent of Americans are deceiving themselves.

On the other hand, 11 percent of Americans say they are "sexy," a number which I think is slightly too low. Roughly a quarter of all women say they would like to get breast augmentation surgery, which I find vaguely depressing, but so do 3 percent of men, which I find downright horrifying. That means as many men in America would like to be a D cup as are members of country clubs.

Some of the figures in American Demographics are unsurprising. Forty-four percent of Americans have tried faith healing, but only 7 percent have tried aromatherapy. It's interesting, though perhaps not life-altering, to know that 7 percent of empty-nesters (couples over 55 with no kids left at home) purchase condoms and 2 percent purchase home pregnancy tests. Home pregnancy tests, by the way, sell faster in March than any other month, debunking old theories about May and June being the season of romance.

It's no news to say that the traditional American family is in decline. Less than one fourth of all households consist of a married couple with at least one child under 18. But it is interesting to note that the trend away from the nuclear family is slowing. According to an essay by William H. Frey, who is my favorite demographer (who's yours?), the stronger than expected showing of traditional families is caused by increased Hispanic and Asian immigration (Hispanics and Asians are about twice as likely as blacks to live in traditional families and about 50 percent more likely than whites) and by the lifestyle choices of Gen-Xers, who are abandoning the nuclear family more slowly than their predecessors.

Guess which metro area has seen the highest rate of growth in married with children households? Las Vegas, by a mile, although Vegas still can't compete with Provo, Utah, which, not surprisingly, leads the nation in traditional families as a percentage of total households.

Forty percent of Americans say they are evangelical Christians, and about a fifth say they are charismatic or Pentecostal. The share of Hispanics who consider themselves Roman Catholic is rapidly declining. The fastest growing church in the country is still Mormonism. The fastest shrinking denominations are still the Presbyterians and the United Church of Christ.

I could go on and on. This only summarizes the data in the first half of the magazine. If there were more space on the page, I could tell you which counties have higher than average spending on lawn care, whether divorcés watch more or less TV than married couples (it's not even close), which TV crime dramas are popular with men who take Viagra. But why should I give you access to all the info I pay $60 a year to acquire? After all, I happen to know that 0.3 percent of Americans are savvy trendwatchers. The rest of you poor saps haven't got a clue.

--David Brooks