Monday, February 27, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

According to a Pew Research Center report, 42 percent of adults with at least one living parent see or talk with a parent every day. In 1989, only 32 percent maintained daily contact with a parent.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Olympic Medals Per Capita

The 2006 Winter Olympics is a showcase of talent for winter sports. So who came out on top? Germany may have won the most medals—29 of the 252 medals awarded at the games, but Norway beat every other country in medals per capita—an estimated 414 medals per 1 million population.

Per capita medal counts might be considered a better measure of winter sport talent since larger populations boost the probability that a country will have a top performer. By the per capita measure, Germany ranks only 12th in the medal count, with 35 medals per 1 million population. The U.S., which came in second in the overall medal count with a win of 25, ranks a lowly 21st among the 26 countries with at least one medal win, with 8 medals per 1 million population.

Some countries are so small that any win places them high in the per capita rankings. Latvia’s single medal places it ahead of most other countries by the per capita measure. On the other hand, China is so large that even if its athletes won every medal at the games it would still have only 19 medals per capita.

Below is the ranking of countries by their per capita medal count, with actual medals won shown in parentheses. (The populations used to determine the per capita count are for July 2005 and are from the CIA’s World Factbook):

1. Norway: 414 (19)
2. Austria: 281 (23)
3. Estonia: 225 (3)
4. Switzerland: 187 (14)
5. Finland: 172 (9)
6. Sweden: 156 (14)
7. Canada: 73 (24)
8. Croatia: 67 (3)
9. Netherlands: 55 (9)
10. Latvia: 44 (1)
11. Czech Republic: 39 (4)
12. Germany: 35 (29)
13. South Korea: 23 (11)
14. Italy: 19 (11)
15. Slovakia: 18 (1)
16. Russia: 15 (22)
17. France: 15 (9)
18. Bulgaria: 13 (1)
19. Australia: 10 (2)
20. Belarus: 10 (1)
21. United States: 8 (25)
22. Poland: 5 (2)
23. Ukraine: 4 (2)
24. United Kingdom: 2 (1)
25. China: 1 (11)
26. Japan: 1 (1)

Friday, February 24, 2006

Why Can't Americans Save Money?

Results of the 2004 Survey of Consumer finances, released yesterday by the Federal Reserve Board, show a decline in the proportion of households that are saving money. From 59.2 percent in 2001, the proportion saving money during the past year fell to 56.1 percent in 2004. (The survey asked respondents whether their household spent more than their income, the same as their income, or less than their income during the past year. Those who spent less than their income were classified as savers.) Even more ominous given the aging of the population, the percentage of households with retirement accounts fell from 52.2 to 49.7 percent between 2001 and 2004.

This is only the latest evidence of the American struggle to save. Other research has shown participation in retirement savings plans to be woefully inadequate. An analysis by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) reveals that a 40 percent minority of workers participate in a 401(k)-type plan or own an IRA. Another study by EBRI finds only 4.5 percent of workers made a tax-deductible contribution to an IRA in 2002, down from 6.5 percent in 1992.

The 2005 Retirement Confidence Survey finds only 25 percent of workers "very" confident in having enough money to afford a comfortable retirement. No wonder: The 52 percent majority have saved less than $25,000. Even among workers aged 45 or older, most have saved less than $50,000.

Why can't Americans save more? Many factors play a role, such as:
--The steep rise in the cost of necessities such as health insurance. Who can afford to save?
--Economic insecurity. When jobs are tenuous, saving seems like an unaffordable luxury.
--Stock market volatility. Why invest when it might vanish tomorrow?
--Low interest rates. Might as well put your money under the mattress.
--The voluntary nature of retirement savings. Why not wing it and hope for the best?

For too many Americans, their retirement savings plan appears to be a lottery ticket.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

More Gold from Wealth Survey

Results from the long-awaited 2004 Survey of Consumer Finances were released by the Federal Reserve Board this morning, and number crunchers everywhere are drooling over the tables. It's a good thing the findings are so tasty because we will have to gnaw on them for the next three years.

NET WORTH: Household net worth (assets minus debts) barely increased between 2001 and 2004 (up 1.5 percent). Even worse, the net worth of householders aged 35 to 44 plunged by 16 percent during those years, after adjusting for inflation (falling from $82,600 to $69,400). Why? Their financial assets lost value, they took on more debt, and the small increase in the value of their nonfinancial assets (read: homes) did not make up the difference.

FINANCIAL ASSETS: The average household lost a lot of ground here. The median value of the financial assets owned by the average household fell 23 percent between 2001 and 2004, after adjusting for inflation--from a median of $29,800 to $23,000. A smaller 48.6 percent of households owned stock in 2004, down from 51.9 percent in 2001. Among families owning stock both directly and indirectly through mutual funds and retirement accounts, median stock value fell from $36,700 to $24,300. Financial assets as a share of total assets fell from 42 to 36 percent.

NON-FINANCIAL ASSETS: The rise in homeownership can be seen in these numbers. The homeownership rate increased from 67.7 to 69.1 percent between 2001 and 2004. The median value of the average household's nonfinancial assets (including homes) rose 22 percent from$120,900 to $147,800, after adjusting for inflation. The median value of the average household's primary residence climbed 22 percent, from $131,000 to $160,000.

DEBT: Not surprisingly, Americans are deeper in debt. The median amount of debt for households with debt (76 percent of households) rose by 34 percent between 2001 and 2004, from $41,300 to $55,300 after adjusting for inflation. Seventy percent of debt is for home purchase. Credit card debt remains modest. Forty-six percent of households carried a balance on their credit card, owing a median of just $2,200 in 2004.

Federal Reserve Releases New Wealth Data

The Federal Reserve Board released the long-awaited update of the triennial Survey of Consumer Finances at 9:30 this morning. It is available here.

The Survey of Consumer Finances is the only comprehensive look at the wealth of American households over time and by demographic characteristic. The last survey was fielded in 2001, before the 9/11 terrorist attacks and consequent economic disruptions. So what has happened to the wealth of Americans since then? Bottom line: Median household net worth inched up by only 1.5 percent between 2001 and 2004--from $91,700 to $93,100, after adjusting for inflation. This compares with a gain of 17 percent between 1995 and 1998 and 10 percent between 1998 and 2001.

Stay tuned for more analysis...

Friday, February 17, 2006

Boomer Story Takes a Turn

This should give you pause: During the next 15 years, the baby-boom generation will shrink by 10 percent. Between 2005 and 2020, the number of Americans born between 1946 and 1964 will fall from 78 million to 70 million, according to Census Bureau projections. Soon, boomers will no longer be the largest generation. That dubious honor will pass to the millennial generation, born between 1977 and 1994.

The big shrink begins when boomer deaths outnumber gains from immigration. My estimates show we have passed the tipping point. Immigrants in the baby-boom age group boost the boomer population by about 200,000 a year. Right now, deaths are trimming boomers by a slightly larger 223,000. Deaths will outnumber immigrants by a rapidly expanding margin with each passing year.

The older generations of Americans are already in steep decline. The number of people in what we call the Swing (born between 1933 and 1945) and World War II generations (born before 1933) will fall by more than half during the next 15 years, plummeting from 50 million in 2005 to 23 million in 2020.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

Poverty rate of the elderly in 2004: 9.8%
Poverty rate of the elderly if there were no Social Security benefits: 41.1%

Cool Research Link: Spending Anthology

Want to know how the 9/11 terrorist attacks affected household spending on airline fares? You can find out in the 2005 Consumer Expenditure Survey anthology. Household spending on air travel was at a peak of $8.9 billion in the third quarter of 2001 and fell by an eye-popping 31 percent to $6.1 billion in the fourth quarter. The oldest householders (aged 65 or older) cut their spending on airline fares more than any other age group.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

Among people aged 18 to 64, only 45 percent have health insurance through their own employer.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Q & A: How Many Americans are Gay?

Believe it or not, the government asks and tells. According to recently released results from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), nine out of ten people aged 15 to 44 (the survey is limited to that age group) identify themselves as heterosexual. The proportions are almost identical for men (90.2 percent) and women (90.3 percent) and do not vary significantly by age within the 15-to-44 age group.

Does this mean the remaining 10 percent are homosexual? Maybe, but it's hard to say. The government allows respondents to identify themselves as homosexual, bisexual, or "something else." Among men aged 15 to 44, only 2.3 percent identify themselves as homosexual, 1.8 percent say they are bisexual, 3.9 percent say they are something else, and 1.8 percent did not answer the question. Among women the proportions are 1.3 percent homosexual, 2.8 percent bisexual, 3.8 percent something else, and 1.8 percent refused to answer. Just what is "something else"? According to the government report Sexual Behavior and Selected Health Measures: Men and Women 15-44 Years of Age, United States, 2002, some of those saying they are something else may not understand the terminology. So the 10 percent figure may be too large—or maybe not.

The NSFG explores sexual orientation in other ways as well. It asks respondents whether they are attracted more to people of the same sex or the opposite sex. It also asks about lifetime and past-year sexual contact with opposite-sex and same-sex partners. On the attraction question, 92 percent of men aged 15 to 44 say they are attracted only to females—more than the 90 percent of men who say they are heterosexual. Among women, 86 percent say they are attracted only to males—less than the 90 percent who say they are heterosexual. Six percent of men say they have had oral or anal sex with another man in their lifetime. A smaller 2.9 percent say they have done so in the past 12 months. Eleven percent of women say they have had a sexual experience with another woman in their lifetime, and 4.4 percent have done so in the past year (the survey asked men and women different questions regarding same-sex experiences, making it difficult to compare results by gender).

It's likely that many people do not want the government to know their sexual leanings—especially if they are gay. The NSFG interviews were conducted in a way to minimize this hesitancy. Respondents wore headphones and entered their responses into a computer, preventing the interviewer from knowing how they answered the questions. Nevertheless, there's little doubt homosexuality will be under-reported, making the 10 percent figure as good a guess as any.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Bet You Didn't Know

The average American woman weighs 164 pounds, up from 140 pounds in 1960. The average American man weighs 191 pounds, up from 166.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Big Picture on Travel

Travel is one of the world's largest industries. Many people make their living from it. Many others live for it. Yet for some reason it is very difficult to get big-picture demographics on travel, such as the percentage of Americans who travel outside the United States by age.

The Department of Transportation's National Household Travel Survey asks people about their travel only every five years or so, and the data are so arcane, i.e. Annual Person Great Circle Distance Miles of Travel (I'm not making this up), as to be almost useless for all but the most devoted number crunchers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey makes you work up a sweat before you can determine just how much the average American household spends on travel (we did and the answers are here).

The frustrating dearth of travel demographics is what makes the occasional survey on travel that much more welcome. Gallup, for example, offers a glimpse of where Americans have been in its 2005 Lifestyle poll (subscription only). The results show 19 percent of Americans traveled outside the country in the past 12 months, about the same percentage as in 2001. Those most likely to travel abroad: Americans aged 18 to 29.

The AARP's 2005 Travel & Adventure Report, which can be downloaded for free, provides a more detailed look at the travel experiences of boomers (people aged 41 to 59), comparing their travel in 2005 with the travel of 21-to-39-year-olds in 1985. The AARP study finds boomers more likely to have a passport in middle-age (28 percent had one in 2005, up from 10 percent in 1985) and more likely to travel outside the U.S. In 1985, only 17 percent of 21-to-39-year-olds had traveled outside the U.S. in the past three years. In 2005, a larger 24 percent of 41-to-59-year-olds had traveled abroad in the past three years.

The 55 percent majority of boomers consider themselves adventurous, according to the AARP travel report. But they must be talking about adventures with their wallet because their top adventure travel destination is Las Vegas.