Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Religious Independents: God Without the Religion by Mark Penn

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published December 17, 2009

This is the season for traditions: chestnuts roasting on an open fire, carolers on the doorstep, and the endless argument about the secularization of Christmas. This isn’t the usual complaining about the toy and greeting card companies commercializing the holidays, but a much broader trend involving the secularization of religion around the country.

We are still a nation whose coins say “In God We Trust,” where most witnesses in U.S. courts swear “so help me God,” and where our school kids pledge allegiance to “one nation, under God, indivisible.”

But God, as we have traditionally known Him, is evolving for more and more worshippers. Belief in the God revered by most mainstream religions — a highly specific, paternalistic deity with an agreed-upon history and behaviors — is on the decline.

According to the most recent American Religious Identification Survey, only 76% of Americans identify as Christians, down from 86% in 1990. But interestingly, while non-Christians are not choosing Islam or Judaism, neither are they choosing atheism. A poll done by Gallup in 2008 found that 15% of Americans – up from 8% in 1999– say they don’t believe in God, but they do believe in a “Higher Power” or “Universal Spirit.” More and more, Americans believe that the world was created by a spiritual being, but they reject the Torah, the Koran and the New Testament as the explanation for it.

These universal-spirit worshippers, or what we call Religious Independents, are defining a secular Third Way in religion. They are like political independents who vote but refuse to affiliate with a party. Consequently, attendance at Christmas mass may be declining, but celebration of Christmas and the holidays remains as high as ever. Paradoxically, overall belief in a God is rising, while participation in organized religion is declining.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: The Unemployment Cushion by Mark Penn

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published November 18, 2009

Unemployment has hit double digits in the U.S., and in some areas of the industrial Midwest, it is approaching 16%. Joblessness in many parts of this country is destructive beyond belief. The Federal Reserve Chairman said he sees little prospect of immediate relief.

And yet, in other areas it is not nearly as bad as it could have been. One reason is that bringing home a paycheck, especially in upper-income households, is a shared responsibility today. That fact alone, in a recession, can provide a lot of families with a built-in backstop–an Unemployment Cushion–to the destitution that unemployment in a recession can cause.

In the last 50 years, job growth has far outstripped population growth. As a result, today’s 10.2% unemployment rate leaves a far greater proportion of the population at work than in the past. In 1961, for example, when we hit 7.1% unemployment, the record for that period, only a third of Americans had jobs. Today, even with 10% unemployment, nearly half the country, or 138 million people, is still at work.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: On the Web, Amateurs Rivaling Professionals by Mark Penn

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published October 29, 2009

This is the age of the amafessional, when amateurs are rivaling professionals in opportunity, talent and the ability to produce quality work. It’s happening in virtually every field. In areas ranging from communications to medicine to simply making things with your hands, amafessionals are gaining in numbers and the ability to market their services.

Struggling amateurs used to want to become stars, and of course some still do, but this new phenomenon is different. Millions are participating just for the fun and challenge of it–-almost like running in a marathon. “Amafessionals” include both the amateur/professional hybrid and pajama professionals, who often work at home rather than the studio or the office.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: The Declining Soccer Mom by Mark Penn

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published October 7, 2009

The soccer mom is in decline.

Married, middle-class but working suburban moms whose primary concern is how to enrich their children while they are away at work are declining in numbers, in influence and even as a key swing vote.

New preliminary 2008 census figures show that the percentage of households with their own kids under 18 has hit a record low of 30.7%. This is in sharp contrast to the situation in 1960, when nearly a majority (48.9%) of households had such children.

This is indicative not just of a decline in soccer moms, but in kids and population growth in general. Women are marrying later, developing their careers more, and having fewer children.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Grandparents to the Rescue by Mark Penn

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published September 16, 2009

Grandparents are stepping up, and the American family may never be the same.

A few years ago, a key microtrend was the Working Retired — aging Americans who were so enjoying work and health that they either wouldn’t retire or were starting second careers altogether. One incidental effect was that grandparents weren’t around to help their adult children with the kids — putting a squeeze on those younger families, and giving a boost to daycare and nannies. New helicopter parents were increasingly reluctant to call upon their parents, and when they did their parents were often too busy or preoccupied.

But now all that’s turning around with a new countertrend. While many are still working later and later, others are sharing the new family burdens of the economic crisis. With unemployment at nearly 10%, and layoffs increasing for both the young and the old, the terrain of intrafamily dynamics is shifting again. And while more togetherness can be complicated for many families, one group that’s coming out on top is the grandkids.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Phoneless Homes by Mark Penn

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published September 9, 2009

I took my daughter to college this week, and as I watched her set up her off-campus apartment along with her roommates, I had to return a call. So I asked “Where’s the phone?” In response, she held up her cellphone and said, “Ah dad — here it is.” There was no landline phone, and there wouldn’t be. She looked at me like I’d asked where the VCR was.

She and her roommates were getting TV and the Internet, and between them they would have three cellphones. But while they would each have personal communications devices, her household of three adults was a microtrend that is quickly becoming a macrotrend — a phoneless home. The very idea of a “home phone” is becoming obsolete.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Glamping: Its Time Is Coming by Mark Penn

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published August 23, 2009

Europeans love touring churches and museums, but when it comes to vacations, Americans have always loved the great outdoors. Fishing, camping and just driving around are great American pastimes.

But now, welcome to the early stages of the era of “glamping” — glamorous camping. It’s a visit to the outdoors, but updated and upscale. While it’s just starting to take off, it’s likely to grow significantly based on emerging travel and vacation trends.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Boss Nation by Mark Penn

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published August 3, 2009

It’s a common lament in America that we spend too much time working for “the man.” But these days, more and more of us are the man.

According to the Census, more than 10 million Americans are self-employed, up from about 8 million in 1980. Even more telling, the number of “non-employer firms” — businesses with no payroll — recently topped 20 million, up from 15 million in the late 1990s. A lot of people with jobs also have businesses on the side they hope will become big enough to support them.

And so the term “boss” today applies to a lot more of us than ever before.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Lifestyle Inequality: The Habits of American Elites by Mark Penn

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published July 16, 2009

There’s always been lots of talk in this country about income inequality, but very little about lifestyle disparities, differences which are pulling American elites farther and farther away from mainstream America.

These disparities can be as profound as any class distinctions related directly to income; they go beyond having a bigger house, a nicer car or fancier vacations. America has always frowned on the idea of an “aristocracy,” but American elites today are increasingly creating their own separate world of activities, removed from the everyday pursuits of average Americans.

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Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column: Smartphoniacs: Addicts of the Information Age by Mark Penn

Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
By MARK PENN with E. KINNEY ZALESNE
From The Wall Street Journal Microtrends Column
Published July 7, 2009

Among everybody from our leaders to our teenagers, no habit is spreading faster than being connected 24/7 via a smart phone.

Its penetration in the U.S. is estimated at 18%, and it seems that everywhere you turn, people are using their smart phones in new ways and in new places. Samsung recently estimated that it expects 500 million global smart-phone users by 2012. Actual phone calls are becoming extinct compared with handheld texts and email messages — whoever thought people would prefer typing to talking? But the evidence appears to say they do.

This has also given rise to a group of people — the top 10% of smart-phone users — who just can’t stop. They are the smartphoniacs, the true addicts of the information age.

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