Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Trends: Late-breaking gays, Internet marrieds and more

NPR junkie that I am, I was listening to "The Diane Rehm Show" on WFAE Tuesday morning. Diane had a particularly interesting guest, a guy named Mark Penn. He's a pollster who's best known for pegging "soccer moms" as a vital component of President Bill Clinton's '96 re-election campaign. (He's now Hillary Clinton's chief political adviser on her run for president.)

Penn has co-authored what sounds like a cool book: "Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes." He hypothesizes that in today's splintered society there are all these social subsets that, even though they only make up about 1 percent of the population (that's about 3 million people), they wield a ton of power. A prime example: YouTubers.

During the broadcast (you can listen to it here) Penn mentioned some fascinating microtrends in the realm of relationships.
  • Late-breaking gays: As you can probably guess, that's a group of people who come out as gay later in life, often after years of marriage and children. Penn puts the number around 2.5 million.

  • Internet marrieds: Almost 10 percent of people getting married met on the Internet. The wider range of choices people are exposed to online means traditional barriers have been broken down -- for example, interracial marriages have more than quadrupled.

  • Pet parents: People are getting married later in life, so many of them (along with empty nesters) have pets instead of children ... and they treat those pets as if they are their children, pampering them to the limit. (Don't we all know somebody like that?)

  • Sex-ratio singles: You're not just imagining it: there's a heckuva lot of single women out there. Penn said when he looked at the numbers, he saw several factors at play. When babies are born in the U.S. there are slightly more boys than girls. But by the time they reach their teens more boys have died due to car crashes, violence, drug overdoses, etc. Then when people declare themselves as homosexuals, gay men outnumber gay women 2-to-1. The result? There are about 9 million more straight women than there are straight men. It's a reverse of the Old West, when there were more men than women. Great.

I guess this is as good a time as any to mention we're in the middle of Unmarried and Single Americans Week. Here are the staggering Census numbers; why we all don't just take over a city and have the best party ever, I'll never know.

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