Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Looking at Microtrends

On Friday night, I purchased a new hardcover book: Microtrends by Mark J. Penn.

Penn is the pollster who identified and named the group he called "soccer moms." He suggested to Bill Clinton that his 1996 presidential campaign focus on capturing those votes, and he claims that decision put Clinton in the White House. Penn is now serving as a consultant for Hillary Clinton.

Penn argues that "the most powerful forces in our society are the emerging, counter-intuitive trends that are shaping tomorrow..."

I've often quoted Chris Anderson's The Long Tail in which he talked about the fact that the Internet permits widely diverse small pockets of people to unite into niches. Penn takes that one step farther by identifying seventy-five such niches (or microtrends) and talking about the influence they may have on the world.

Over the next ten days, as I read the book, I'm going to share some of Penn's thoughts. I hope you'll find it as interesting as I do.

The book is organized into fifteen chapters with headings like "Work Life," "Race and Religion," and "Health and Wellness."

I'm going to use the first microtrend that Penn identifies: Sex-Ratio Singles. He explains the trend this way: "In the Wild West 150 years ago, there were too few women, so they had to import brides. Today, we have the opposite problem. There are too few straight men for all the straight women..."

Penn says that there are 90,000 more boys than girls born every year. However, the numbers shift during puberty because more boys die during that period than girls do. "Researchers call it a 'testosterone storm,' which causes more deaths among boys from car accidents, homicides, suicides, and drownings." And don't forget that men die on average about four years earlier than women do.

The "Gay Factor" also makes things tough for single women. Penn suggests there are 7.5 million gay men and 3.5 lesbians in the U.S. This makes the dating equation even more lopsided for heterosexual women; "you get something like 109 million straight women to 98 million straight men--for a straight sex ratio of 53 to 47.

And the picture is even more grim for black women. The high rate of death among black teenage boys coupled with the high rate of incarceration for black men "(4,700 for every 100,000 back men, compared to only 347 for every 100,000 black women)" leaves blacks facing a straight sex ratio of 57 to 43.

While this is great for single straight men, it means that an awful lot of women will go through life without a partner. There are consequences to this. You can figure out some of them pretty easily: "In 2005, single women were the second-largest group of home buyers, just behind married couples . . .[buying] more than twice as many as single men."

Penn says: "Historians have well documented that a society with too many unattached men leads to war. Will a society with too many unattached women lead to peace?"

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