American Demographics

2004: A Year of Portentous Change

2004: A Year of Portentous Change


If 2004 were to have a personality, it would be a drama queen. We may not know exactly what the year has in store for us, but if nothing else, we know that it won’t be boring. The war in Iraq slogs on. The presidential campaign kicks off in earnest. The Summer Olympics return to Greece. The Internet grows up with legit music downloads. Biotech drugs let Americans recapture their youthful vigor. Men and woman experiment with sexual taboos, although a growing segment of our society longs for a return to traditional values. College students, unlike their Gen-X predecessors, are now more conservative.

America is more entangled with the rest of the world than at any other time in history. We buy clothes from China, cars from Japan, fruits from South America and luxury goods from Europe. When we call for tech support, the person at the other end of the line may not be in Indiana, but in India. Yet, more Americans are homebodies. We’re more likely to remodel our kitchens than book a trip to see the pyramids in Egypt. We’re more likely to eat take-out than splurge on a three-course meal. And if we do go out, we want to eat casual, inexpensive food. Blame the lackluster economy or 9/11 – or both.

As we deal with scary new diseases, such as SARS, we’re using information from the human genome to create drugs to tackle illnesses that have plagued us for generations. Biotech firm, Genentech Inc., for example, plans to market Raptiva to treat psoriasis. For years, people afflicted with the itchy skin condition used stinky coal tar derivatives to alleviate their symptoms. Other drugs that are based on knowledge of our DNA will also be available this year.

President George W. Bush passed substantial tax cuts, letting Americans pay less to Uncle Sam. Still, many feel financially strapped. States and local governments increased taxes and fees to close their budget gaps; the employment rate is still below its highs of the late ’90s, and many workers who have jobs find that they make less than they did before. To make money go further, Americans shun upscale stores in favor of discount centers, such as dollar stores, and mass merchandisers. But many people will still splurge on flat-screen TVs.

The twelve months ahead promise great accomplishments, historic events, as well as shattered expectations. If anything, 2004 will be memorable for the even greater changes it will set in motion. – LOUISE WITT

Marian Burros

Food writer, The New York Times

We’re still in the comfort food phase. Restaurants are offering down-home type of foods. Barbecue is really big in New York. Pearson’s Texas Barbecue is jammed. Retro restaurants, like Brennan’s a new old-fashioned steakhouse in New York, are also popular. Ordering small plates of food, like tapas, is growing in popularity. This started in San Francisco and now it’s on both coasts. Zaytinya is the hottest restaurant in Washington, D.C. You can have some bites, have a drink and order more plates. It’s casual and inexpensive. Those are two things people are interested in these days. People are also eating at home more than they used to, because fewer women are working. Maybe they’re ordering in, or buying carry out, but they’re eating at home.

Grant Clauser

Editor-in-chief, Dealerscope, a consumer electronics magazine Philadelphia

MP3 sales will be strong with more iPod wannabes. In 2004, there will be 10 or so. Napster’s relaunch, as a legitimate pay file service, will increase their penetration. We’ll see more flat-panel TVs. Prices are coming down and more non-Japanese manufacturers offer them. Hard drive-based video recording, like TiVo and Replay, will increase. TiVo is in the public language like Xerox. You hear, “I’ll TiVo that show.” DVD recorder sales will strengthen. Entry-level prices will be under $300. In a year or two, they will be standard on most DVD players. There’ll be more Wi-Fi networks connecting computers to home entertainment centers and to stereos.

Irma Zandl

President, The Zandl Group, a trends analysis firm, New York

With the growth of the Hispanic population (especially Mexican American) and with hip-hop now over 20 years old, a fresh street/urban culture is emerging: cholo culture. Its gang/East L.A. roots give it a gritty authenticity and unique style. Look for it to influence design especially with the Old English lettering, Pendleton shirts and khakis, bandanas, low-rider bikes and cars. Also, look for more entertainment, especially music, to cross over from that culture.

Madelyn Hochstein

President and cofounder, DYG, Inc., a market research firm Danbury, Conn.

Consumers are trying to change their lives by finding more meaning and living a valuable life. They will try to create change, fix things that are wrong, build a legacy and make every moment count. But there’s a roadblock. They can’t get where they want to go, because of security and economic risks. A lot of next year is going to be about sorting out whom we can trust. On the consumer front, we see them trying to take control in the marketplace. They’re demanding more quality, becoming more information-oriented and exploring things about brands that they may not have looked as closely at before. At the same time that we are building our fortress to protect ourselves, we need a furlough. Americans need escapes. Look for “what the hell” behavior and spending no matter what the economic outlook.

Sue Johanson

Host, The Sunday Night Sex Show on Oxygen Network

Homosexuality will be a big topic. Canada legalized same-sex marriage and the issue is spilling over into the U.S. and other countries. Holland and Sweden just legalized it. There’s also a growing prevalence of anal sex. It’s seen as the thing to do. It was seen as gay sexual behavior, but it’s now seen as acceptable among young heterosexuals. There’s more interest in menage a trois. It’s not every man’s fantasy, but it is a common fantasy among males. More women are watching erotic videos for sexual arousal. Chat rooms will be another big trend. There isn’t a stigma anymore. We’ll also see medication for low sex drive in females. The proper medical term is Inhibited Sexual Desire, or ISD. We’ve been swamped with creams that women can rub on. At this point, they’re bogus. But what will come is testosterone in a patch or in a gel cream to increase sexual arousal.

Cynthia Robbins-Roth

Founding partner, BioVenture Consultants San Mateo, Calif.

Forget the Human Genome Project. That created the dictionary for all the words, but without the definitions. Biotech is now figuring out the definitions. By understanding, at the protein level, which molecules are important in aging, for instance, we can design drugs to slow the process. Some drugs in development, called COX2 inhibitors, can help stop the destruction of bone and cartilage, which causes arthritis and osteoporosis. A drug that may reach the market in 2004 is Acorda Therapeutics’ Fampridrine-SR, which restores conduction in damaged nerve cells. This can help people who have spinal cord injuries or multiple sclerosis. Instead of fooling around with ameliorating the symptoms, biotech drugs stop the disease in its tracks.

Mark Zandi

Senior Economist, West Chester, Pa.

Most people expect the best year since 2000 with GDP growth of more than 4 percent. Unemployment should fall to a little under 6 percent by year-end. However, most of the improvement on the job front won’t occur until 2005. The stock market will have another solid year, up 15 percent to 20 percent to end the year at 11,000. The assumption is that the war won’t spill over and affect the economy. The one dark mark is the largest federal budget deficit on record. It’s at $375 billion and the expectation is that it will be closer to $500 billion at the end of this fiscal year. More tax cutting will come. There’ll be corporate tax cuts, but they’ll be small to offset the elimination of export subsidies. Strong government spending and more tax cuts will be the source of growth in ’04. If we don’t see job growth soon, everyone will revise forecasts down. Tax cuts and low interest rates don’t make for a sustainable rebound. We need jobs.

Scott Adams

Cartoonist, “Dilbert” Blackhawk, Calif.

There’s a growing realization among workers that their managers are thieves. I think that will move from cynical fear to rock-solid knowledge, at which point the employees will feel ethically free to steal as much as they can to try to balance the evil. People will try harder to be promoted, once they see how much they can steal. There’s no CEO that’s earning $100 million a year, but they’re getting that much. The perfect situation is to do the least amount of useful work for the most amount of unearned money.

Jaya Saxena

17-year-old high school student New York

My friends and I like to think that we have better things to spend our time on than fashion. Girls at our school get up at 5 a.m. to straighten their hair and put on makeup. I don’t have that much money to spend, so when I buy an article of clothing, I want it to last. People are becoming conscious that when fashion comes around, you can’t predict where it’s going. You can spend a lot of effort wearing something that’s popular for a month and then when you wear it a year later, it looks so 2003. In school the other day, I saw four popular girls wearing white shirts with tight jeans tucked into Ugg boots. There was a time when wearing the exact same thing as someone else would be considered a major fashion don’t. I dress simply: jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers. With that, you can’t go wrong.

Neil Howe

Co-author of Millennials Rising (Vintage, 2000) and founder, LifeCourse Associates, a marketing firm Great Falls. Va.

For the first time in a long time, you’ll see increased mainstream political activity and increased voter participation rates by college students. This is the first election where the people occupying colleges are Millennials, born 1982 and after. Millennials are capable of participating in mainstream politics, unlike Gen Xers, who believed in splinter parties. They’re also interested in mainstream issues like taxes, going to war, deficits – things that adults ought to be interested in. They are not worrying about what color Clinton’s underwear is.

Candace Corlett

Principal, WSL Strategic Retail, a marketing consultancy New York

Shoppers will focus on discount stores where they get great value. It’s the new normal. Everyone is adjusting to reduced expectations about their finances: 44 percent don’t expect their financial situations to get better next year. We asked people in July where they are shopping more. Thirty percent of them said dollar stores, 11 percent said discount stores and 14 percent said discount clothing stores. Conversely, the stores with the biggest drops were the darlings of the 1990s: 47 percent said they were shopping less at specialty clothing stores. Those are the kinds of choices people will make in 2004.

John Zogby

President and CEO, Zogby International, a polling firm Utica, N.Y.

Look for a return of the angry voter. Anxiety levels will be high. Right now, 1 in 5 voters tells us that they live in a household where someone is afraid of losing a job in the next 12 months. There’s also anxiety about America’s place in the world and our vulnerability to terrorist attacks. Look also for a very competitive election. I think we have a 50/50 president and a 50/50 nation. There is not a doubt in my mind that 2004 is going to be an interesting year. That’s an easy prediction.

Carl Rohde

Cultural anthropologist, University of Utrecht and head of Signs of the Time, a group of qualitative trend research institutes The Netherlands

Males worldwide are confused. A big trend is that we’re evolving from a past based on physical labor into a future of communication. Males are not automatically the first sex anymore. Women communicate as well as men do. Rollerblading and skateboarding are cool among males worldwide. Why? It’s all about male physical prowess. We will continue to see masculinity trends in the “new roughness.” You see it in combat clothes, FHM magazine, Fox’s Fight Club, and over-the-top, ridiculous movies about rough guys.

Mike Agnes

Editor-in-chief Webster’s New World Dictionary Cleveland

Dictionaries report trends that have become established. If a word has received sufficiently widespread and frequent use over three years, it becomes a candidate. Words that have a fair chance of making it into the dictionary in 2004 include: blog, Botox, identity theft, Amber Alert, satellite radio, Wi-Fi and biometrics. The buzzword of the year – transparency – has new meaning. It now means openness in revealing information about the operations of a company, organization, institution, etc. Nanotube could be extremely big. It’s electrically conductive, tensile and strong. I predict that that word will be more important than Gore-Tex was. And supersize is a buzzword for enlarge or make bigger.

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