business news in context, analysis with attitude

There was an interesting column the other day in the Wall Street Journal by Mark Penn, who posited that there is a major demographic shift taking place in the US that could, I suppose, have an impact on traditional retailing models.

Essentially, Penn argued that the institution of marriage is in decline – not because more people are getting divorced, but because fewer people are walking down the aisle to begin with. He writes:

“Marriage in America is on the rocks. People skirt the issue, talking about how career women delay marriage until it's too late, or about how men marry younger the second time around. But the truth is, except for the highest-income Americans among us, fewer and fewer of us are getting married at all.

“Married couples with children now make up fewer than one in four U.S. households. That's half the rate of 1960. Married households of any type have been in the minority since 2005.

“It's not that people are suddenly more promiscuous, or more celibate. Americans are pairing off and staying together just as much as ever, but now it's without the rings, gowns and expensive photographers.”

This new demographic, Penn writes, are called “committed cohabiters,” and he says that census results show that there are 5.2 million such couples in the US, raising 2.2 million children.

According to the column, “it's not just the young who are living in what just a generation ago was called living in sin -- their parents have adapted and are living that way too. The fastest growth in cohabitation is among the over-50 set. Oftentimes, widows, widowers and divorced Americans over 50 -- who now total 25 million people -- don't want to complicate inheritances (or burial plans) with a second marriage, but they are committing to each other with devotion just as tender as young people experience, and they are counting very much on the other's being there at the end.”

Here’s the marketing angle: “Marketers, too, have yet to recognize committed cohabiters as a class and start offering products that acknowledge their unique status,” Penn writes. “Towels with his and her initials, but separately designed. Address labels that can actually handle two full names. How about a legal and will kit that allows cohabiters to choose just how separate-and-apart they want to be in death, as in life? And if Hallmark is missing out on all those wedding anniversary cards, maybe it's time to celebrate when we moved in together.”

Speaking as someone who has been happily married for more than 25 years, somehow I don't find this very troubling. Not at all.

To me, a much bigger problem than lack of marriage is lack of commitment.

(By the way, you do have to take Mark Penn with a grain of salt. If I’m not mistaken, it wasn't all that long ago that he was confidently predicting that on January 20, it would be Hillary Clinton taking the oath of office, not Barack Obama.)

I have a question. Do Republicans have better accountants than Democrats?

Just curious.

Not everyone is going to agree with me on this, but I feel bad for Michael Phelps.

Okay, what he did was illegal. Maybe even stupid. (Certainly allowing someone in the room with a camera was dumb.)

But he really is just a big kid. Maybe more so that most people his age would be, because he’s been sequestered in that competitive bubble for so long. And kids do dopey things (no pun intended) sometimes.

Now, he’s learned a hard lesson. He’s going to take his lumps, lose a little money and prestige in the process, and will go back into the pool a wiser man.

In the meantime, we need to stop treating him as if he blew up a convent.

This book won’t be for everyone, but I really enjoyed it. “Pictures At A Revolution,” by Mark Harris, is a terrific book about the five Best Picture nominees at the 1968 Academy Awards: “The Graduate,” “Bonnie & Clyde,” “In The Heat Of The Night,” “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner,” and “Dr. Doolittle.”

Harris argues persuasively that this is the intersection of the new and old Hollywood, represented by five movies that were vastly different in scope and intent. “The Graduate” and “Bonnie & Clyde” were products of a new kind of artistic moviemaking, made with one eye on Europe and the other on a dawning American sensibility about authority, violence, and tradition. “In The Heat Of The Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” were sort of old Hollywood pictures with liberal sensibilities that would only go so far. And “Dr. Doolittle” was about as old Hollywood as could be…and also was a terrible movie musical that somehow made the final Oscar cut.

Harris traces all five films from conception to release…and it is fascinating not just as a film book, but also as a piece of sociology and a business book about marketing and changing demographics.

Of the five films, of course, only two would be considered real classics. But I have to admit that the book made me want to re-watch four of them, just to see how they hold up.

But you couldn’t pay me enough money to watch “Dr. Doolittle” again.

My wine of the week, go figure, is from Spain…but it is available to some extent in the US. The Bodegas Victoria Pardina 2005 is a wonderful red that goes down very, very smoothly…it is 90 percent Tempranillo and 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon …and I loved it.

That’s it for this week…looking forward to heading home for a few days.

See you next week.


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