Family Matters

By Published on .

If there are any silver linings in the darkness left behind by Sept. 11, among them is this: The vast majority of Americans have elevated family to the top of their priority list. And time seems to have helped solidify its standing: 78 percent of Americans today say their family is more of a priority now than before Sept. 11, compared with 69 percent who said the same last October, according to the second wave of the American Demographics/NFO WorldGroup exclusive survey on family life post-9/11.

Results from this study are directly comparable to those of the poll we ran between October 9 and 11, 2001, also fielded by Greenwich, Conn.-based NFO WorldGroup. The latter wave was conducted by telephone between June 12 and 20, 2002, with a nationally representative sample of 2,500 adults.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Americans with children have become even more adamant over the past year about putting family first. Fully 84 percent of parents with children under the age of 18 say their family is more of a priority for them now than it was before the attacks, up from 74 percent who said the same last fall. Thirty-five percent of these parents say that they've set aside more “family time� on a weekly basis since Sept. 11, and while this percentage has declined somewhat from the share who said they intended to do so last year (40 percent), the fact that over a third did manage to carve out such time for their kids clearly illustrates a significant dedication to the family unit. Parents living in the South and the Northeast, where the attacks occurred, are the most likely to have made the effort, with 37 percent and 33 percent doing so, respectively, compared with 32 percent of parents in the North Central region and just 25 percent of parents in the West.

“Watching the news and hearing about all those families that were destroyed has left an indelible impression on this generation of parents,� says Dr. Susan Newman, a social psychologist and adjunct professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. “They realized after Sept. 11 how much they're missing out on important relationships, events and significant time with their children, and I do not think we'll see those feelings ever change.�

Americans, overall, have made distinct efforts to keep in better touch with their loved ones. Immediately following Sept. 11, for example, 29 percent of adults said that they planned to call family members more often. By June 2002, even more (30 percent) phoned home. Similarly, in October last year, 16 percent of adults said they intended to contact relatives with whom they hadn't spoken in a long time, and by June, 15 percent had actually done so.

As many experts predicted last fall, Americans have indeed spent more time over the past year “cocooning� at home with their loved ones. The results of our survey show that more people have found comfort inside their homes than outside of them: 10 percent of Americans say they've spent a larger portion of their income on home furnishings since the attacks, while 10 percent have spent more on home accessories such as candles and art. And 1 in 5 Americans (19 percent) say that since Sept. 11, they've spent more money than they had before on home entertainment (CDs and home videos, for example), compared with 10 percent who say they've spent more on entertainment outside the home (movies, concerts, etc.). Not surprisingly, adults with children at home are also more likely (24 percent) to have spent a larger share of their dollars on home entertainment. These people are also more likely to say that they've spent more on gifts for their relatives (23 percent) than the general population (19 percent).

“Consumers aren't hiding in their homes. They are improving them and gathering with friends and loved ones as much as possible,� says Gio Gutierrez, a futurist at the Institute for Alternative Futures in Alexandria, Va. “People are looking to connect with family and friends and are placing an ever greater value on the rituals that bring meaning to their lives.�

But even though the home is supposedly where creature comforts abound, many of us continue to tread upon our own doorsteps with trepidation. The percentage of Americans who say they feel less safe in their own homes since 9/11 has declined to 23 percent from 28 percent last October, yet that leaves almost a quarter of us who are still fearful of our most familiar surroundings. Indeed, 11 percent (compared with 10 percent last fall) say they are more distrustful of their neighbors today than they were prior to the attacks. Four percent of all Americans, and 6 percent of parents, say they have purchased a home security system as a direct result of Sept. 11, up from 3 percent and 4 percent, respectively, who had planned on doing so last October.

Hispanic Americans, especially, have become increasingly concerned about ensuring the safety of their families: Today, 35 percent of Hispanics say they feel less safe in their homes, and 18 percent are more distrustful of their neighbors, compared with 28 percent and 12 percent of Hispanics, respectively, who agreed with these statements last year. “Hispanics fear terrorism and further terrorist attacks like everyone else, but they also fear being attacked by people who view them as ‘foreigners,’ people who have no loyalty to this land,� says Emma Sepulveda, a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and an expert on Latino culture. “They keep their children inside their homes and have changed their lifestyle drastically.�

In fact, according to our survey, 46 percent of Hispanic parents say they have become stricter about allowing their kids go out alone, compared with 29 percent who said the same when asked last October. Hispanic immigrants, Sepulveda explains, especially undocumented immigrants, feel vulnerable, fearful they will be taken away from their homes and deported. “Hispanic immigrants also have come from countries where terrorist attacks and brutal, violent dictatorships have been a close, familiar reality,� she says. “The events of 9/11 have awakened the sense of violence and vulnerability that they have suffered personally or have seen affect friends and relatives.�

When it comes to taking steps to secure the financial future of their families, however, Americans overall seem to have returned to pre-September procrastination. In October, 12 percent of adults said that they planned to write or rewrite their will as a result of 9/11. But by June, only half of those had actually done so (6 percent). The decline in the percentage of parents who said they planned to write or rewrite a will in response to Sept. 11 is even greater: 6 percent in June, down from 16 percent in October. Similarly, the number of Americans who said they planned to reevaluate their financial investments and/or hire a financial advisor after Sept. 11 decreased to 8 percent in June, from 11 percent in October. Almost half of all parents with young children (up to age 11) — the group that had been most determined to get their finances in order last year (14 percent) — failed to follow through (8 percent).

This doesn't surprise social psychologist Newman. She suspects that much of the reason that Americans haven't spent much time reexamining their finances since Sept. 11 has little to do with their devotion to family. Even if they wanted to reassess their finances, in this economy and with the market dropping to new lows daily, where would they put their money? she asks. As for writing wills, Newman says that for many people the need doesn't have the same urgency it had before. “Some of it is denial. No one really wants to think about dying,� she says. “Writing a will has become another thing far down on the ‘to do’ list.�

While they know that they should get their finances in order, it seems that Americans are now focusing on the more tangible here-and-now pleasures of life. For many, scheduling family time has become a more imperative “to do� than preparing for an unthinkable “what if.�

Mi Familia

Forty-six percent of Hispanic parents of children age 18 and younger say they have become stricter about allowing their kids to go places alone since Sept. 11, compared with 29 percent of them who said they intended to do so last fall.

WHICH OF THE FOLLOWING LONG-TERM CHANGES WILL YOU MAKE (OCTOBER 2001)/HAVE YOU MADE (JUNE 2002) IN YOUR PARENTING BEHAVIOR IN RESPONSE TO SEPT. 11?

PARENTS OF KIDS 0-18 WHITE BLACK HISPANIC*
More conscious about the media my children consume
Oct 2001 52% 50% 33% 77
June 2002 42% 38% 30% 41%
Stricter about letting my children go places alone
Oct 2001 28% 27% 29% 29%
June 2002 26% 20% 28% 46%
More wary of allowing my children to attend events where large crowds gather
Oct 2001 39% 38% 35% 44%
June 2002 34% 28% 47% 41%
Designate more “family time� with my children during the week
Oct 2001 40% 34% 57% 44%
June 2002 35% 30% 35% 46%
*Hispanic can be of any race. Source: American Demographics/NFO WorldGroup

Lifelines of Communication

Eighteen percent of parents with teenagers say they have purchased a cell phone for themselves or a family member as a result of Sept. 11, compared with 11 percent who planned to do so in October.

PERCENT OF AMERICANS WHO SAID THEY PLANNED TO BUY (OCT. 2001) OR HAVE BOUGHT (JUNE 2002) THE FOLLOWING IN RESPONSE TO SEPT. 11:

PARENTS OF KIDS 0-11 PARENTS OF KIDS 12-17 WHITE BLACK HISPANIC*
Cell phone
Oct 2001 10% 11% 8% 15% 15%
June 2002 13% 18% 10% 19% 16%
Life insurance
Oct 2001 12% 10% 5% 16% 13%
June 2002 7% 8% 4% 11% 10%
*Hispanic can be of any race Source: American Demographics/NFO WorldGroup

Quality Time

In October 2001, 12 percent of Americans with young children (up to age 11) said they planned to take a family vacation in response to the attacks on Sept. 11. By June 2002, almost twice as many (20 percent) said they had taken such a vacation with their loved ones.

PERCENT OF AMERICANS WHO PLANNED TO TAKE A FAMILY VACATION IN RESPONSE TO SEPT. 11 (OCT. 2001) PERCENT OF AMERICANS WHO TOOK A FAMILY VACATION IN RESPONSE TO SEPT. 11 (JUNE 2002)
Region
South 9% 15%
Northeast 9% 16%
North Central 8% 11%
West 9% 10%
Age
18-34 14% 15%
35-44 9% 16%
45-54 7% 14%
55-64 9% 12%
65+ 5% 7%
Children
Kids (ages 0-11) 12% 20%
Kids (ages 12-17) 9% 15%
No kids 8% 10%
Source: American Demographics/NFO WorldGroup

Larry J. Sabato

Director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics in Charlottesville, and author of Overtime! The Election 2000 Thriller (Longman, 2001)

“The most positive, likely long-term change since Sept. 11 has been the American public's increased interest in and knowledge of foreign news. Partly, this is due to the news media's added emphasis on this long-neglected area. But Americans themselves have clearly awakened to the reality that the end of Communism did not signal the end of the United States' need for involvement in the world around us.

The most surprising and discouraging lack of movement since Sept. 11 is in the arena of citizenship. For a while, we expected that Americans would translate their rediscovered patriotism into concrete action, especially by voting regularly. Yet in most elections and primaries held since the attacks, voter turnout has been as low — or even lower — than before.

It is easy to wave a flag on one's doorstep; it takes more dedicated and productive energy to fulfill the important obligations of citizenship. Alas, flag-waving has not yet led to a deepening of commitment to the Republic for which it stands.�

Ryan Mathews

Futurist at First Matter, a think tank in Westport, Conn.

“I think the real changes exist below the carefully crafted veneer of optimism and the calculated laissez faire approach to recent history. Ground Zero has been cleaned up. The Pentagon has been repaired. The media will replay the horrors of a year ago en masse, and we'll all go back to living our lives. But underneath it all, there is a sense of irreparable loss. The heroes of the Greatest Generation fought and defeated an enemy. But the enemies of the current generations of Americans wear no uniforms. They represent no nation. They could be anyone. They could strike anywhere. They fight for causes we can't understand. Theirs isn't a battle for land, or natural resources or even power as we understand it. It's a battle over beliefs — a battle rooted in history, which leads people to commit acts we collectively can barely comprehend.

There have been any number of changes since the World Trade Towers fell and the Pentagon burned. We have added new terms to the American vocabulary. Homeland Security may be a cabinet position by the time these remarks are published. We have voluntarily abrogated some of our most fundamental rights of privacy in the name of patriotism. But the most powerful and permanent change is that we have become linked once and for all to a global consciousness, a mind-set we find alien, confusing and all but incomprehensible. We have been forced out of the comfort of our benign isolationism into the reality that ours too is a nation among other nations. We can no longer hide. We can no longer protect ourselves against ‘them.’

The prophylactic power of our culture to shield us from contamination by other cultures has been breached. To paraphrase James Joyce, history has indeed become a nightmare from which we cannot awaken.�

In this article:
Most Popular