For 15 years, geodemographic sleuth Michael Weiss has been sizing up Americans' generational proclivities, regional peculiarities, and other distinguishing features, often in the pages of this magazine. Why do more guys in Gainesville than Grand Rapids dye their hair? Where do the Brie eaters live? Weiss uses cluster analysis, which categorizes neighborhoods by their shared demographic, social, and economic characteristics, to solve such mysteries. in his last book, Latitudes and Attitudes, he profiled America's consumption habits - everyone from the wok wonks to the metal heads. In his new book, The Clustered World, due out from little, brown and company at the end of the year and excerpted here for the first time, Weiss maps the new cartography of global consumption, and highlights the changes that have redefined the United States in the last decade.
On the eve of the 21st century, America has become a splintered society, with multiethnic towns reflecting a nation more diverse than ever. From the high-rises of Manhattan's Upper East Side to the trailer parks of South Texas, from the techno-elite professionals with their frequent-flyer cards to the blue-collar laborers who frequent corner bars, the American landscape has fractured into distinctive lifestyles, each within its own separate borders.
The horrors of urban living have sparked a migration of city dwellers to the countryside, creating a nation polarized between cosmopolitan cities and homogeneous exurban communities - not to mention pockets of latte and Lexus culture appearing amid cows and country music. At the same time, the rise of gated communities in America bespeaks a population trying to get away from children, gangs, the poor, immigrants, anyone unlike themselves.
Today, the country's new motto should be e pluribus pluriba: out of many, many.
According to the geodemographers at Claritas, the Arlington, Virginia-based marketing company, American society is composed of 62 distinctive lifestyle types - a 55 percent increase over the 40 segments that defined the U.S. populace during the 1970s and '80s. These so-called "clusters" are based on a composite of age, ethnicity, wealth, urbanization, housing style, and family structure. But their boundaries have undergone dramatic shifts in recent years as economic, political, and social trends stratify Americans in new ways. Immigration, women in the workforce, delayed marriage, aging boomers, economic swings - all have combined to increase the number of distinct lifestyles. And advances in database technology that link the clusters to marketing surveys and opinion polls are permitting more accurate portraits of how these disparate population groups behave - whether they prefer tofu or tamales, Mercedes or Mazda, legalizing pot or supporting animal rights.
These lifestyles represent America's modern tribes, each with its own set of values, culture, and means of coping with today's problems. A generation ago, Americans thought of themselves as city dwellers, suburbanites, or country folk. But we are no longer that simple, and our neighborhoods reflect our growing complexity. Once used interchangeably with "neighborhood type," the term cluster now refers to population segments where, thanks to technological advancements, no physical contact is required. The residents of Pools & Patios, a cluster of upper-middle-class suburban couples, may congregate in La Crescenta, California, and Rockville, Maryland, but they also may be found in Spring Hill, Tennessee, or Portland, Maine. These residents can meet their neighbors across a fence to borrow a cup of sugar or argue issues, or they may schmooze online. In the clustered world, geographic communities united by PTAs, political clubs, and Sunday schools have given way to consumption comm! unities defined by demographics, intellect, taste, and outlook. Today's town square is the online chat room.
Of course, regional loyalties that once thrived in geographic isolation still affect values and consumer patterns. In the kitchens of the Northwest, coffee-bean grinders are mandatory. Salsa has outsold ketchup for years in the Southwest.
And yet, as major corporations continually foist their uniform products and national brands on consumers across the land, regional differences are having less and less influence. In an age of overwhelming consumer choices, cluster residents look to brand names and product myths as distinguishing lifestyle markers. Saturn car owners can now gather for company-sponsored "reunions" - though they've never previously met.
Moving to other clusters causes people to adopt new buying patterns, but most Americans inhabit only a handful throughout the course of their lives. Mobility rates have been steadily declining, even while fracturing trends have increased due to economic shifts and increasing divorce rates, among other trends. Twenty years ago, 20.1 percent of all Americans moved every year. Today that figure is 16.7 percent.
"Most people move to where they've been before, either where they went to school or vacation," reports Kristin A. Hansen, a migration expert at the U.S. Census Bureau. Now even laid-off workers are reluctant to move for a new job, though the cluster system may reflect a downshift in lifestyle at the same address. According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an international outplacement firm, only 18 percent of laid-off managers and executives were willing to relocate for a new position in 1995 - the lowest figure in a decade.
Creating a lifestyle cluster system is no mean feat. Geodemographic segmentation systems, mixing demographic information with small units of geography, begin with millions of raw statistics from census surveys. Next, the nation's households are classified into groups based on similarities - much like biologists divide living things into orders, families, and so on. When Claritas analysts first examined the 1990 U.S. census, theylooked at the 600 variables influencing settlement at the neighborhood level. They then came up with 39 key factors in five categories to organize the neighborhoods into natural lifestyle clusters. Every census tract, block group, and Zip+4 unit of microgeography - averaging a dozen households in 22 million postal areas - was assigned to one of the clusters.
But the basic clustering principle, that people of the same ilk flock together like birds of a feather, had a new wrinkle. American's self-absorption, which began in the 1980s, had heightened the diversity within each neighborhood. Nowadays, the tastes and characteristics of a community may change block by block and house by house, from age and marital status to preferred political cause and brand of soda. Thus, while cluster systems can now distinguish the different preferences of a yuppie couple living next door to a comparatively non-materialistic family, its power remains in classifying the lifestyle they share at the neighborhood level. As in the beginning, the cluster systems show how the residents of one neighborhood have a common identity. Their core truth can be simply expressed: You are like your neighbors.
Across the nation, cluster residents announce their distinct lifestyles to the rest of the world through their purchasing power. They demand products - from cheese to jeans to minivans - tailored to reflect their tastes and changing attitudes. In the opulent 1980s, the yuppies of Young Influentials bought gold jewelry as a status symbol. Now, in a less ostentatious age, the hot new status symbol is a good job that allows time for exercise. With affluent tastes now running more toward utilitarianism and self-fulfillment, the one-time owners of BMW sedans now tool around in Range Rovers with racks toting skis and bikes. In the Young Influentials community of Redmond, Washington, home of Microsoft and Nintendo, workaholic techies routinely put in long days on the job, and then head for the surrounding mountains on the weekend to go hiking or biking. Arleen Hiuga, a store manager of REI, a recreational equipment company, sees a steady parade of Young Influentials who come in to be! outfitted for "adrenaline sport" activities that are both physically and psychically challenging. "When your reality is sitting in front of a computer screen for 80 hours a week, you require a balance and pursue a sport for decompressing," she says. "The ultimate experience is a challenging climb uninterrupted by the sight of other nature lovers."
Accordingly, the American Dream is no longer a single vision but depends on what you see when you look into a mirror. In Grain Belt, a cluster of tiny farm towns, the Dream means having enough people to sustain a community. In the small, middle-class cities of Starter Families, it's finding a good job and being able to buy a home. In a new cluster called American Dreams, composed of cities filled with first- and second-generation Americans, a visitor may expect to find the remnants of the melting pot.
In Buena Park, California, a cluster community in the Los Angeles sprawl, the descendants of Japanese, Dutch, and Hispanic immigrants have achieved the traditional signs of status: a comfortable home, well-paying jobs, and college educations for their children. Yet even in this enviable setting, cross-cultural mixing is limited. Older Dutch-descended residents attend their own parties, and the newer Hispanic residents keep to their own stores. Tom Shozi, the 69-year-old son of Japanese immigrants, was born in Colorado, interred in California concentration camps as a teenager, and today calls himself "an all-American" with his cowboy boots, Chevy pickup, and country music tapes. When not working on his strawberry farm, he and his wife attend a Japanese church, watch Japanese soap operas on cable, and socialize at dinner parties with Japanese friends. In his bicultural home, Shozi takes off his shoes at the door and sits down to a typical dinner of meatloaf and mashed potatoes -! eaten with chopsticks.
"I still like to keep a little bit of our Japanese heritage, but I can't understand the current fascination with sushi," he says, making a face at the thought of eating raw fish. "I'm just as American as anyone else."
Well, not exactly. But that's the point.
The splintering society is no surprise to corporate marketers, who have been working with clusters for years. Abroad, the need for micromarketing has fueled the creation of cluster systems in two dozen countries - with new countries being added every few months. The popularity of clustering reflects a tidal wave of demographic forces that is leaving fragmented societies in its wake. Throughout Europe, many nations are experiencing aging populations, rising divorce rates, little household growth, and declining birth rates. Less restrictive zoning laws are encouraging suburban sprawl as young families leave old city centers. Meanwhile, increasing racial and ethnic diversity is obliterating rigid class structures of the past.
Richard Webber, the 50-year-old managing director of Experian, based in Nottingham, England, oversees a sprawling empire of cluster systems that analyze consumers in 19 countries, from Australia and Belgium to South Africa, Peru, and the United States, linked into a single segmentation system called Global MOSAIC. Experian's computers have boiled down 631 different MOSAIC types in the various countries to come up with 14 common lifestyles, classifying 800 million people who produce roughly 80 percent of the world's gross domestic product.
Of course, while political and demographic trends have conspired to bring the world closer together - 300 million Europeans now share a single currency in the euro - each country has its own parochial and idiosyncratic lifestyles that evolved from its unique mix of geography, history, and demographics. Provincial Shiftworkers, a Belgian cluster of downscale textile workers in semi-detached housing, would never be mistaken for any lifestyle in Sweden, where rural, retired mineworkers belong to a one-of-a-kind cluster called Mail Order and Mining.
That said, nearly every country is home to neighborhoods of old-money flats and new-family suburbs, working-class rural villages, and waterfront retirement areas. And the consuming patterns of each lifestyle tend to be the same throughout the world: Whether residents of the same cluster live in Italy or Australia, they tend to drive the same kinds of cars, enjoy the same kinds of entertainment, and worry about the same kinds of political issues.
Behind this clustered world view is a nexus of several social, technological, and business megatrends. Advances in communication technologies have created instant global demand for products. CNN can be watched in 200 countries. Web sites and virtual malls on the Internet allow small companies into the marketplace without "brick and mortar" stores or large capital outlays.
The net effect of these globalizing forces is the creation of similar desires. "There are neighborhoods in Manhattan that are more similar to ones in Milan than in Brooklyn," observes Emily Eelkema, former director of Experian's global micromarketing division. "The yuppie on the Upper East Side of New York has more in common with a yuppie in Stockholm than a downscale person in Brooklyn. The neighborhoods in Fargo, North Dakota, are very similar to Freisland in the Netherlands as well as Calabria in southern Italy. From a day-do-day perspective, their lifestyles, attitudes, motivations, and products are all very similar. They're more provincial and concerned with family and friends."
we are the world
Consider the yuppies, those young, upwardly mobile professionals deified during the go-go 1980s. Like other icons of American culture, yuppiedom has become a booming worldwide import. In Europe, yuppies are seen as the educated elite from the top schools in Oxford and Heidelberg. They're the white-collar professionals who work for international companies. And they're the earliest adopters of imported products and ideas. In Italy, yuppies have taken up jogging in neon-colored Gore-Tex.
In Argentina, they're the hip fans of Robert Johnson who line up in Buenos Aires' trendy blues clubs. Late Night with David Letterman has spawned talk show imitators from Australia to Slovakia, complete with Dave clones who use deadpan humor and skits that employ cast members. In Russia, the set of the talk show Good Evening features a nighttime vista of Moscow copped from Letterman's New York skyline. In Argentina, the host of Duro de Acostar cuts up a bandleader while presenting a Lettermanesque "Top 5" list on a current event. In terms of values and lifestyles, the yuppie audiences appreciate the same wry expressions and slicing hand gestures, no matter where their TV set is located. They simply relate to a universal Letterman body language.
Experian's Global MOSAIC cluster with the highest concentration of yuppies is called Educated Cosmopolitans. Found in large cities and university towns, these well-informed individuals are dispersed in varying concentrations throughout the world: 8 percent of Norwegians and 4 percent of Australians are classified as Educated Cosmopolitans. And their proportion affects the receptivity of foreign goods and ideas in their respective countries.
With jobs in the media, arts, and politics, Educated Cosmopolitans are avid readers of newspapers and magazines, frequenters of restaurants and urban entertainment, and champions of new ideas and experiences - not unlike the Chattering Classes cluster in Britain and the Urban Brahmins in America.
Drawn to the diversity and vitality of the city, Educated Cosmopolitans are more likely than any other cluster to pursue alternative lifestyles (read: gays, unmarried couples, and group households). And they tend to pursue leisure activities like golf and tennis that are costly, exclusive, and desirable when enjoyed in a financially frivolous setting. Ask British yuppies where they like to vacation and the response is "skiing in Aspen." Ask a Spanish yuppie (pronounced joopie) the same question, and the response needs no translation: "Skiing in Aspen."
A visitor need go no further than Brown's Bar in the Clifton section of Bristol, England, to find the universal yuppie in full regalia. Contrary to the stereotypical image of British pubs, Brown's is not a dark, draft-filled haven for dart-throwers and working-class heroes downing pints of Guinness drawn by local lasses. At Brown's, male bartenders sporting bleached hair and earrings serve mostly bottled beer from Mexico, Germany, and the U.S., of all places. Costing $4 a bottle, Budweiser and Rolling Rock are considered premium brews. More than the decor, it's the crowd that sets Brown's Bar apart from the typical British pubs. The patrons are an upscale group of 20- and 30-year-olds. Except for the accents, the same scene is repeated almost nightly in bars like Clyde's or Champions in the heart of Washington's Georgetown.
Because of their role as cultural bridges, the yuppie clusters are critical to the globalization of cultures and lifestyles. As big consumers of media who are open to new experiences and ideas, they are more aware of trends in their own country and abroad. Their relatively high rate of computer and Internet activity provides them access to ideas from all over the world. Their tendency to travel puts them in close contact with others who share similar trendsetting urges. And they have the money to pay for a bottle of Absolut vodka or a pager featuring a running stock ticker. But why yuppies abroad glom onto certain products (cell phones, Starbucks frappaccino, Beemers) and not others is still something of a mystery that multinational companies are trying to solve.
Dr. Richard Fenker, a mathematician who directs a Fort Worth, Texas-based forecast modeling company called Tangram, believes that global yuppies develop shared interests in the same way that infants learn common language structures at certain points in their development.
"I see a kind of synchronicity taking place among yuppies all around the world," he explains. "There's an unconscious knowledge base that'screating more common products and more common tastes. We're moving toward a group mind."
When a German-based Irish rock band called the Kelly Family wanted to tour the United States, organizers first classified members of the band's German fan club by Global MOSAIC cluster and found they tended to live in regionally important mid-sized cities. Then marketers ranked U.S. markets with high concentrations of the same clusters and targeted their promotion campaign there.
Top Global MOSAIC Clusters
Agrarian Heartlands Career Focused Materialists Farming Town Communities Greys, Blue Sea and Mountain Old Wealth
Top U.S. Media Markets
Minneapolis Seattle Dallas Nashville Boston
Top German County Markets
Unteraligau Bernkastel-Wittlich Hildburghausen Cloppenburg Donau-Ries
Sources: Global MOSAIC, Experian Micromarketing, Microm Micromarketing-Systeme und Consult GmbH (country size not to scale)
While yuppies can be found the world over, they're not present in equal proportions in all countries. Education Cosmopolitans, the Global MOSAIC cluster with the highest concentration of young, upwardly mobile, urban professionals, plays a special role in every country: they're the first consumers to accept new products and ideas, spreading the globalization of lifestyles.
The migration of Americans out of the nation's cities has created fast-growing satellite cities with moderately dense population centers and self-sufficient commercial districts. In the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore metropolitan area, Annapolis, Maryland, qualifies as a "second city," with a density score of 71 on a 100-point scale (with 100 being the highest-density area).
The in-town Washington neighborhood of Georgetown, by contrast, has a density figure of 91. Over a span of 50 miles, motorists can experience America's five different types of urbanization: urban, suburban, second city, town, and rural.