The New Sobriety

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Elise Vazquez, a marketing manager at New York City-based law firm Kaye Scholer LLP, has experienced three bomb scares since Sept. 11 — at work, on the subway and in the commuter train she takes between Manhattan and New Jersey. She's become accustomed to the sound of fire engines and the sight of soldiers in fatigues searching vehicles. “It's always with you; the feeling that something can happen,� she says. “The threats are now part of my routine.�

While Vazquez has found a new routine since the assault on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Tracy Schroth, a writer in Berkeley, Calif., has reverted to some of her old ways. “Life here is generally as it's always been,� she says. Still, even Schroth admits some things have changed: “There's a lot less traffic going in and out of San Francisco, even during rush hour. I'm spending more time at home, and so are many of my friends.�

Have our common sensibilities, attitudes, behaviors changed since Sept. 11? How have threats of anthrax at home and the potential for a protracted military campaign abroad affected daily life? In order to understand the social, demographic and economic implications of recent events, we focused this month's special report on shifting attitudes in five areas: family, work, religion, entertainment and the role of patriotism in business. For four of the five sections, we commissioned exclusive nationwide surveys. Our goal: to go beyond the snapshot view of a moment in time, and try to identify long-lasting change, both in people's daily lives and in their underlying beliefs.

In this issue, we explore which changes are new, and which were accelerated by Sept. 11 events, to help businesses understand consumer behavior patterns. Although many people believe that “everything changed� on Sept. 11, a new sense of sobriety was already simmering in many segments of society before Osama bin Laden became a household name. In July, for example, Yankelovich Partners found that more Baby Boomers than ever were thinking about slowing down the pace of their lives, while the percentage of Gen X women agreeing that their career was not as rewarding as they expected jumped 13 points from three years earlier. And, as this month's Pulse section on the economic outlook shows, consumer confidence was skidding downward even before the attacks.

It's always dangerous to speculate on the long-term consequences of dramatic events, especially those as searing as on Sept. 11. Still, the concerns for security and stability, and the elevation of uniformed public servants such as firefighters and police officers into national heroes, seem to present an undeniably vivid contrast with the celebrity-driven cultural focus of the '90s with its “reality� programming underside, and the money quest of the late great Bull Market. Although it will be up to economists and historians to provide a more definitive perspective on the consequences of the attacks in the years to come, we hope we've provided businesses with a road map to the months ahead.

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