A swiftly changing scene.

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International Crime Victims... Almost two-thirds of Argentineans were victims of crime in 1996, according to the 1996 International Crime Victimization Survey conducted by Statistics Canada. The United States reported a victimization rate of 24 percent, which puts it in thelower-third of 34 nations that participated in the study, sponsored by the Ministry of Justice in the Netherlands and the United National Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute.

The Canadian study compared victimization rates in 11 Western countries. A number of countries reported higher crime rates than the United States, including the Netherlands (victimization rate of 32 percent), England/Wales (31 percent), Switzerland (27 percent), Scotland (26 percent), France (25 percent), and Canada (25 percent). Sweden had the same victimization rate as the United States, and Finland (19 percent), Austria (19 percent), and Northern Ireland (17 percent) reported lower rates.

Results of the survey can be misleading, however. Homicides were not included; only surviving victims of violent crimes were interviewed. And the United States has the highest homicide rate-three times higher than any other country, at 7.5 homicides per 100,000 population. Scotland, Canada, France, and Northern Ireland have rates of about 2 homicides per 100,000, while England/Wales, Austria, Switzerland, and Sweden have rates of about 1 per 100,000. The Netherlands had the lowest homicide rate, at only 0.2 per 100,000.

Discounting homicides, the United States is still not as violent a place as some other Western countries. England and Wales have a higher rate of repeated violent offenses-8 percent of the population in those countries reports having been robbed, assaulted, or sexually assaulted more than once in 1996, compared with 7 percent of Americans. In the Netherlands, 7 percent of the population reports having a theft of personal property more than once, compared with 4 percent of Americans.

Car theft is the crime most likely to be reported to the police, and in general, property crimes are reported more frequently than crimes against the person. While slightly less than 60 percent of incidents are reported to the police, 94 percent of car thefts are reported. Only 37 percent of assaults and just 20 percent of sexual assaults are reported to the police.

The most common reason people report crimes are for insurance purposes (35 percent). And the main reason crimes are not reported to the police is because the victim thinks it is not serious (44 percent). - Marcia Mogelonsky

. . . and Crime Protectionn More than three-quarters of Americans believe that the police are doing a good job of controlling crime, according to a 1996 international study of crime victimization. That's the second-highest rating among 11 Western countries. Only Canada, where four-fifths of citizens stand behind the police, rates its crime-fighters higher.

Citizens of the Netherlands are skeptical of their police force-only 45 percent are satisfied with the job their police do, compared with slightly more than half of Austrian, Finnish, Swiss, and French citizens. Around 60 percent of Swedish, Northern Irish, English/Welsh, and Scottish citizens look favorably on their police forces.

Americans are less satisfied with their police forces now than they were in 1989, the first year the survey was conducted. But they are not alone-the only country in which citizens' opinion of the police has improved is Switzerland.

Not surprisingly, crime victims are less likely to be satisfied with police performance than the general population. While 65 percent of people who have not been victims of crimes are happy with the police in their area, 59 percent of crime victims agree.

Public satisfaction with a police force is not related to the number of available officers. For example, there are 335 police officers per 100,000 population in Northern Ireland, the highest percentage of all the countries studied, but police satisfaction was about average in that country. On the other hand, there are only 191 police officers per 100,000 population in Canada, the country with the highest police satisfaction rate. In the United States, where 77 percent of the population think the police do a good job, there are 215 police officers per 100,000 people. - Marcia Mogelonsky

Going Gourmet Sales of gourmet and specialty foods totaled nearly $38.8 billion in 1997, according to Packaged Facts. Product sales in this category rose 32 percent between 1993, when sales were $29.4 billion, and 1997. Packaged Facts estimates that sales will continue to grow by an average of 7 percent annually and approach $54.4 billion by the year 2000.

Packaged Facts uses ten criteria to identify gourmet and specialty foods. The designation is based on quality and cost of the ingredients, whether it has limited distribution or production, its originality and uniqueness, whether it is a regional or ethnic food, if it has unique packaging, a limited market, or is new or cutting edge, or if it has higher prices than mass market counterparts or is exhibited at a fancy foods show. Packaged Facts divides foods in the gourmet and specialty group into five categories: coffee and tea, cheese, confectionery and desserts, pasta, and other products. Other products includes a number of items such as condiments, crackers and snacks, breads, caviars, and so forth.

The two categories with fastest growth from 1993 to 1997 were cheese and other, which grew at an average annual rate of 7.2 percent. The same two categories are expected to lead growth from 1997 to 2002, as well. Sales of items in the catch-all other category are expected to grow by an average rate of 7.3 percent annually. But according to Packaged Facts, the sales of gourmet cheese will grow at a slower rate as the market matures. The firm projects average annual sales growth of 6.3 percent between 1997 and 2002.

In dollar terms, most sales of gourmet or specialty items still take place in supermarkets. Fifty-five percent of the money spent on gourmet items in 1997 was allocated to markets. Gourmet and specialty stores got 30 percent of spending, and other outlets like delis, department stores, kitchenware stores, gift stores, warehouse clubs, discounters, mail order, and the Internet accounted for the rest.-Matthew Klein

Home Office Slowdown? Has the growth of home offices hit a plateau? As usual with trend-related questions, this seemingly simple query requires a more fundamental question to be answered first: What exactly is a home office? Nearly half of home offices are used almost exclusively for conducting personal business, such as paying bills and computing, according to Wirthlin Worldwide. For companies willing to accept that a room with a computer in it is a home office, Wirthlin's estimate of 31 percent of Americans having a home office may suffice. Because the percentage tallies with the share Wirthlin recorded in its Fall 1996 survey, the company believes the home office boom may be losing some of its zip.

For some industries, this may be the case. Computer and personal software manufacturers may want to conclude that it's now time to start fighting over the market that already exists, rather than wait for it to get bigger. But it's not as clear whether the use of home offices for non-personal business has also peaked. When allowed to choose more than one function (rather than the exclusive choice given above), 74 percent of home-office owners say they use it for personal business, 26 percent say it supports a home-based business, 24 percent use it to complete work brought home from a day job, and 9 percent work part-time or full-time for an outside employer.

One particular reason may be causing the last item to lag: corporate culture. Just as blue jeans were a staple of everyday American life for years before dress-down days appeared in office suites, business may be taking its time getting used to employees working from home. Improved telecommunications and relaxed attitudes may change this, and if they do, demands on previously personal home offices may increase, driving spending on a host of ancillary items such as furniture and fax machines. Businesses interested in home offices may want to direct their attention to a different office-the executive suite.-Matthew Klein

Merger Skeptics A warning for corporations contemplating an international merger: be careful how you describe your relationship to the American public. According to Wirthlin Worldwide, 60 percent of Americans say they disapprove of a foreign company acquiring an American company. Daimler-Benz and Chrysler Corp.'s efforts in this direction are apparent, according to Wirthlin. Although Daimler-Benz brought more assets into the deal than Chrysler and Daimler stockholders will have a controlling interest in the new company, media reports in the United States focused more on parts of the deal that resemble partnership more than acquisition. And in its survey, 58 percent of American people think DaimlerChrysler will be a global company, compared with 10 percent who think the company will be primarily foreign-run.

The difference is a critical one. Twenty-nine percent of Americans disapprove of a merger between a U.S. company and a foreign one, compared to the 34 percent who approve of it. In comparison, 15 percent of those surveyed think a foreign company acquiring a U.S. company is a good thing.

Although mergers are good news for many investors and executives, a fairly large share of the U.S. public is less enthusiastic. Thirty-seven percent of those Americans surveyed say that, in general, mergers are somewhat bad or very bad. Slightly more-42 percent-say that, in general, mergers are somewhat or very good.

The number of people who approve of mergers may increase over time, though. Disapproval of mergers decreases in proportion to the age of the person asked. Fifty-two percent of people aged 65 and older give mergers a thumbs down, compared to 22 percent in that age group who approve. But among 18- to 24-year-olds, only 18 percent disapprove, compared with 67 percent who approve.

Young people who say they don't mind mergers may just be bracing themselves for the future. Seventy percent of people say they think the number of corporate mergers and acquisitions, already occurring at a frantic pace, will increase over the next few years. Eighteen percent think they will remain the same, and just 6 percent say they will decrease.-Matthew Klein

What We Did Last Summer Of the 340 areas maintained by the National Park Service, ten accounted for 30 percent of visits in 1997, according to the NPS. Topping the list was the Blue Ridge Parkway, which had 6.7 percent of visits, followed by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area at 5.0 percent, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at 3.6 percent.

Recreation visits per month for each month in 1997 were higher than for the same months in 1996, except April. There were 20.2 million national park, parkway, and recreation area visits in April 1997, compared with 20.8 million in April 1996. The month with the least visits in 1997 was January, when 10.5 million people visited national areas. The previous January, 8.7 million people visited. The month with the heaviest traffic is July. About 41.1 million visits were made to national sites in July 1997, up from 39.9 million in July 1996.

Parks and preserves make up a large share of areas managed by the National Park Service. Twenty-four percent of all areas managed by the service are in this category. Recreation areas come next, at 18.7 percent, followed by parkways and historical parks, at 11.5 percent and 9.3 percent, respectively. Monuments account for 8.8 percent.

The Southeast captured the lion's share of visits, which may be in part due to the fact that national parks in the sunny South are a lot more pleasant in winter months than their Northern counterparts. About 23.6 percent of visits occurred in the Southeast, followed by another nice location, the Pacific West, at 21.3 percent. The Northwest garnered 19.4 percent of visits in 1997, followed by the Intermountain states, at 16.1 percent. But bigger is not necessarily better. The nation's capital alone got 11.3 percent of visits, and comparing population centers, urban areas claimed 28.5 percent of visits, second only to rural areas, at 33.0 percent.-Matthew Klein

Affordable-Housing Control Most Americans prefer low-income housing programs be administered at the state level, according to a new survey, but confidence in state administrators var ies depending on the race and ethnicity of the respondent.

More than three-fourths of voters believe states are more qualified than the federal government to handle affordable-housing programs for low-income families, according to a national voter survey sponsored by Novogradac & Company, a San Francisco-based accounting firm specializing in affordable-housing issues. Only 18 percent of respondents feel Washington is better suited to help low-income families find quality, affordable housing.

Men favor state control slightly more than women, at 78 percent versus 75 percent. By education level, nearly 80 percent of respondents with post-secondary education favor state control of housing, compared with 70 percent of respondents with a high school education or less.

Differences of opinion are far more likely to arise along racial and ethnic lines. Only 50 percent of black voters believe state governments are the most qualified to control affordable housing programs, while 42 percent prefer federal administration. That compares with 81 percent of white voters who favor state administration and 14 percent who favor federal oversight. Hispanics are less adamant, with 70 percent favoring state control and 22 percent preferring federal administration.

Still, most Americans say they support subsidized rental programs. Fully 67 percent favor "federal or state government providing a subsidy for low-income families in order to pay their rent," while only 26 percent oppose such programs and 7 percent have no opinion.-Shelly Rees

Wanna Banana with that? Are American adults eating better? The answer, as revealed by the Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals (CSFII), an ongoing study carried out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is "yes and no." We are eating more grain products-women aged 20 and older have increased their intake of grain mixtures (things like tacos and pizzas) 107 percent from 1977-78 to 1994-95 (the most recently published survey year). Men have increased their grain mixture intake 129 percent.

While our consumption of fruit juice has remained relatively unchanged, we are eating a little more fruit than we did in the 1970s. Women have increased the amount of fruit they eat by 10 percent; intake by men is up 21 percent. Bananas, however, have clearly become a national favorite-women have increased their intake of this tropical fruit by 112 percent and men have upped their banana intake by 90 percent. Perhaps the informational campaigns touting bananas as a "low-fat, high-energy, perfect food" have made an impression on relatively fruit-conservative audiences.

Meat consumption is both up and down, depending on the type of meat. While consumption of specific cuts of meat like steaks or pork chops is down, both men and women are eating more meat mixtures like hamburgers or stews. Meat, poultry, and fish mixtures are more easily obtainable now than in the 1970s, when more traditional cooking methods were still being employed. It was more common during that decade to cook a traditional dinner of meat or poultry and side dishes than to purchase and prepare easy-to-make meal kits, which are more common today.

One of the areas in which consumption has increased the most since 1977-78 is beverages. We have increased our consumption of beer and ale, as well as fruit drinks and fruit ades (as opposed to fruit juices). The biggest single increase is in men's consumption of soft drinks, which is up 162 percent since the late 1970s. Women, too, have increased their consumption of soft drinks-by 114 percent. That may be good news for beverage manufacturers, but it may not bode well for our overall nutrition.

Sex and the Single Athlete Maybe you've seen the sneaker ads implying that girls who participate in sports are less likely to end up in bad social situations. Athleticism does seem to correlate with lower incidence of sex for teenage girls. For boys, it's a different story.

About 48 percent of teenage girls who participate in sports have never had a sexual partner, according to the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. For girls who don't play sports, the figure is much lower, at 37 percent. And of the girls who have had sex, athletes are more likely to have had fewer partners. Twenty-eight percent of athletic girls have had one partner, compared with 24 percent of nonathletic girls. Fifteen percent of girls who play sports have had two or three partners, compared with 26 percent of those who don't play, and 9 percent of athletic girls have had four or more partners. In comparison, 13 percent of girls who don't participate in sports have had four or more partners.

More importantly, girls who participate in sports are less likely to have had sex at an early age. The likelihood that a girl who participates in sports first had sex when she was aged 10 to 14 is less than half that of girls who don't play sports, at 11 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

But parents hoping that sports participation will make their sons less likely to be sexually active may be in for a surprise. Boys who are athletes are not much more likely to have sex than those who are not. Thirty-three percent of athletic boys say they haven't had any sexual partners, compared with 34 percent of non-athletes. But boys who play sports and are sexually active are more likely to have started earlier and had more partners than their counterparts who don't play sports. Eleven percent of athletic boys have had one partner, compared with 19 percent of those who don't play. But 27 percent of boy athletes have had two or three partners, and 29 percent have had four or more, compared with 23 and 25 percent, respectively, for boys who are not athletic. Likewise, 34 percent of boys who play sports first had sex when they were aged 10 to 14, compared with 29 percent of boys who don't play sports who first had sex at that age.

The Y1K Problem Forget the Y2K-mania sweeping the globe. There is a Y1K problem that has nothing to do with the failure of computers worldwide to recognize that a new century has dawned. The problem is that nothing much happened in 1000 A.D., despite its being at the end of the first millennium. I came to this frustrating conclusion after consulting half a dozen of the leading chronologies of the world's history.

Oh, to be sure, people were born and people died and the smiting and pillaging that was typical of the age went on. But most of it started long before 1000 and went on long after.

The really memorable dates wouldn't come until at least a half-century later, in 1066, with the Norman conquest of England by William the Conquerer, and in 1215, with the forced signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede.

In his definitive Encyclopedia of World History, Harvard historian William L. Langer fleshed out his first-millennia chronology with the death of the Norwegian king, Olaf Trygvesson, at the hands of the Swedes and Danes in the year 1000. Rodney Castleden's World History also places the unification of Bohemia and Moravia by King Boleslaw I in the year 1000, and for good measure throws in the invasion of Sri Lanka by the Cholas under King Rajarara the Great.

How bitterly disappointing it must have been for all of those people awaiting apocalyptic events and wondrous occurrences to have nothing more exciting to contemplate than the continuing occupation of Transoxiana (the area east of the Oxus River) by the Turks, or the efforts of the Byzantine Emperor Basil II to reconquer Bulgaria.

The most likely reason why the year 1000 was such a bust was the experience of the Christian population of Europe, multitudes of whom gave up their worldly possessions in 999 A.D., in anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world. Thronging to churches on December 31, 999, their spiritual leaders gave them the bad news: The world wouldn't end until December 31, 1000-the real start of the second millennium. -Ross Baker

Anybody Home? For those interested in housing trends in the United States, Harvard University's Web site for its Joint Center for Housing Studies is a must-see. The center has posted the 1998 edition of the "State of the Nation's Housing," its annual report on the state of housing in America. The latest edition brings good news and bad news. Between 1994 and 1997, the net addition of 4.0 million households to the ranks of homeowners set a three-year record, according to the center. But all of the growth took place outside center cities. That has done little for millions of extremely low-income families, whose numbers remain at peak levels in the face of cutbacks in housing assistance and continuing losses from the affordable stock.

Even so, between 1993 and 1996, lending to low- and moderate-income homebuyers rose 30 percent while lending to those with higher incomes climbed about 20 percent, according to the center. Over the same period, lending to minority buyers was up 45 percent, and it rose 14 percent for white buyers.

The site also contains information on the construction outlook, demographic forces and their effects on homeownership, and low-income housing trends. The site's main drawback is that the many charts and tables presented are offered in a low-resolution graphics format, making them difficult to read. Dedicated visitors will still be able to squeeze some information out of the site, though, and it definitely is worth a visit.

THE GOLDEN STANDARD OF THE 1950S Nearly half a century afterwards, the 1950s stand out as the era against which other decades are held for scrutiny. One in four Americans says the post-war period is the one that comes closest to the "good old days."

As the number of people who personally remember the first half of the 20th century declines, the number citing those earlier decades as the best ones is also shrinking. At the cusp of the 21st century, 17 percent of adults think of times before 1950 with the greatest fondness, just half of the 38 percent who expressed these sentiments in 1974.

Even the 1950s are beginning to lose their star appeal, as are the second-ranked 1960s. Both decades have lost nostalgia ground to the 1970s and 1980s. This is partly because the 1970s and 1980s have now come and gone and can be thought of as "old days." But it's mostly because people of any age rarely select decades in which they haven't lived as the "good old days."

Age is naturally the key determinant of which period is viewed as the best. Despite the angst of adolescence, people seem to remember this time of their lives with the greatest sense of nostalgia. Nearly one-third of young adults under age 30 cite the 1980s as the "good old days," compared with 3 percent of those aged 60 or older. In similar fashion, those aged 30 to 44 view the 1970s as the best, while those aged 45 to 59 cite the 1960s.

The preference for the 1950s is naturally strongest among those aged 60-plus, who had the most adult perspective on this time of post-war peace and prosperity. But the era also holds up as the next-favorite for everyone else. For those in their mid-40s to late-50s, it practically ties with the 1960s. Even under-30s, who never lived in the 1950s, rank the decade second;17 percent of that group chose it.

When people say the "good old days," they mean it, too. A slight majority of 55 percent say the old days were better than the present, up from 38 percent in 1974.

YOU'RE GETTING BETTER, NOT OLDER All the talk about extended "middle years" has made Americans re-evaluate what's "old." Two percent say that terrain doesn't start until age 90, while 15 percent consider over-80 as old. For a third of respondents-32 percent-old age means over 70, while 14 percent consider anyone over 60 to be old. Amazingly, 37 percent of Americans say age is unrelated to chronology. For them, age is only a state of mind.

State of mind or not, however, one in four Americans-23 percent-on the whole dreads getting older, while 14 percent positively enjoy the process. Almost half-45 percent-claim to be neutral about it while 18 percent say they never think about getting older.

Fifty-two percent of people think that retirement will be fun while 8 percent fret that it will boring. Eleven percent anticipate it will be worse, envisioning a health nightmare. Three out of 10-29 percent-say they can't think that far ahead.

If forced though, 78 percent foresee that when they are old, they'll want to mix with younger people as opposed to the 22 percent who think they'll want to live with people their own age.

By a 53-to-47 percent margin, Americans say that they're more afraid of aging than they are or dying. Seventy-three percent of people say that of all the aspects of aging, loss of physical ability is what worries them most. For 18 percent, it's loneliness and seeing friends die, while 9 percent say a change of self-perception is what has them antsy.

For all its negatives, old age seems preferable to the alternative. If people could decide when they'd want to die peacefully in their sleep, 55 percent would opt out before age 90. Twenty-one percent would like to pass on between 90 and 100, while 24 percent would love to reach centenarian status or beyond.

For all the alleged disrespect older people get in this society, it's amazing that 81 percent of respondents consider older people to be more of a gift than a burden to society.

HARD-CORE SHOPPERS In 1997, the average consumer made 94 trips to the supermarket. That's almost twice a week. That same average consumer also made 27 trips to discount stores, 16 trips to drug stores, 13 trips to convenience/gas stores, and 9 trips to warehouse clubs, according to ACNielsen. While warehouse clubs were the least popular destination of shoppers, they were the site of the most spending. An average warehouse club shopping basket contains $66 worth of UPC-coded goods, compared with $28 at discount stores such as Wal Mart and just $23 at supermarkets or grocery stores.

Among all this buying, there is one group that is of particular interest to the stores. One-third of the shopper bases in each channel drives the majority of sales, and it is this group of "heavy shoppers" that retailers should take into consideration. Heavy grocery shoppers, for example, spend more than twice as much as medium grocery shoppers-over $3,700 per year, compared with just under $2,000 for medium shoppers. In discount stores, the heavy shoppers spend more than three times as much as their medium counterparts, while in convenience stores, the heavy shoppers spend more than ten times as much as the medium shoppers.

It is not just the amount each heavy shoppers spends, but also the frequency with which they visit each outlet that distinguishes this group. Heavy shoppers visit the grocery store 122 times per year, compared with 93 annual visits for the medium shopper. They visit discount stores more than twice as often as medium shoppers and they visit convenience/gas stores more than five times as often. On each trip, they spend consistently more than their medium-shopping counterparts.

Who are the heavy shoppers? The demographics of these shoppers varies by channel. Convenience/gas and drug stores tend to attract smaller households (one or two members), while the heavy grocery store shoppers tend to be larger (three or four members). Drug stores are more likely to have heavy shoppers who are older-26 percent of heavy drug store shoppers are aged 65 and older, while other channels see their heavy shoppers primarily coming from households headed by under-55-year-olds. Upscale shoppers are more likely to shop heavily at warehouse clubs, while the poor are more likely to be heavy convenience/gas shoppers than any other segment.

Understanding the profile of the heavy shopper is important to retailers in all channels, since targeting the top spenders is one way to continue to generate high profits. But understanding who your heavy shoppers aren't may also suggest ways of reaching new markets and appealing to new segments.

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