Monday, January 30, 2012

Media Lies and Millennial "Doting"

Column Quick Summary:
  • Many media Millennial dote.
  • Echo Boomers, as a group, do not tend to make healthy choices.
  • Echo Boomers will continue leading the obesity epidemic.

You can find Millennial doting throughout the media. Not only did Millennial parents do this, schools did this, and media are doing it as well. An example of Millennial doting is an article like this, taking about how Echo Boomers will change the way we eat.

Echo Boomers are changing many things, but they are not improving anything in regards to nutrition. Notice, the article fails to make one reference to a study defending any assertion. This is because Generation Y struggles with obesity more than other generations; note:

Fried food alone begins to explain why this generation struggles with being overweight, as opposed to generations past. It is more popular now than ever before, and most consumers fail to realize how dangerous it can be to their health.
For the record, fried food does not explain why this generation struggles with obesity. A simple and basic understanding of macro nutrients explains why this generation is obese.

Sure, some in Generation Y won't eat garbage and will favor things like organic foods, probiotics and ethnic foods (which do not mean "healthier"). But the overall trend indicates that this generation will continue to lead the obesity epidemic, unless Generation Z decides to trump them (they are currently too young to compare).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Will Generation Y Pursue Hybrids?

Column Quick Summary:
  • 60% of Echo Boomers want a hybrid.
  • 2% of Echo Boomers want an electric-only car.
  • Echo Boomers will act on this "want" relative to the price.
  • Cars, like Mazda, will do well due to cheap price and good MPG.
  • Notice, Echo Boomers want cars that possess user-friendly technological features.

Due to the volatility of oil prices, an article points out that 60% of Echo Boomers want hybrids. If you're considering investing in the car market, starting a car business, or seeking business opportunities, there are a few things to consider about this article:

  1. Only 2% of Echo Boomers want an electric-only vehicle. Echo Boomers may view electric-only vehicles as lacking the ability to drive a far distance, thus a combination engine would offer better opportunities.
  2. Financial costs will play the largest factor as to whether Echo Boomers will act on this "want." If companies can't build cheap hybrids, Echo Boomers will still opt in for cars, which use gas only.
  3. Companies like Mazda, which offer a car that receives 47 MPG at a low cost, will win Echo Boomers, even if they aren't hybrids. Before the Mazda 3, Mazda is the third most popular car among Echo Boomers.
  4. Also, the article mentions that Echo Boomers want cars that offer interactive features, like touchscreen and smart phone features.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Interview: Jessica Setnick on Eating Disorders

The responses to the interview questions may not represent the views of The Echo Boom Bomb's author. These interviews are provided to inform readers of information from experts and provide these experts with a medium where they can answer questions without any content changes. You can also read other interviews at this link.

One struggle that Generation Y females and males face is eating disorders, and it seems to be a growing problem. Like with many problems, misinformation can spread and cause some people to avoid seeking the appropriate help. I recently interviewed Jessica Setnick, who is an expert on eating disorders:

Jessica Setnick introduced her compassionate and practical approach to helping individuals with eating disorders in 2003 with Eating Disorders Boot Camp. She is the author of The American Dietetic Association Pocket Guide to Eating Disorders and Director of Training and Education for Ranch 2300 Collegiate Eating Disorders Treatment Program. She is available for presentations and training workshops, and can be reached through her website, www.UnderstandingNutrition.com.

1. What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is the name we give to a chemical problem in the brain that causes a person to use food and eating-related behaviors in inappropriate ways. It is similar to the brain problem that causes a person to use drugs or gambling (for examples) in inappropriate ways. Since scientists/doctors have not been able to identify yet the exact brain problem, we identify eating disorders based on the visible symptoms and behaviors.

2. What factors contribute to or cause eating disorders?

The main contributing factor (as we understand it to date) is a problem with brain chemistry. This problem can be innate (something a person is born with, even if it is not revealed until a later age), or it can be something that is caused by stress, which damages the functioning of the brain, or most likely, it is a combination of the two.

Once the brain chemistry problem is in place, it makes eating disorder behaviors seem desirable, because they modulate brain chemistry. For example, binge-eating changes brain chemistry, because an overload of tryptophan (found in carbohydrates) increases the level of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin gives a feeling of calm to an anxious person. Another example is that self-induced vomiting causes a change in brain chemistry, similar to exercise. When someone with an eating disorder-prone brain is in a panic, vomiting provides them with relief. This behavior then becomes the person’s go-to ‘solution’ for managing stress.

Because the stressor in the equation often comes from the environment, society’s attitudes toward weight and eating are often mentioned as contributing factors in creating eating disorders. The pressure that individuals feel to perform, to meet societal standards of attractiveness, of success, and so on can push them to trial eating disorder behaviors, such as skipping meals, overexercising, dieting, etc. If the person has the genetic or stress-caused brain chemistry problem that makes these behaviors biochemically ‘rewarding’, then he or she will adopt the behaviors on an ongoing basis as a ‘solution’ or self-medication.

3. I've heard that people, who struggle with eating disorders, have emotional connections to food. Is this true, false, or only slightly accurate?

It depends how you interpret ‘emotional connections to food.’ To be more accurate, I would rephrase it slightly into “people with eating disorders use food and eating-related behaviors (eg overeating, undereating, vomiting, overexercising, food rules, etc.) to help manage emotional stress.” So yes, there is an emotional connection with food, and certainly an unhealthy relationship with food, but not necessarily an “I love food!” type of emotional connection.

4. How are eating disorders treated?

The gold standard of eating disorder treatment to date is a three-pronged base of:

Nutritional Counseling (with the goal of nutritional replenishment and restoration, education about the appropriate role of food, and a healthy relationship with food),

Medical Treatment (management of any conditions that have been caused or exacerbated by the eating disorder, such as osteoporosis or osteopenia, thyroid or other hormonal problems, heart conditions, and so on)

Mental Health Treatment (includes both psychiatry, to manage brain chemistry and underlying or exacerbated issues such as depression, anxiety, ADD, OCD, bipolar disorder, chemical dependency, etc. AND psychotherapy, to heal emotional wounds that prolong the eating disorder and to teach skills for more appropriate coping with stress).

Added to those, any combination of group therapy; peer-led or 12-step support groups; family therapy; inpatient, residential, or day hospital care; plus adjunct therapies such as art therapy, movement therapy, equine therapy, and so on; may be recommended on an individual basis.

5. What resources are useful for more information on eating disorders?

I have a list of resources on my website, www.UnderstandingNutrition.com, including a “How do I know if I need help” checklist.

My own book is for professionals, The American Dietetic Association Pocket Guide to Eating Disorders.

Books I would recommend for someone with an eating disorder are Life without Ed, by Jenni Schaefer; and Intuitive Eating, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.

Gurze books, at www.bulimia.com, lists all the books about eating disorders.

The National Eating Disorders Association offers a lot of information about eating disorders and resources on their website.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Cohabitation Versus Marriage

Why Cohabitation Might Be A Better Partner For Generation Y

Column Quick Summary:
  • Education gender ratio defends my assertion that the Millennial generation will have a lower marriage rate than former American generations.
  • Cohabitation may be viewed as an alternative to marriage.
  • Cohabitation offers four advantages over marriage: (1) fewer financial complications, (2) cohabitation is defined in more simple and less complex terms, (3) cohabitation is prevalent in modern art and implies marriage may come later through it, and (4) cohabitation matches the current culture more than marriage.
  • Do sociocultural trends affect economics and finance or vice versa?
  • Young men could always change their mind about marriage and family much later as there's no reason for them to rush.

In the past year, this blog has missed any discussion concerning cohabitation. While any reader could find many opinionated views on cohabitation, this post will only discuss it as an alternative to marriage and a part of serial monogamy (one could also argue that cohabitation is a natural result of hooking up). While I will discuss advantages that cohabitation offers over marriage, these advantages reflect the current attitude of many Echo Boomers.

In my interview with Kay Hymowitz, I asked about the declining marriage rate, and the prediction that Echo Boomers will have a lower marriage rate than former American generations. She replied:

Does this mean that Millennials will not marry in their 30’s or even their 40’s? Not based on my own observations - or the data. The percentage of educated women who get married has increased over the past decades; it’s the less educated who are marrying less. Also, the large majority of young people continue to say they want children someday. College educated men and women know from first-hand observation what research shows over and over: a child has a better chance at doing well in life – including graduating from college - if he or she grows up with her stable, married mother and father.

She makes an excellent point that the educated may experience a different world regarding marriage than the uneducated. However, regarding the Millennial marriage rate only, does this foreshadow a large marriage rate or low one?

As it turns out, if we were look at education as a prediction of marriage in the future and family stability, we have problems. Susan Walsh calls attention to one of these problems:

II. The college sex ratio predicts a dramatic erosion in marriage rates over the next generation among the educated.

At first glance, the news is less alarming for the college educated, if not for society as a whole. The share of college educated individuals currently married is 64%, down 16% from 1960. In contrast, only 47% of those with a high school education are currently married, down 35% since 1960. Marriage has been a more stable institution among the college educated population.

That cannot last. The current sex ratio nationwide in American colleges and universities is 57% female, 43% male, and the gap is widening. This means that among today’s college graduates, 25% of women will not marry college educated men. Let me say that again.

So, the educated are experiencing a better marital world than the uneducated, but when looking at these trends we have to keep in mind that men and women aren't pursuing education in equal numbers. Women are more educated than men, and historically, women don't marry less educated men. If this trend holds, this can only mean one of two things:

  1. The Millennial generation will have lower marriage rates, partially due to an unequal number of educated men and women.
  2. Millennial women will settle for less educated men.
Even I wouldn't have predicted this: Catherine Rampell points out that more young women are going back to school instead of working, which also predicts an even higher unequal education rate among young men and women. The truth is that my prediction in the long run may be too low.

Of course, I don't predict that marriage will die, but I do predict that Echo Boomers will have a 60-66% marriage rate (note that the current marriage rate is 51% for the United States as a whole). While traditionalists might bemoan this prediction or progressive might praise this prediction, we know that the Millennial generation still values parenthood, therefore Echo Boomers still value children and parenting their children regardless of whether they are married. In other words, family values will remain, but the definition of family has changed to no longer include opposite sex parents (Stephanie Coontz discusses family-pertinent topics and the changes we see in family).

Why Echo Boomers Might Favor Cohabitation

Even though Generation Y will have a lower marriage rate than former American generations, does not mean that Generation Y will abandon relationships altogether. Serial monogamy allows more freedom to relationship participants and even offers various forms. For instance, one form of serial monogamy is cohabitation - a couple living together, while maintaining legal and financial separation. The Millennial generation may see some major advantages with cohabitation over marriage, such as:

1. Finances The financial world has changed in the last few decades. For instance, consider the rise of retirement accounts, like the Roth-IRA or the 401(k). How many people do you think discussed these in 1990? As the financial world has changed, this has affected the notion of marriage. Echo Boomers, unlike other American generations, have witnessed the huge financial cost of marriage - from the beginning with weddings, jewelry and honeymoons to the end with alimony, 50-50 splits and attorney fees. While many act as if marriage is an emotional decision, reality makes it clear that finances play the biggest role (as a former banker, I can assure you that money is a major factor in marriage).

But now, with the financial world changing, there are new costs. For instance, how are retirement assets divided up after a divorce? How well does a pre-nup actually hold up after a divorce? How much does a pre-nup cost? What if the man and the woman want to spend different amounts on a wedding (according to Ramit Sethi, the average is around $25,000)? Who pays for the wedding? The questions compound on and on.

How much does cohabitation cost? Compared to marriage, very little. And if it ends, it's relatively light on the wallet, even if it does come with heavy emotional costs.

2. The cohabitation landscape is defined more clearly than marriage. Relationships come with major confusion for young people in today's world, especially young men. Who asks out whom? Who pays for the date? Who proposes? Who's last name is taken? Ad infinitum. Cohabitation eliminates at least half of these absurd questions. For instance, when you cohabit, a honeymoon destination does not have to be agreed upon. Neither does a couple need to agree on a wedding location. Nor does a couple have to introduce their spouse as Ms. Atkins-Johnson or Mr. Johnson-Atkins.

A couple is separate in cohabitation, but together enough to fulfill their relationship needs. A basic observation about social psychology and human behavior: humans tend to avoid confusing situations. For instance, you wouldn't enter a debate where everyone defines words differently because the confusion would frustrate everyone.

3. "Life imitates art far more than art imitates life." Oscar Wilde might assert that since TV portrays cohabitation as a pre-cursor to marriage, some Echo Boomers might think that cohabitation will lead them in the direction they want (assuming they want marriage). In reality, the opposite is true, but art is seldom based on reality; in fact, art is often used as an escape from reality.

Note that this point only addresses those who cohabit with the intent of marrying their partner. Many cohabit as an alternative to marriage.

4. Cohabitation matches the hook up culture better than marriage. If you read the above interview about hooking up, you know it isn't dating. Dating, like marriage, is intentional. Hooking up, like cohabitation, is flexible. I would adduce, based on how Generation Y currently behaves, that Echo Boomers are seeking flexible relationships, not intentional relationships. And I expect this to remain for the long run (for instance, even if Echo Boomers married in high numbers, their desire for flexibility would be seen in a high divorce rate).

So, Which Came First: the Chicken or the Egg?

When I started this blog, I lacked interest in sociocultural factors because they don't seem to be pertinent to finance and economics. I was wrong, and thus have added a focus in sociocultural factors of Generation Y. Sociocultural factors affect businesses and economic trends that we see, and while change is guaranteed in life, a person should be careful about building a career or making economic assumptions based on what other American generations have done.

For instance, if we assume that a higher marriage rate will mean a higher home-ownership rate, we might state that a declining marriage rate would mean bad news for the housing market. However, the opposite could be true: if you have more single people and the majority of the single people buy a home, the housing demand would be higher than if the majority of people married. In a nutshell, sociocultural factors are important in any economic or finance discussion.

That being written, which affects which? Do economic factors affect sociocultural factors or vice versa?

A Final Note on Men

Numerous social experts have noted that young men aren't doing as well as young women. However, the young men who are doing well, are succeeding in numerous areas - most notably wealth. But young men with substantial amounts of wealth were seldom married and lacked interest in marriage, though they had numerous other goals. Kay Hymowitz makes an excellent sociocultural point about men and Dan Eisenberg makes an excellent biological observation about older men, which could be missed in this relationship discussion:

With no biological pressure, men don’t have the same time frame. Some of them continue to think of themselves as boys – or “dudes” – and to think of adulthood as something way off in the distance. [Kay Hymowitz]
However, previous studies have shown that children of older fathers have longer telomeres (probably because as a man ages, telomeres in his sperm get longer). Our study shows for the first time that this happens across at least two generations: older fathers not only have offspring with longer telomeres, but their sons also have offspring with longer telomeres. That is, having an older grandfather on your dad’s side at the birth of your father predicts that you will have longer telomeres.

...

Consistent with this, shorter telomere lengths are associated with increased mortality from infectious diseases and cardiovascular diseases. [Dan Eisenberg]

In other words, Millennial males could pursue hooking up and cohabitation for now until marrying later in their forties or even fifties. For instance, one well-known investor, Jim Rogers (commodities expert), had children much later in life. While this is unusual for his generation, I wouldn't be surprised if a portion of Millennial males did this.

In a nutshell, young men could change their mind about marriage and family much later. Considering that Echo Boomers are currently 17-32, there is no rush.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Generation Z Dumps Email Use

Column Quick Summary:
  • Email drops among Generation Z and some members of Generation Y.
  • Some websites offer services, which allow users to communicate.
  • Generation Z may use social media solely for messaging, making email a past trend.

Email use among young people is on the decline, according to an article in the New York Times on technology. While its decline among Echo Boomers is slight, the most significant change has been among the next generation - Generation Z.

Services on some websites may be aggregating, meaning that a site, which offers multiple features for its users may be a preferred method of communication over email. An an example, many popular forums offer a private message feature, which may be seen as an alternative to email. If the internet becomes aggregated into a few sites, where message features are allowed, the use of Hotmail or Yahoo mail will decline unless these sites begin to add features for their users.

Generation Z may not see the need for email in the long run and switch solely to social media for messaging others. Unfortunately, at this time, email is often required for social media, though the overall use of email is declining (its unnecessary) among younger Americans. These social media business may drop that requirement, giving them a competitive edge as their site will be for messaging.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Interview: Kay Hymowitz of the Manhattan Institute

The responses to the interview questions may not represent the views of The Echo Boom Bomb's author. These interviews are provided to inform readers of information from experts and provide these experts with a medium where they can answer questions without any content changes. You can also read other interviews at this link.


One prediction I make is that the Millennial generation will have a low marriage rate. However, there are other socioeconomic trends that play into my prediction - for instance, the growing emphasis on education can delay marital formation, as the claim by some media that young men and women seem to be drifting in different directions (this favors cohabitation over marriage). Kay Hymowitz has written articles and even a book based on research into a few of these observations. From her Manhattan Institute bio:

Kay S. Hymowitz is the William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. She writes extensively on childhood, family issues, poverty, and cultural change in America.

Hymowitz is the author of 4 books including Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age and Liberation's Children: Parents and Kids in a Postmodern Age. Her newest book, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Is Turning Men Into Boys, was published by Basic Books in March, 2011.

Ms. Hymowitz has also written for many major publications including The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, New York Newsday, The Public Interest, The Wilson Quarterly, and Commentary.

In addition to her writing, Hymowitz has presented her work at many conferences, most recently at "A New Era: Defining Civil Rights in the 21st Century," sponsored by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights She sits on the board of the journal National Affairs and of Future of Children, a publication of the Brookings Institute and the Woodrow Wilson School. She has also discussed her work on numerous radio and television programs.

A native of Philadelphia, Hymowitz has degrees in English literature from Brandeis, Tufts, and Columbia University. She and her husband have three grown children and live in Brooklyn.

1. America tends to encourage its children to go to school for a good job in the business world. Suppose a young person decided against that (due to a growing zeitgeist questioning education), what three things would you advise that person?

I agree that college has been oversold. But now I fear the same is happening with the drop-out, start-up romance inspired by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Still, if you’re thinking of skipping college, keep in mind the following:

One, you are only 17 (or 18) and you probably don’t know much about yourself or about the way the world works. At its best, college can provide a time out to do some more growing up before you are set loose. But if you are someone who is very independent and self-motivated, if you have an idea of something you really want to do, if you can wake up in the morning knowing that it’s completely up to you to figure out how to make that happen without panicking, or without putting the pillow over your head and going back to sleep, go for it.

Two, avoid the “grand tour” and barista traps. The best way to learn about how to align your interests and the work place is to get a job. Don’t assume you’ll figure it out by travelling through South America. And don’t put it off by taking a job at Starbucks unless absolutely necessary. You need time in the workplace just to figure out the incredible variety and complexity of jobs today. Do you know what a risk analyst does? A script supervisor? A content strategist? Probably not. There’s a world out there of new and often exciting possibilities that you’ll need to learn about on your own.

Three: be ready to change your mind, maybe several times. People often have preconceptions about what kind of work would make them happy, only to find out they had no idea what the daily grind feels like. My son graduated from college, decided to follow his “dream” job as a sports announcer. After cold calling hundreds of people, developing tapes, offering to help a fledgling team for free, sleeping on floors in strange people’s apartments in strange cities, he got a position as an announcer for a minor league baseball team in Florida. Within six months, he realized he didn’t love sports as much as he had at 16. He took a job as a producer at MSNBC, got inspired by some of the pundits and commentators, decided to get a master’s degree in public policy, and at 30 went to work in international development in Africa. He never, ever could have seen that coming at 22.

2. According to Pew (as of 2010), the Millennial generation at its current age (18-28) has the lowest marriage rate compared to other American generations at that age. What factors have contributed to this? Also, how would you respond to people who predict that the Millennial generation will have a low marriage rate?

Let’s disentangle a few important strands of this discussion. It’s almost impossible to talk about what’s happening to marriage in the United States, among Millennials or anyone else, without talking about class. The widely discussed changes in marriage – by which people usually mean high divorce rates, nonmarital births, and nonmarriage – is concentrated among the lower and working class. That group is more likely to have children in their early or mid twenties while single or cohabiting. If trends continue as they have, they will eventually marry, though often not to the father or mother of their children.

The college educated middle class – and I presume that includes most of The Echo Boom Bomb's readers – do things differently. They are waiting to marry and to have children, often well into their 30’s. They have good reason to do that. Preparing for a high end career takes years of education, internships, fellowships, moving between jobs, possibly between different cities or even different countries. (See above.) It’s awfully hard to coordinate two careers during this time.

Does this mean that Millennials will not marry in their 30’s or even their 40’s? Not based on my own observations - or the data. The percentage of educated women who get married has increased over the past decades; it’s the less educated who are marrying less. Also, the large majority of young people continue to say they want children someday. College educated men and women know from first-hand observation what research shows over and over: a child has a better chance at doing well in life – including graduating from college - if he or she grows up with her stable, married mother and father.

It’s worth mentioning, by the way, that disentangling the data in this way casts some doubt on the idea that marriage is “obsolete,” as in, no longer useful. Marriage continues to do what it’s always done: provide the most promising environment for raising the next generation. That may seem irrelevant to your life in your twenties; it won’t by the time you reach, say, 35.

3. What can be done with the educational system - if anything is necessary - to correct some of these social problems that you mention in your book Manning Up, such as young men avoiding/delaying maturity?

Up until fairly recently, people in their twenties knew exactly what was expected of them in the social realm: they were supposed to find someone to marry and start their families. Now, for the college educated at any rate, the twenties are primarily a decade for establishing a career. The social scripts – when or whether to marry, who asks for a date, who pays, whether or when to call after a hook up - have been tossed up in the air and have yet to come down. I think the ambiguities are particularly puzzling for men. Twentysomething women have more degrees, more money, and arguably more ambition than they do. Yet a lot of women still seem to want and expect some traditional moves of mating and dating from them. At the same time, they expect to be treated as equals. You have to be an emotional genius to figure it all out.

Adding to the tension is the biological clock. Women are aware, either consciously or not, that if they are planning to have a family, they’d better be settled with a husband by their mid 30’s when their fertility takes a big drop. That means they’re more likely to get serious about finding a mate in their later 20’s. With no biological pressure, men don’t have the same time frame. Some of them continue to think of themselves as boys – or “dudes” – and to think of adulthood as something way off in the distance.

Editor's Note: Kay has a point here and science agrees. Dan Eisenberg's research might indicate that older fathers carry an advantage that younger fathers don't possess. This could provide an evolutionary explanation why a few young women might prefer an older man, and also why a few men may not see the logic in maturing quickly - an older father could pass on genetice advantages to his offspring.

I don’t think the educational system has much of a role in resolving these tensions. But for the sake of their own well being, it would be a good idea for Millennials to admit that they will probably marry and have children someday, just like previous generations have, and to think of their twenties as leading up to that major life task rather than just time for hooking up and hanging out. Freud used to say that happiness requires finding satisfaction in two things: love and work. He was wrong about a lot, but that little observation holds up pretty well.

Update: updated a few errors, most notably, the last name!