Americans Deep in ‘Culture of Recession’

September 9, 2008

This article is included in these additional categories:

CPG & FMCG | Retail & E-Commerce | Women | Youth & Gen X

Economists may debate when the economy officially enters a recession, but Americans have been living in a “Recession Culture” for months, with significant impact on all major lifestyle indicators, according to a survey by Faith Popcorn‘s BrainReserve (via Retailer Daily).

“Out on the street no one is asking if we are in a recession, they’re asking when will it all end and where will we be,” said Faith Popcorn, whose BrainReserve tracks 17 trends comprising Faith Popcorn’s TrendBank.

Below, some of the study findings.

Inclined to Stay Home, Buy Less Stuff

  • Straightened budgets due to higher prices for basic commodities are driving people back into their homes: 72% spend a good deal of time at home, which is why consumer electronics is still a bright spot.
  • In virtually every other category, consumers are rapidly turning off spending, with 84% of those surveyed (90% female, 79% male) “inclined to buy less stuff.”
  • As the cost of basics jumps, nearly everyone (90%) is considering opting for a simpler life.
  • But a sizable minority (35%, concentrated among younger people) uncertain times are a signal to cut loose: Nearly one of five (17%) are drinking and smoking more; 19% are having more sex.

If the Price Is Wrong, Wallets Slam Shut


  • If the price of milk, for example, increases 20%, nearly half (44%) of those surveyed would cut back on purchases. At a 22% price increase, 25% would stop buying milk altogether.
  • A 20% increase in the cost of dry cleaning would result in cutbacks by two-thirds (65%) of Americans, while one-third (31%) would stop altogether.
  • Should movie tickets increase 20%, three-fourths (74%) would cut back while almost half (44%) would stop going to the cinema altogether.
  • Nearly three-fourths (70%) would reduce their soda, juice and bottled-water purchases should prices jump 20%; more than half (58%) would switch to store/generic brands; and one-third (36%) would eliminate purchases in the category completely.
  • A 20% increase in the cost of apparel would result in cutbacks by three-fourths (73%) of Americans.

Economic Impact: Across the Board


  • Two thirds (66%) of Americans are cutting back their spending.
  • Nearly half (47%) expect to reduce home help and daycare.
  • Virtually everyone (84%) has begun making simple changes such as modifying shopping and travel habits.
  • Two-thirds (61%) seek overtime work to make ends meet.

Key ‘BrainReserve Trends’ Affected

Trend: Icon Toppling

Two-thirds (65%) believe the economy, (64%) the country, is heading in the wrong direction. 70% think the financial crisis is a result of corporate, individual greed. Three fourths (74%) believe it’s never been more important to vote than this general election; while half (54%) do not think the election will change anything.

Trend: 99 Lives

Half (48%) believe life has become too complex, with too little time, too much to do.

Trend: Cashing Out

Nearly everyone (90%) is considering opting for a simpler life. Four of five (84%) are inclined to buy less stuff; 72% to remove clutter.

Trend: Fantasy Adventure

Three of five (59%) dream of an entirely different life; 64% of those age 21-29 do.

Trend: Anchoring

Three of five (62%) look to faith to find strength in tough times. Half (48%) are drawn to products of their youth.

Trend: Being Alive

Two-thirds (65%) feel quite healthy; 44% find their diet becoming less healthy as food prices rise; half (48%) are spending less on health and wellness.

Trend: Cocooning

72% believe “my home is my castle” and are spending more time at home; 43% are spending to feather their nests with home entertainment atop the list.

Trend: EGOnomics

Half (48%) feel it’s harder to have a unique style/identity today. Two of three (62%) expect to sacrifice customized products; 60% believe customization is a sales tactic.

Trend: EVEolution

Half (52%) think the promise of equality for women has been realized – males 59%, females 45% – but 30% believe it’s much harder “to have it all” today.

Trend: Pleasure Revenge

One-third (35%) see uncertain times as a reason to “cut loose,” have some fun and worry about the consequences later. One of five (17%) is drinking more, smoking more; 19% are having more sex.

Trend: FutureTense

Two-thirds (65%) believe we will come through these times, as before. Nine of ten (86%) worry that health insurance will become unaffordable. Seven of ten (69%) worry that government will cut back on education spending. Half (55%) fear they will outlive their money.

Trend: SOS

Seven of ten (71%) believe our individual actions will improve society vs. institutional behavior. Half (53%) evaluate companies on their ethics before purchasing. Two-thirds (65%) consider company ethics before investing.

About the study: For BrainReserve’s “Culture of the Recession” survey, 1,011 people were interviewed online between May 29 and June 6, 2008, using SONAR’s national panel of 50% men and 50% women over age 21.


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