The Life-style Odyssey
by James L. Morrison

[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in On the Horizon, 1992, 1(2), 3-4. It is posted here with permission from Jossey Bass Publishers.]

There are six overall principles that will shape the lifestyles of the 1990's:

  1. Fragmentation: on many levels, as minorities increase, and consumers splinter into many groups (yet there will be a yearning for cohesion, which may lead to a national political consensus);
  2. Bifurcation: as the middle class shrinks and people move up- or down-scale;
  3. Optimism/Self-Confidence: Americans remain generally satisfied and self-confident about their personal situation, but confidence in the country has declined;
  4. A National Lifecycle: just as individuals go through a mid-life crisis, America is entering a pre-crisis time and a more mature nature will emerge, with the global community more a part of our lives and with the environment as a priority;
  5. Need for Control: Americans will seek to control their lives or at least get a feeling of control; stress reduction will become a watchword and inform household activities; guarding individual rights against Big Brother will be a consistent theme;
  6. Recession/ Money: income growth will be flat through the early 1990s, and taxes will continue to rise; personal bankruptcies-now at a record high-will increase 10% annually, notably in the Sunbelt.

Microtrends include:

  1. Demographics: the divorce rate will continue its slow decrease; the trend toward later marriage is peaking; the number of single adults will continue to climb from its present all-time high; traditional households of related persons will be surpassed by non-traditional households about 2010;
  2. Home: people are fixing up their current homes instead of moving into bigger ones (almost half of current homeowners plan to renovate in the next few years); there are now more cat-owning households (46%) than dog-owning (40%), a change from 21% cats/35% dogs 35 years ago;
  3. Money: we live in a time of financial caution (the average household debt is 94% of its after-tax income); a growing number of people are stuck just above the poverty line and not able to gain ground;
  4. Shopping: a shift from "shop till you drop" to "shop when you have to" due to scarce time and money and less conspicuous consumption; second-hand goods will rise in stature, and wastefulness will be frowned upon; men are doing slightly more shopping than in the past and will do more in the 1990s; as many as 20% of all regional shopping malls in the US will close by 2000; over half of today's retailers will be out of business by 2000 as Americans shop more in catalogs and discount stores;
  5. Food: more fast food, and faster food, healthy eating, pleasure eating, and environmental concern (purer products with less packaging); away-from-home food spending will rise in the l990s from 38% to 41% of the food dollar,
  6. Media: Americans watch TV 28 hours a week, up slightly from 25 hours in 1950, but the overall opinion of TV has been turning downward since the 1960s; as many as 90% of US households may have a VCR by l995; there will be more advertising clutter and decreasing ad recall by viewers;
  7. Work: career-obsession is on the wane, as a middle-aging nation seeks to balance work and family; anxiety about job security is increasing: fewer than one-fourth of US workers feel secure in the long-term prospects of keeping their present job;
  8. Travel: the shortage of time for pleasure travel derives from extensive work hours, the hectic pace of life, and the increasing difficulty for two-income couples to coordinate vacations; Americans are taking shorter vacations closer to home: business travel has increased 48% in the last five years but cost-cutting may keep demand down;
  9. Health and Fitness: the rhetoric of wellness will be taken more seriously, as Americans diagnose their own ailments, exercise more, eat better, focus on stress reduction, and explore alternative medicine. [Miller, E. (1992, January). The Lifestyle Odyssey: The Facts Behind the Social, Personal, and Cultural Changes Touching Each of Our Lives. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Trade.]


These trends signal important changes for higher education. The gradual reduction of the middle class will mean that fewer students will be able to afford a college or university education. Decisions as to whether or not to pursue a university degree, and if so, which university to attend, will be based to a much greater extent on cost/benefit issues. As a result, colleges and universities will be under much greater pressure to define their programs in terms I of successful outcomes and of the quality of support within each program. Proactive colleges and universities will begin to establish mechanisms to solicit and address the concerns of the current student body to improve the quality of their educational experience. In an environment of cost reduction and quality improvement, colleges and universities will be forced to limit the number of programs they support Indeed, administrators face the hard decision of closing some programs. The upside, however, is that as some institutions close programs, others may view this as an opportunity to develop this niche.

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