Consumed in Consumerism

The verdict is in: for Americans, materialism has trumped the importance of family. Recent empirical evidence from a survey of 160,000 Americans conducted by the US Transportation Department has provided provocative insights into the direction of modern American life. The study is a measurement of personal auto driving in one year; broken down into the number of particular trip type (i.e. shopping, work, school, doctor, family) and the average length of the respective type of voyage. The findings are very interesting, especially as a tool to see what really matters to the average American as the cost of driving increases, therefore indicative of the manner in which third millennium Americans are choosing to allocate limited resources (i.e. their economic activity). First comes first, and apparently for Americans, that is increasingly becoming shopping. Yes, consumerism is the cause for the average car owning family to make 496 shopping trips in 2001 at an average length of 7.02 miles. This is a significant rise from the 341 shopping trips at an average length of 5.1 miles in 1990. This change is telling of two major developments in America. One is the increasing importance of shopping and consumer culture within America from only a decade ago. This is magnified by the fact that now we are able to shop through the internet and such use is ubiquitous. Therefore, the importance of shopping to Americans is even higher than the survey suggests on paper. Indeed, this may explain the tremendous and growing consumer debt, $7.2 trillion at the end of 2001, or twice the 1990 figure, that has been growing since 1990 with the prevalent use of credit cards in American consumer culture. The phenomena of increasing consumerism and consumer debt are apparent within the study as well; the average American now makes more trips to shop than trips to work. This accounts for the reasoning behind the fact that the average household owes more than a dollar per dollar of disposable income, according to the Federal Reserve. Secondly, the growing average distance of shopping trips is telling of the suburban sprawl that has occurred during the period and continues currently. America’s population is expanding as well as its development of land for malls. Malls and other shopping centers require parking lots, consequently pushing other malls further away due to parking space, and the only way to reach the parking lot is increasingly becoming with personal automobiles, an item increasingly being purchased through the use of more and more credit. Further depiction of the twenty first century American is evinced through a contrast of increasing shopping trips to a declining number of trips to visit family and friends. In 2001 Americans took an average of 129 trips to visit family and friends, down from 149 in 1990. This was one of the only declining areas of driving as Americans experienced a price growth of thirty one cents (nominal) within two months in the Spring of 2001, a similar, albeit smaller, situation as that which we are currently facing in the aftermath of Katrina. One can only imagine what effect the current surge to nearly three dollars is having, and will have, upon the importance of family to the increasingly consumer-minded American.