Media reports touting the 1990s as a time of back-to-basics values and a backlash against the decadent spending of the 1980s may be too quick to characterize the decade, according to a new national survey by the Gallup Organization.
Although family values play a more prominent role -- 48 percent of respondents said they spend more time with their families and friends and 43 percent reported spending more of their paycheck on family activities -- Americans in the '90s are as preoccupied with work, money and fitness as they were in the '80s.
"The workaholic is not dead, yet," said Annette Smolik, an analyst with The Gallup Organization. Indeed, 44 percent of respondents said they spend more time working today than five years ago and 49 percent said they spend more time on fitness activities.
Less than one-third (27 percent) of respondents said they spend more time on volunteer work than they did five years ago, a finding that contradicts reports of a new spirit of volunteerism.
"If people are spending more time at work they don't have time to spend volunteering for charitable organizations," Ms. Smolik suggested.
Unlike the conspicuous consumption that characterized the '80s consumer, however, spending in the '90s is driven by quality and value.
While consumers of the '80s spent a large portion of their paychecks on travel abroad, going to the theater and dining in expensive restaurants, consumers today are entertaining at home more often and putting more money into family activities.
Forty-one percent of respondents said they spend less on personal travel while 43 percent reported spending more on family activities.
"People today are working harder than they did in the '80s, but they are playing in a different way," said Tom Layman, chief economist with Visa U.S.A in San Mateo, Calif. "People today want more leisure for their buck," Mr. Layman said. The survey also found that people are placing a greater emphasis on savings.
Fifty-three percent said they were more concerned with saving money for the future than they were five years ago. Mr. Layman said this trend reflects the aging baby boomers values on family life.
Nonetheless, consumers in the '90s are just as material as they've always been, according to Diane Crispell, a contributing editor to American Demographics magazine.
Although baby boomers are in a position to spend as much as during the past decade, a continued emphasis on "things" may frustrate people in their 20s who are entering the work force for the first time during a recession, said Ms. Crispell, adding that when the recession ends, this generation will prosper, especially those with a college education.
"Things are dim, but won't stay that way," Ms. Crispell said. "A college education is still a well-worn investment."
Americans are also more concerned with national events than Americans of five years ago, according to the survey. Fifty-seven percent reported spending more time reading newspapers and watching the news on TV.