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Top 10 Emerging Trends of the 2000s

Friday, August 25, 2017

The 21st century has been a wild ride so far, and it has only just begun. The speed with which events are unfolding is creating turmoil and confusion, necessitating a step back to see the big picture--the emerging trends behind so many of today's headlines. This is no idle exercise, but imperative for businesses intent on surviving the next decade and for policymakers struggling to adapt to profound changes in the way we live.

What are the emerging trends of the 21st century, the tipping points that have occurred since 2000? Many trends are important, but a handful stand out because of their far-reaching consequences. These are documented in New Strategist's Demographics of the U.S.: Trends and Projections, a reference tool for trend trackers. Using consequences as a measure of importance, these are the 10 most important emergent trends of the 2000s.

1. The income decline: The decline began long before the Great Recession, and it has hit the American middle class hard. Men's incomes were falling well before 2000, the household income decline began in 2000, and women's steady income growth came to a halt in the 2000s. The political repercussions of the resulting economic anxiety are well known.

2. The wealth decline: To rub salt into the economic wound of waning incomes, household net worth collapsed with the Great Recession as the housing bubble burst. Median household net worth fell 40 percent between 2007 and 2013, after adjusting for inflation.

3. The homeownership decline: The homeownership rate peaked in 2004. The number of homeowners peaked in 2006. By 2015, there were 1.4 million fewer homeowners than in the peak year. The homeownership rate in 2015 was the lowest since 1967.

4. Majority acceptance of gay marriage: The percentage of Americans who support the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry climbed from just 31 percent in 2004 (the first year the General Social Survey asked the question) to 59 percent in 2016. Rarely has massive social change occurred so rapidly.

5. Increase in health insurance coverage: The percentage of Americans without health insurance fell to a record low in 2015, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Although still reviled by many, the ACA has grown in popularity now that Americans better understand the alternatives. But continual threats to repeal the Affordable Care Act are taking their toll on the nation's already fragile sense of well-being.

6. The marriage decline: The Millennial generation is postponing marriage longer than any previous cohort of young adults. Delayed marriage has contributed to other emerging trends--the decline of homeownership, the baby bust, and population loss in nonmetropolitan areas.

7. The birth decline: The number of births in the U.S. peaked in 2007 at 4.3 million. Since then, births have fallen in nearly every year and have been stuck below 4 million since 2009. Fertility rates are at a record low for women under age 30, with Hispanic fertility falling the most. The steep decline in Hispanic fertility may delay by a few years the coming minority majority forecast for the 2040s.

8. The life expectancy decline: Life expectancy at birth fell in 2015 for the first time since 1993. All of the decline was due to rising death rates among people under age 65. What's going on? A big factor is a rise in "deaths of despair," a consequence of rural and small town stagnation.

9. City growth and rural decline: Urban centers have been experiencing a resurgence, thanks to Millennials seeking job opportunities. At the other extreme, since 2010 for the first time, nonmetropolitan America has been losing population. The disparity between flourishing urban centers and languishing small-town and rural America has upended the nation's politics.

10. The mobility decline: The geographic mobility rate hit an all-time low in 2015-16, in part because some residents of small towns and rural areas are trapped in their shrinking local economies. Many either cannot or will not move to pursue an American Dream in which they no longer believe.

These are the top emerging trends of the 21st century. Most are stories of decline--which is a trend of significance in itself. For more of the trends shaping American society right now, see New Strategist's Demographics of the U.S.: Trends and Projections.

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