Tag » Socio-Economic Trends « @ Weiner Edrich Brown

“Malecontentment” in Egypt

Over the last week, people around the world have been instantly struck by unbelievable scenes of turbulence in Egypt, as thousands have taken to the streets to protest against the current political regime.  In recent days things have gotten even uglier, too: American journalists have been assaulted, Molotov cocktails have been launched, and rocks and furniture have been hurled at protesters.  It’s not just the violence that’s the most surprising either – it’s the speed with which the political order in Egypt is being threatened.

But there is another significant part to the equation, and that is the alienation of the young people – primarily the young males – from the economic and political life of the country.

As we’ve seen for a while now, sex ratios are becoming skewed in much of the world thanks in part to a growing global imbalance of male-to-female ratios.  It is estimated that by 2020 there will be approximately 300 million more men than women in the world.  We’ve seen this demographic trend play out in China.  In Vietnam.  In South Korea.  A surplus of frustrated, low-status males is bound to spell trouble for society.  Some experts have argued that China might soon be bedeviled by an underclass group of malcontented single males who could stir up political instability or even armed revolts.  Sound familiar? It isn’t much different from what we currently see happening in Egypt.

In Egypt, the unemployment among young males (aged 15 to 29 years) was 32% in 2009.  In other words, one in three young men were out of a job….and, because of increased education, many more were affected by underemployment. Clearly, growing unemployment has led to insecurity over their future, which to many, seems bleak.  But when you take a generation of young males who have no future, and have no outlet for their aggression (and testosterone), a range of potentially dangerous problems could occur.

Another primary reason for disillusionment among the youth is the perceived weakness of the state’s developmental role.  Because they have no way to vent their discontent to the “ruling elite,” they become more alienated.  And if the youth do not feel like services are extended to them – whether it’s a quality education or opportunity for employment – their connection and allegiance to the state and the regime will falter considerably.  Add to this the fact that many of the youth fear that the only means for social mobility is through criminal or corrupt means, i.e. bribery, nepotism or by bypassing the law entirely.

So the question then becomes this:  What do we do with the young males?  As we’re seeing now, testosterone-fueled aggressiveness can disrupt or even tear apart societies that don’t find ways to channel those drives into activities that aren’t destructive to the communities.  In a worst case scenario, it may be that countries afflicted by the imbalance could to go to war as a means of sending young men’s aggressiveness to where it can do no harm internally.

As we look at what is happening in Egypt politically, socially and economically, a combination of frustration with the existing system, a yearning for democracy, a desire to participate in decision-making and general dissatisfaction have all come together  to create the current situation on the streets.  An important lesson here, too, is the realization that if the interests of the young – especially the young males – are not taken care of, political stability in any country can be threatened.  So this may be just the beginning.

Behavioral Androgyny: Marketing Cues Hint at Masculinization of Girls

Disney just released Tangled, its 50th animated film. The film is also Disney’s latest animated feature that follows the fairy tale tradition and/or features a princess character. However, this could be the last of a long and storied line of such Disney films, as the company ponders a reinvention of sorts. Disney is now hinting that it is ready to deviate from “princess” films, fairy tales and musicals – and move more emphatically in a different direction, a direction that is tailored more toward action themes, masculine characters and boys’ preferences. This shift in thinking may be due (at least in part) to a desire to directly compete with the wave of highly profitable live-action blockbusters that have captivated both kids and adults alike in recent years.

About ten years ago, Disney launched its Disney Princess franchise. Disney Princess has been extremely successful from a commercial standpoint and has grown into a huge consumer products and experiences franchise. So, taken in a vacuum, it certainly appears that Disney is capitalizing on the power of traditional girl appeal.  It should then follow that any counter-movement from the company would seem almost wholly counter-intuitive. However, we always caution our clients and readers to consider possible counter-trends that may occur in response to (or in spite of) established trends. In this case, we may be seeing the underpinnings of a newly-emerging trend toward a not-so-subtle masculinization of girls, whereby boys’ preferences with respect to certain media or product categories are considered paramount and more universally appealing – and thus more lucrative.

Several media, game and toy companies will likely follow suit, and may already be doing so. If this dynamic were envisioned as a Venn diagram, it might look something like this:

Marketers may identify the most profitable segment with real critical mass as the segment where boy-oriented products overlap with products that have universal appeal. In essence, the assumption is that girls are far likelier to engage in male-oriented themes (action, sports, etc.) than boys are to engage in female-oriented themes, which traditionally include softer characters like princesses. So, the first marketing consideration would be the desire to avoid alienating the boy market with any new releases. Add to this that girls as young as young as 5 or 6 are increasingly placing more importance on their appearance and social status – and thus not viewing things like princesses as “cool” – and you have a profound undercurrent of social change brewing.

Other Topics to Consider:

The far-reaching effects that title IX legislation has had on gender balance in collegiate athletics is also relevant here. Proponents suggest that such legislation has simply expanded opportunities for females in competitive athletics over the last four decades. However, opponents argue that those new opportunities have arisen at the expense of funding male athletic programs where there is more inherent participation and interest. Regardless of where one stands on the issue, it is clear that more women are encouraged and able to participate in activities that were once deemed as predominantly “male.” Girls once considered “tomboys” for playing sports are now considered to be just as feminine as their counterparts. Thus, widespread social acceptance of girls liking “boy” activities, products and media could be an important consideration.

Also consider that many boys who once relied on athletics as a vehicle for releasing aggressive energy are now being forced to harness those energies – often unsuccessfully – in academia where they are increasingly failing, dropping out and/or being diagnosed with myriad behavioral disorders.

As a separate (but similarly relevant) consideration, recent research indicates that women are primed to be more attracted to strong, aggressive, typically-“masculine” men when selecting a casual mate or dating partner – yet they become more attracted to sensitive, intuitive men when choosing a long-term mate or father to their children. Within this area of research is an intriguing study that examined how women are more immediately attracted to men who display “masculine” scars, but that they view those same men less favorably when selecting marriage partners. Will a potential increase in androgynous characteristics among members of both genders affect these long-engrained principles of attraction?

Broader Implications:

What are the long-term repercussions of all of this? For the last several years, observers have asserted that male culture – particularly urban male culture – in the U.S. is becoming increasingly “metrosexual” (i.e., adult males – and sometimes even adolescent males – are spending much more time focusing on their appearance, fashion and beauty than ever before), and therefore more feminized. Will both of the aforementioned trends (feminization of many male adults; masculinization of many female children) continue? And if they do continue, would they truly constitute opposite trends, or are they actually signaling the same dynamic? Perhaps, similar to the centrist movement we often see with political ideology, greater percentages of those that encompass both genders are moving from the extremes (i.e., displaying traditionally strong gender tendencies) toward a more amorphous middle. It will be interesting to consider whether much of this is being driven directly by marketers who have a financial stake in shaping these markets and behaviors – or whether this is more the result of an organic evolution borne out of the reinforced behaviors in today’s social environment.

Earlier Puberty Among Girls: Important Considerations

Mounting evidence now suggests that girls are entering into puberty at even earlier ages that previously thought. Specifically, newly emerging research indicates that increasing percentages of girls in the U.S. are exhibiting premature development — most notably, the growth of breasts — as early as 7 or 8 years of age. Considering that these girls are still in the early years of grade school, this is a profound trend. Additionally, some female infants in china are beginning to exhibit the same symptoms of premature development. In China, there is some speculation as to whether tainted milk and baby formula is a possible cause of these infant cases. Research has yet to determine with any certainty whether that or other causes are to blame. More broadly, researchers posit that a combination of exposure to certain chemicals and inappropriate diet/nutrition could be underlying these trends. The reality that girls may be entering puberty at earlier ages not only leads to an important discussion of the causes, but also the long-term repercussions:

1) Health: The earlier that girls experience puberty, the greater their risk for various diseases, ailments and reproductive issues later in life. For example, we may eventually see increased incidence of certain types of cancer among women as a result of this.

2) Reproduction: The implications here are two-fold. First, as girls are able to have children at earlier ages, there will undoubtedly be an uptick in risky behavior — specifically, unwanted teenage and pre-teen pregnancies. Secondly, women who experience earlier puberty will have diminished reproductive capacities at earlier ages than ever before. This may cause many women to reconsider putting off children until later life, in favor of career and income development — as has been the macro trend across much of the developed world.

3) Education: As more girls enter puberty earlier, the developmental divide between girls and boys (who already tend to develop later) could increase. As a result, educators around the world dealing with this issue will have to adopt strategies for educating many children of the same “age” in the same classes who will be at staggered, advanced or inappropriate developmental levels.

4)  Family & Parenting: Will parents be cognitively flexible to the reality that their child may be entering puberty at what would historically be considered an “incorrect” or “inappropriate” time? How will parents adjust their strategies in raising these children, and will intra-familial conflict — so often the trademark of parent/teenager interactions — become a growing concern among girls as young as 7 or 8 and their parents?

5) Gender Dynamics: What will the long-term implications be for this as it relates to gender interaction? Will girls who enter puberty be ostracized and/or have a “leg up” on their female peers? Alternatively, will some sort of divide broaden between the performance and maturity of girls and boys? (note that several issues are already leading to many boys falling behind socially and in educational systems around the world)

Inevitably, if this trend increases, it will undoubtedly lead to an explosion of new product and service opportunities as global marketers look to capitalize on a never-before seen demographic niche — and their parents. Not only will education and advocacy programs be important, but entirely new health, beauty, pharma and reproductive product markets will emerge.

Growth of the Nonlinear Life Trajectory

Storytelling is as old as human history.  Traditionally, we have thought of all stories as having a beginning, a middle and an end.  But it appears that the non-linear approach is becoming more common in the world today.  The popular filmmaker, Christopher Nolan, exemplifies this approach in his movies.  Back in 2000, his film Memento told the story of a man whose memory does not exist.  The film’s events unfold in two separate, alternating narratives – one in color, and the other in black and white. The black and white sections are told in chronological order, and the color sequences are told in reverse chronological order.  In Nolan’s most recent film, Inception, non-linear storytelling forces the audience on a journey through a world where technology exists to enter the human mind through many levels of dream invasion.

But this trend is not only true in storytelling and movies.  The idea that there are definitive beginning, middle and end stages to an individual’s life is also shifting.  People are now more likely to quit work and go back to school or retire and then take up a new career than ever before.  As we have seen over and over again, life is less and less likely to follow a linear path.  This will only become more common as the average life span grows longer. The move away from a linear life path for younger people is partially reflective of their expectations that you can invent your own story, choose your own endings, and not wait until the end for rewards.

It is possible that in the networked world in which we now live, and in which connections are now made in a web-like pattern as opposed to a straight line, we will continue to move away from linear narratives in many aspects of our lives.  As children and youth, with their more malleable brains, develop in an increasingly networked world, it does not seem unreasonable to assume that they will be comfortable creating and functioning in a culture where non-linear narratives are the norm.  If young brains start out processing information in a non-linear fashion, then it may be possible that growing up in a networked world will encourage the brain to stay with that sort of processing.

An increasingly non-linear path in the life cycle will add to the difficulty of raising a family, which is already increasing as a result of the incredibly dynamic culture in which we live.  Individuals, lacking a norm or standard to compare themselves to at various times in their lives, will question if they are doing the right thing at the right time.  In the workplace, boredom is likely to increase for those who can’t stick with a linear narrative.  The gamer generation will require the re-framing of tasks so as to inspire them and allay their boredom and disinterest.  This will present a challenge to managers unable to adapt to the non-linear approach.  Schools, too, must make changes – the old methods of teaching do not reach, or prepare, students living in an increasingly web-structured world.

And just as all of us may be increasingly confused in the world in which we now live, confusion reigns in the lives of the young.  But what is also confusing is the way in which we define “youth” in the coming economy. Up through the last half of the 20th century, adolescence was viewed as an important life stage that marked the transition years between childhood and adulthood.  The modern life cycle came to contain multiple phases of youth:  infancy, toddler, childhood, adolescence, late teens and early adulthood.  What is emerging in the early years of the 21st century is a blending of these phases, and an extension of youth into what we might have considered full adulthood.

As the lines become increasingly blurred, absolute demarcations between populations and generations will no longer exist.  Demographic variables will be increasingly hard to quantify – lines become more nebulous.  Tangible definitions of household, income level, age, gender, race and ethnicity, employment status, religious affiliation, location, educational attainment, mobility, marital status, will all be inadequate for the nonlinear world into which we are moving.

Pot 2.0: The Rise of Digital Drugs

i-Dosing is the new gateway drug.  The trend is a supposedly “legal” and “safe” way to alter one’s consciousness.  These “digital drugs” use “binaural, or two-toned, technology to alter your brain waves and mental state,” producing a “state of ecstasy” for the user.  i-Dosers listen to these atonal tracks while sitting motionless with headphones on.

It may sound benign, but parents, educators and law officials are worried that i-Dosing could be addictive, harmful, and a gateway “drug” to other illegal substances.

i-Dosing tracks like “Gate of Hades” can be found on YouTube and give listeners a free taste for i-Dosing. According to Wired.com, “those who want to get addicted to the ‘drugs’ can purchase tracks that will purportedly bring about the same effects of marijuana, cocaine, opium and peyote. While street drugs rarely come with instruction manuals, potential digital drug users are advised to buy a 40-page guide so that they learn how to properly get high on MP3s.”

As we delve deeper into the inner-workings of the brain, we are uncovering more and more as it relates to addiction.  This emerging society of addiction will also have numerous consequences for the workforce.  Productivity could be greatly affected as people get sidetracked into more appealing pursuits, young unemployed people could become more alienated from the mainstream economy, and the marketing skills needed in organizations will change from the traditional to the more sociopsychological realm.   This is just the tip of the iceberg.

‘Big Brother’…in Reverse

In his book 1984 (published in 1949), George Orwell depicted a future where civilians were subject to the surveillance of a ‘Big Brother’ society. Orwell may have been very prescient with his predictions of the future, but his writings may have actually served as a self-defeating prophecy. In raising public awareness about the possibilities of government surveillance, Orwell may have actually spurred the development of eventual protections and legislation that would limit this sort of dynamic.

Let’s fast forward to today, where we see a fascinating reversal of this principle. Civilians are now leveraging the myriad technologies at their disposal to assume the role of ‘Big Brother.’ In doing so, they often serve as watchdog to government and law enforcement officials.

The issue has come to light recently, due to civilian-taken cell phone video footage of an incident involving a Seattle police officer. That particular footage is the latest in a series of incidents catching public figures in questionable, and at times legally suspect, conduct.

This is somewhat related to the trend of civilian as “reporter” (e.g., when civilians using mobile devices are best able to report on and give alert to crimes, riots, natural disasters, etc.). However, civilian as “watchdog” may truly shift the balance of perceived power in society. Few things are left to “he said – she said” anymore — particularly in developed societies, as almost everything is technologically captured from someone’s vantage point. This will undoubtedly have profound implications for the increased monitoring and accountability of elected public officials, law enforcement officers and other public servants — including teachers.

Transposition of East & West Revisited: Internet Filtering in Australia

A few months back, we introduced the Transposition of East & West as a pervasive trend in which there is a two-way influence of not only traditional Western values, traits, and characteristics on Eastern cultures (via “Westernization,” or “Americanization”) – but traditionally Eastern values, traits, and characteristics on Western cultures to an extent perhaps unforeseen in recent times. Eastern cultures traditionally perceived as more conservative are opening up, while Western cultures traditionally viewed as more progressive are becoming more restrictive.

The concept of government-backed web censorship is usually associated with nations where human rights and freedom of speech are routinely curtailed. However, if plans for a mandatory Internet filter go ahead, Australia may soon become the first Western democracy to join the ranks of Iran, China and a handful of other nations where access to the Internet (or at least part of the Internet) is restricted by the state.

As could be expected, the push for this Internet reform is being met with resistance from several groups in Australia. What will this all mean for the future of Internet expression in other countries previously viewed as “Western” and impenetrable to the forces of filtering/censorship? Does this signal a longer-term shift in Australian thinking, or is this merely an anomaly borne of the current political climate?

Design Space: Urbanization & Vertical Living…With a Twist

In previous posts, we talked about the eight distinct growth areas of the emerging Metaspace economy. One of these growth areas is design space (See our past blog post about design space here). We continue to scan interesting sites and blogs for emerging design applications that fit with not only the growing design imperative…but also with important marketplace trends.

Currently, and for the first time in history, more than half the world’s population lives in cities. This is a tremendous milestone with myriad long-term consequences. Urban planning, civil engineering, and architecture are among the disciplines that will be most profoundly impacted by the urbanization explosion. As the world becomes more urban, it inherently becomes more “vertical.” We often talk about the bourgeoning development of vertical farming as a future engine of both economic and environmental sustainability in dense urban centers. However, intriguing new design applications are also emerging that could one day redefine what it means to “live” vertically.

The longstanding norm of linear apartments stacked perfectly on top of one another in linear structures may soon be complemented by an entirely new paradigm. Those who desire urban living, but lament the forfeiture of many of the benefits of suburban/rural living may soon enjoy “stacked houses”. Could these types of designs ever take hold in a major urban metropolis? Surely, they would command a premium — not just for square footage, but also for cost of construction. However, this is a great example of cutting-edge engineering with an eye toward both the current design imperative and the global trend toward “vertical.”

What Will They Do With All Those Men?

Urban Chinese society is also undergoing changes, as the rituals of courtship, and traditional definitions of family, are challenged.  Rapid modernization has led the country to undergo enormous changes.  Sex ratios are becoming skewed in much of the world thanks in part to a growing global imbalance of male-to-female ratios.  It is estimated that by 2020 there will be approximately 300 million more men than women in the world.

China has seen an increase in the number of bachelors because there are not enough women for their men to marry.  Currently, there are 120 boys born for every 100 girls, an imbalance reinforced by the one-child policy and a cultural preference for sons.  The normal male/female rate at birth is 105 males for every 100 females.  Gender imbalances will have a profound impact on everything from family to education to the economy. Because of the disproportionate number of men in China, this may also create an upsurge of problems related to the trafficking of women, forced marriages, prostitution and surrogate motherhood.

India’s rate is about the same as China’s.  And throughout West and Southeast Asia, the trend is similar—in Vietnam, for example, the rate is now 111/100.

In addition, a surplus of young males competing for scarcer women will almost certainly result in increased violence. In the meantime, there is likely to be a backlash against women working outside the home, as the Chinese males will need to compete for the better jobs in order to attract desirable (or any) women.  Since women have made tremendous strides in the economic advancement of China, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

By 2020, China will find itself with 30 million more men of marrying age than women. But what else could this imbalance mean?  Here are 4 other hypotheses:

1. A rise in imported mail-order brides

2. An uptick in gay relationships: Homosexuality is not especially well-tolerated in China, but that could change as men — and society — run out of options. Currently, it’s believed that 90 percent of the estimated 25 million gay Chinese men marry women. Some gay couples are even marrying lesbian couples.

3. A real estate bubble: As women become scarce and harder to impress, men may be forced to attract mates with premium real estate.

4. A war to thin out excess men: Chinese officials are clearly worried about the gender imbalance, and if their current propoganda-based efforts to dissuade parents from killing or aborting female offspring don’t work, a war to cull the surplus males is in the realm of possibilities. A surplus of frustrated, low-status males is bound to spell trouble for society. A generation of single, more affluent and independent women will not only change employment demographics, but will also affect family and household formation.

Transposition of East & West

Last summer, WEB authored an important working paper called The Transposition of East & West. Based on some relevant recent happenings, now is a great time to revisit the theme.

Issue Summary:

Currently,  we are seeing a two-way transposition of not only traditional Western values, traits, and characteristics on Eastern cultures (via “Westernization,” or “Americanization”) – but traditionally Eastern values, traits, and characteristics on Western cultures to an extent perhaps unforeseen in recent times. This bilateral shift is happening in profound ways. Indeed, not only is the world’s economic influence shifting, but core values – as they pertain to civil liberties, religion, education, and technology – are also in flux. Eastern cultures traditionally perceived as more conservative are opening up, while Western cultures traditionally viewed as more progressive are becoming more restrictive.

Putting a macro-lens on the economic portion of this theme, a 2008 report by the National Intelligence Council states among several relative certainties that between now and 2025, the unprecedented shift in relative wealth and economic power from West to East will continue. The report also states that the U.S. will remain the most powerful country in the world, but will be less dominant.

Recent Developments:

Updating this paper, we see that even the core Western tenet that is freedom of expression has been somewhat turned on its head with some important recent developments:

Consider Some Implications…

Implications of this theme are manifold. For example, in our original paper we discussed how many of the world’s largest consumer goods firms have begun adopting the process of “trickle-up innovation.” This entails creating entry-level goods for emerging markets and then repackaging them quickly and cheaply for sale in rich nations, where customers are increasingly hungry for bargains. While this concept is not all that new, it should be reemphasized in the context of this theme. Will execs at global companies fight to retain the more ingrained status quo, or will they embrace trickle-up innovation strategies?

Companies and organizations that operate globally will now have to navigate a new landscape when managing cultural norms within the global workforce, with global professionals, and among the global consumer market. Norms, values, and expectations have shifted. The terms “free market,” “civil liberties,” “innovation” and “gender equality” will be among the many that will no longer conjure up stereotypes of governments, populations, corporations or regions. East/West mixes of management, policymakers, board directors, committee members and marketers, designers and product developers will become extremely beneficial if any significant-sized entity wants to remain nimble and viable as it navigates through this transposition.