Young singles and recent college graduates living in college communities
Colleges and Cafes live almost exclusively in university towns, but these residents aren’t all college alumni who can’t bear to leave their old stomping grounds. A high percentage of these young singles are support staffers who work on campus or in service-sector jobs close to the schools. These households tend to be under 35 years old with college degrees; they’re predominantly white with an above-average presence of Asians. Despite a mixed employment base, most of the households have low incomes from entry-level professional jobs and service- sector positions, and they can only afford modest rentals in older, low-rise apartment buildings. The transient nature of campus communities is reflected in the fact that a majority of residents have been at the same address for fewer than three years. Some stick around for the lively street scene filled with funky clothing boutiques, raucous pizza joints and used bookstores; others are considering applying for an advanced degree.
The diverse populace of Colleges and Cafes creates a wide-ranging lifestyle. There are households that are into foreign films and classical music concerts and those that visit state fairs and go target shooting. All of these young people are into working out and enjoying weekend games of pickup football and basketball. Because most of the residents don’t earn much money, it’s not surprising that more than three-quarters don’t own cars, nor are they big on shopping for designer fashion or the latest consumer electronics. Many shop at discount clothiers and get by on fast food and supermarket takeout. With many of these young people lacking advanced cooking skills, they admit that their favorite cuisine is often whatever’s on the dollar menu at McDonald’s.
When it comes to media, Colleges and Cafes have varied preferences. They listen to a variety of musical genres, from traditional country and album-oriented rock to hip hop and Christian rock. They’re often too busy to sit down and watch TV, but they do like keeping up with the latest entertainment news on E! and watch animation like “Family Guy” and youth-targeted shows like “Bridezillas”. They like reading magazines, and their favorite publications run the gamut from Condé Nast Traveler to Guns & Ammo. Somewhat surprisingly, they have only modest use of digital media. In these downscale households, many can’t afford high-speed Internet access for their desktop computers. Because so many go online through their cell phones, these Americans tend to use the Internet as a communications tool - for email or instant messaging friends - rather than an entertainment channel for downloading music and gaming. Without cars for transportation, they say they’re receptive to ads in buses and bus shelters.
For political analysts, Colleges and Cafes are difficult to read. These Americans tend to have little participation in the electoral process; half have failed to register to vote. They tend to be liberal in their outlook, though their positions are all over the ideological map. While you’d think that these young singles would be the foot soldiers of today’s protest marchers, only half would ever think of joining a demonstration while even fewer would volunteer for a good cause. Considering their limited budgets, they are unexpectedly generous with charitable donations, giving money to public broadcasting, environmental groups and social welfare organizations.
Concentrated in college towns like Berkeley, Calif., Madison, Wis., and Gainesville, Fla., the young singles in Colleges and Cafes are typically recent alumni or the support staff who work at the schools. Nearly half are under 35 years old and a high percentage hold either bachelor’s or graduate degrees. Their relatively high educations translate to a mix of decent-paying jobs in professional or technical fields or entry-level support positions in the service sector, especially in food services. Predominantly white with an above-average presence of Asians, eight in ten households contain unmarried singles.
Their communities read like a guide to famous college campuses: Clemson, College Station, New Haven and Tallahassee. These small towns are the homes of Colleges and Cafes, where recent college grads and support workers live in mostly older, inexpensive rental units in homes and apartments. Those who have landed decent tech jobs may be able to afford a down payment on a $200,000 house in neighborhoods where young professors live. However, most of these alums are content to live alongside service workers with more modest means, pursuing lifestyles that reflect a mix of educations, attitudes and tastes. In these transient communities - half have been at the same address for fewer than three years - nobody expects their futons and cinder-block-and-board bookcases to remain in the same apartment for too long.
The young and unattached members of Colleges and Cafes lead diverse lifestyles. There are those who enjoy culture-rich leisure activities - reading books, watching foreign films, playing a musical instrument, going to dance performances and attending classical music concerts. There are also many who visit state fairs, zoos and aquariums. Relatively few belong to health clubs but many stay fit by playing pickup games of baseball, basketball, football and hockey. Although they rarely eat at fine dining restaurants, they patronize McDonald’s, Dairy Queen, Sonic, Pizza Hut and Little Caesar’s. Indeed, the pizza that sustained them during their college years continues to be a major food group for them today.
When it comes to consumerism, these consumers are decidedly indifferent. They say they’re not too concerned about showing off for the opposite sex. They don’t care about keeping up with the latest styles or making a fashion statement. They’re content to patronize whatever store is closest, or nearby discount stores. They go to discounters like Marshalls, Burlington Coat Factory and Famous Footwear, as well as GameStop where they buy toys and games. They say they’re late tech adopters and buy few digital handheld devices, MP3 players and flat-screen TV sets. They like clearance racks and enjoy browsing.
Given their very different backgrounds, Colleges and Cafes make a mixed media market. These music fans are among the top radio listeners and like to listen to stations that play country, easy listening and adult contemporary music. Their fondness for TV borders on addiction and they particularly watch cable channels like WGN, ESPN Classic and Disney HD. Although they don’t really read a daily newspaper, they like subscribing to magazines, and their favorite publications include Maxim, First for Women, Seventeen and Road & Track. This is one of the few segments where both the New Yorker and the National Enquirer are read at high rates.
Politically, Colleges and Cafes come across as disaffected youth. Only half are even registered to vote, and about one in seven belong to a fringe political party. They are hardly the party faithful of Democrats or Republicans, though liberals outnumber conservatives by more than 4 to 1. They’re mostly nonconformists who support progressive social and economic issues and are apathetic about crime and air pollution. Religion and spiritual issues play only a small role in their lives. Happy with their current state of affairs, they don’t feel the need to make a difference to improve society. Despite the activism of many college town residents in the ‘60s, those in the 21st century are mostly complacent: only half are willing to join a protest and only a third are willing to volunteer for a good cause.
Colleges and Cafes also seem to make little effort about their health. They’re often too busy to take care of themselves when it comes to diet and medicine. They rely on over-the-counter treatments for most illnesses rather than visiting a doctor and getting a prescription. They don’t pay much attention to what they eat - whether it’s high-calorie, coated with sugar or filled with additives. Their kitchen garbage cans are filled with empty frozen-food containers, week-old grocery store takeout and the remnants of the most recent pizza delivery. Indeed, they’re nearly three times as likely as average Americans to proclaim that they prefer fast food to home cooking.
With half the members of Colleges and Cafes earning under $43,000, there’s little money available for savings or income-producing assets. Compared to the general population, they’re half as likely to own any investments. Although they own IRAs, they’ve typically accumulated less than $5,000 in their accounts. Without much of a credit history, some carry no credit cards. More than half of these footloose Americans have no dealings with a bank whatsoever, though about a quarter do carry a debit card to access their money at ATMs and pay for the occasional latte. They don’t often take out loans or buy insurance. Colleges and Cafes say that they’re financially risk-averse and don’t trust banks or brokerages. On the other hand, they recognize that this attitude doesn’t seem to be working either: they’re only half as likely as the U.S. average to say they’re good at managing their money.
Unlike many segments with relatively young populations, Colleges and Cafes are only moderate digital fans. Thanks to the high concentration of service workers, many don’t have the time or money to access the Internet for entertainment. Almost 40 percent still go online using dial-up access. The highest percentages limit their use of the Internet to communication and information: sending email and instant messaging, and getting sports scores and entertainment news from sites like sports.yahoo.com and tmz.com. Some like surfing to lifestyle Websites that deal with families, and they go to ancestry.com, archives.com and myfamily.com. However, most aren’t big on social media sites, with only average interest in going to Myspace and even lower interest in visiting Facebook and YouTube. Still, Colleges and Cafes do appreciate the convergence of digital media and communications, and nearly half carry cell phones that offer online access.