'Average American?' No such thing, study says.

A half century ago, when I was a kid growing up on Long Island, one television series more than any other epitomized America’s suburban dream.

“Leave It to Beaver” was named after the younger son of the fictional, white, nuclear, four-person Cleaver family, whose two sons occasionally did rascally things only to be lectured by mom and dad on the virtues of education, honesty and fidelity.  If the producers didn’t serve apple pie for dessert on the show, they should have.

Even in the ’50s, “Leave It to Beaver” disregarded the lives of  millions of Americans who because of their race, sexual preference or lifestyle didn’t mirror the mass media mythology of how middle America lived. But back then, this country was at least outwardly homogenous enough for studio writers to turn “Beaver” into the iconic series of the ’50s  American family.

It’s hard to imagine what kind of show could play that role today.  Commissioned by Ad Age magazine to provide a taste of the 2010 census, demographic trend analyst Peter Francese has produced a report that warns the “average American” is a thing, or person, of the past. May Joe Consumer rest in peace.

This “discovery,” of course, is not exactly a surprise. Demographic change has been in the works and the news for decades.

Still, summaries of Francese’s report in Ad Age and an interview on NPR’s Marketplace do tantalize (the full report, costing $249, can be found on an Ad Age link).  Among his census projections:

— Only slightly more than one in five households — 22 percent — will fit the mold of the Beaver Cleaver household:  a married couple with kids.

— For the first time ever, non-Hispanic white Americans will no longer make up the majority in nation’s two most populous states, California and Texas. Instead, no single racial group will make up the majority of their population.

— Nationally, while 80 percent of those over 65 still are non-Hispanic whites, only 54 percent of Americans under age 18 will fit into that category.

— The number of American grandparents will surpass 70 million and many of them are active in the purchasing decisions of their children and grandchildren.

In short, while America has become a much more diverse and interesting country, it’s also one that might cause fits for advertisers and the mass media companies that want their money.  Advertising, Francese told Marketplace, is about to become more targeted.

“You’re going to see more advertising that reflects first of all the multicultural nature of the nation,” he said. “You’re going to see more advertising targeted to specific market segments. And you’re going to see a lot more advertising that involves parents, grandparents, and children together. ”

That just might add up to more misery for TV networks, newspapers and mass market magazines that have already seen much of their market share of ads migrate to free or more specialized sites online and elsewhere.

About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at www.jerrylanson.com. My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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