The future generation of adults is acquiring considerably more schooling than the present generation. This trend has been occurring as a result of affluence, changing social values, and the shifting employment needs of industry. In 1989, approximately 35 percent of adults aged 25 years and older had at least some college training. The younger age categories are the key college educated groups. For example, approximately 45 percent of those aged 25 to 34 have some exposure to college, compared to only 15 percent of those older than 65. A large share of the college student increase is accounted for by women, who now out number men on many campuses.
Households headed by those with some college education comprise a lucrative market segment. For example, the college graduate household head tends to be young; approximately half are under age 40. Over two thirds of the households are husband wife unit, and in many instances both of them work. Income in households headed by someone who has had at least some exposure to college runs approximately 10 percent above the norm, while college graduate households are 50 percent above the norm. As a group, those who have spent at least some time in college account for approximately 45 percent of total US spending power.
The relative importance of the educated segment of consumers will continue to expand. Their above average discretionary income and desire for new products will make them more attractive to many marketers as their size approaches mass market status.
In addition to the aspects of income associated with increasingly educated consumers, there are also a number of unique characteristics that further differentiate them from the average consumer. They are more sophisticated in their product and store choices, for example. They are also more alert to quality, packaging, and advertising messages. Moreover they have differing needs from those of the typical consumer, tending to spend somewhat more (after allowing for the income difference) on clothing, home furnishings, medical and personal care, entertainment, travel, and many other items. Thus education does make a difference, not only in what the consumer buys but often probably in the brand selected.
Although our society is becoming increasingly educated, marketers must recognize that there is also a sizable group of consumers who are functionally illiterate. The number of Americans who read at or below elementary school level is about one in seven. Marketing to such buyers means adjustments may need to be made in advertising messages, packaging usage instructions, and so forth to account for their lower level of information processing skills.
Just after World War II, the US labor force contained more blue collar than white collar workers. However, rising industrial productivity and the shifting needs of business have brought about a substantial rise in white collar workers. In the mid-1960s approximately 45 percent of the nation’s labor force consisted of white collar workers whereas today the figure is approximately 51 percent. Blue collar workers have steadily decreased as a percentage of the work force, while service occupations have increased during this period.
There are some important differences in households headed by blue and white collar workers. First, workweeks typically differ with 40 hours the standard in blue collar trades, while 35 hours is usual in white collar occupations. Second, the household size is smaller for white collar workers compared with blue collar workers. Third, substantial income variations exist among the two groups. For example, the average income of the white collar households is 30 percent larger than that of the blue collar households and although the white collar group accounts for 34 percent of all households, they receive 47 percent of all income. This compares with approximately 27 percent of the nation’s households headed by blue collar workers who receive only 29 percent of all income. Thus, higher average earnings in conjunction with smaller household sizes add up to a much better than average living standard for the white collar worker’s family.
Another important dimension of the changing work force relates to our previous discussion of age. By 1995 nearly half of the labor force will be aged 35 to 54 up from slightly over one third of workers in 1986. On the other hand, the number of younger and older workers will decline during the decade. Also, the participation rate of women in the labor force should rise beyond 60 percent by 1995, when women are expected to represent 46 percent of the total labor force.