SOURCE: Context-Based Research Group

Context-Based Research Group

January 27, 2010 10:15 ET

New Study by Consumer Anthropologists Portrays Americans Coming of Age in the Great Recession

Quantitative Survey Reveals Permanent Shift in American Values

BALTIMORE, MD--(Marketwire - January 27, 2010) - Context-Based Research Group, an ethnographic firm with a global network of consumer anthropologists, and Carton Donofrio Partners, an advertising agency in Baltimore, today unveiled key findings from their new research report, "Coming of Age in the Great Recession."

The study, which is a follow up to the firms' 2008 "Grounding the American Dream" work, validates the findings and predictions from the original research using a quantitative approach, and provides updated and more detailed insight into post-recession consumer attitudes and behaviors.

"One of the most interesting findings is that 78 percent agreed the American Dream has died, however, based on responses, we see that a new dream -- focused on freedom and ideals rather than material possessions -- is being born," said Dr. Robbie Blinkoff, principal anthropologist and co-founder of Context-Based Research Group. "In our studies, we found people reaching this epiphany and then going through a 'coming of age' process that's leading to new attitudes and new ways of interacting with the world."

What will this mean for our culture and for consumerism?

The initial study identified a five stage process consumers were undergoing:

Stage 1. Goodbye Homo economicus "I no longer want to be defined by what I
Stage 2. My Life is Not a Loan "I cut back my credit and started to save."
Stage 3. From a Me to a We Economy "Transacting life is not as valuable as
         building relationships."
Stage 4. unSTUFFing Our Lives "I'm getting rid of value-less things and
         surrounding myself with people and things that matter."
Stage 5. The Grounded Consumer "Now I'm more strategic and smarter --
         connecting my emotional, rational and social senses to how I live
         and consume."

The new study tested these stages. The level of agreement with each was high:

--  78% agreed the American Dream has died -- people now see how the dream
    had become defined in terms of material possessions rather than freedom and
--  88% took steps to spend less
--  83% made permanent changes in spending and saving behavior
--  51% planned to give time and/or volunteer as a gift this past holiday
--  83% planned to spend more time with family and friends over the holidays
    than they had previously
--  61% de-cluttered their home and/or consigned items

"We believe the changes in behavior represent a permanent shift because they come from a deep evaluation of personal beliefs," said Dr. Cleve Corlett, director of quantitative research at Context-Based Research Group. "Our studies portray a society moving into an era where we measure the quality of our lives in social terms before economic ones. Forty-three percent of Americans believe the recession has positively affected their lives. With this kind of positive reinforcement, we now see the potential to maintain a healthy balance between our consumer and non-consumer sense of selves."

Along with the detailed findings, the team uncovered four distinct consumer segments characterizing the post-recession mindset.

1.  Rational: Understanding true value and how things fit
    into your life (26%)
2.  Relational: Putting social relationships over transactions (23%)
3.  Balanced: Spending with thought and care, but with some fun too. (26%)
4.  Joyful: Experiencing true joy often from non-consumer spaces (25%)

The report provides in-depth profiles of each of these segments, insight into how particular types of people (young families vs. older, etc.) are impacted, and perspective on marketing messages that could resonate with each group.


The sample for this survey, which was administered by Western Wats, was balanced to ensure representativeness of the U.S. population in terms of gender, income, race, age and region. Survey panelists, recruited through telephone interviewing, online advertisements and through word of mouth, were culled for activity and quality. The omnibus was executed by sending invitations to a census representative population of 1,000. Once the data was gathered, key demographic points were weighted to represent the census numbers. The new study included 1,000 U.S. adults nationwide (age 18+) and was fielded on October 7-11, 2009

Context-Based Research Group is an ethnographic research and consulting firm that has provided companies with an anthropological perspective since 1999. Context's global network of cultural anthropologists observes and interprets human behavior to uncover the reasons why people do what they do. The end result brings clients closer to the actual experience of their customers and leads to development of better products and services. For more information, go to:

Carton Donofrio Partners, Inc.

Carton Donofrio Partners is an award-winning advertising agency in Baltimore. With a vision to change advertising by making it welcome and invited into customers' lives, they help their clients become more meaningful to their customers. To do this effectively, they tap their proprietary global network of anthropologists who study customer motivations and needs to uncover more relevant insight to inform their creative, media, digital, and integrated ideas. The agency is a member of Worldwide Partners which enables them to work seamlessly with 91 independent agencies in 51 countries around the world. For more information, visit or call 410.576.9000.