I am a demographic anomaly. Since I’m essentially a yuppie geek living in farm country, the living embodiment of Green Acres (except that, given my wife’s love of the lawn tractor, I’m the one playing Eva Gabor), this isn’t exactly what one would call a surprise. Still, there’s a difference between thinking you’re a fish out of water and looking at the demographic information that says that you’re not even really a fish.
The demographic information I’m talking about is from Claritas, a company that presents market information to businesses, and which also has a Website that allows you to enter your Zip Code and find out some general information about the neighborhood in which you live. This is done by breaking up the residents into various “clusters,” or demographic stereotypes; the people in each cluster share certain data points in common, such as income, education, recreational activities and so on. There are several dozen of these clusters, and and their predominance will vary from place to place. For example, one cannot reasonably expect to find the “Rustic Homesteaders” segment in the South Side of Chicago, just as one is unlikely to find the “Urban Up and Comers” out near where I am.
The demographic names of the groups in my Zip Code (45308) give some indication that I’m not exactly living in the big city: “Back Country Folks” is one; “Big Sky Families” is another. “River City, USA” is another — this one comes complete with a graphic of a guy in a John Deere cap hoisting a sandbag. And here’s my personal favorite demographic slice: “Shotguns and Pickups.” Let’s zoom in on this one and look a bit at what they have to say about the people in it:
44 Shotguns & Pickups
Rural Blue-Collar Workers & Families
Age group: Mixed
Household income: 38,500
1.93% of U.S. households belong to this Cluster
This Cluster is most likely to…
* Go fresh water fishing
* Own a dog
* Drink RC Cola
* Watch ESPN2
* Read Motor Trend
Well, I do own a dog.
Now, obviously, these post-card demographic pictures aren’t going to be representative of any one person. I’m sure there are some people smack dab in the Shotgun & Pickup demographic who can’t stand RC or have no interest in the CART races on ESPN2. But picking through the demographic information in all of the predominant demographic chunks in the area, there’s almost no information that intersects with my life at all. A compare and contrast:
Top Magazines in Bradford’s Demographics: Country Living, Hunting, Motor Trend, Soap Opera Digest. I don’t subscribe to any of these; what’s more, I can’t imagine subscribing to any of these. My current magazine subscriptions include Science News, Wired, CMJ New Music Monthly, The Week and New Yorker.
Top TV Channels/Shows: QVC, TNN, Court TV, ESPN2, and the soap opera The Guiding Light. I think I’d rather injure myself than watch QVC for any length of time. My recent TV choices include Nickelodeon (for SpongeBob Squarepants), Cartoon Network, CNN Headline News, the Science Channel, and The West Wing.
Top Recreational Activities: Rodeo, target shooting, furniture refinishing, freshwater fishing, gardening. Well, Krissy gardens, so there’s one, but I dislike rodeos (I don’t think it’s nice to piss off animals just for fun) and fishing, and the only shooting I do involves people that come onto my land without an invite (that’s a hint). My top activities are playing music, reading, going to movies, playing video games and writing (hi there!).
I also learn that nearly everyone around me listens to country music radio, an activity that strikes me as even more painful than listening to urban radio, if that’s actually possible. These days when I listen to radio at all, it’s the “80s hits” station, and then I just spend most of my time seething that they never play Oingo Boingo or Romeo Void, ever, yet they play Dexy’s Midnight Runners and .38 Special every other song.
Before I’m accused of calling the folks I live around illiterate white trash what watch their stories on the teeveeuh and hang by the mailbox, waiting for their Farm Aid checks, let me just say that I know my neighbors, and they’re good people; I like them a lot, and I like the little town in which I live quite a bit. Having now lived in big cities, suburbia and rural America, I’m here to tell you that each comes with a full complement of the smart and the dumb, the wise and the moronic, the likeable and the distasteful; the major difference lies in population density. What I am saying is that the folks in my little town share certain superficial demographic characteristics, and I have almost none of those in common.
Demographically, I am nearly pure suburban. In fact, I’m a fine match for the last place we lived, Sterling, Virginia, whose demographic slices have names like “Young Influentials,” “Upward Bound,” “Second City Elite” and so on. One demographic, “Kids & Cul-de-Sacs,” pins us to a fairly scary degree, right down to Krissy’s penchant for the X-Files (though not so much recently, of course) and my tendency to shop online. One of the cities listed as having a lot of this demographic is West Covina, California; as it happens, I spend part of my childhood in that town (although, I must admit, not on a cul-de-sac). You really are where you live, or at least, where you grow up.
Overall, I expect it’s unlikely that I will ever totally conform to the demographics of where I live now; by this time, I’m too old to develop a taste for NASCAR, or church-going, or even gardening (that’s Krissy’s department). And of course, this is just fine. It doesn’t hurt to have a weirdo or two in the town, and I’m happy to pull that duty. I like where I live; I like being a little outside of it, too.