Top 20 Lifestyle Trends Affecting Global Business

What social developments will create new growth opportunities and/or challenges for global businesses in the future? The Top 20 Trends report from Social Technologies, a Washington D.C.-based research and consulting firm, identifies the most important trends affecting consumer lifestyles in 2006 and predicts where they will go in the future.


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The 20 trends identified, in no particular order, are:

  • Cultural Flows The spread of ideas, media, products, brands and lifestyles, collectively referred to as cultural flow, to new places is increasing as the number of cultural poles rises and the world becomes more interconnected. Cultural flows are significant because they expose consumers in both developed and developing markets to new ideas, products, and ways of thinking.

  • Time Pressure People around the world are feeling more pressured for time in their lives. Many consumers feel they have less time to manage mounting levels of activity, information, and choice, and the resulting accelerated pace of life. While time pressure and its effects are felt most intensely in developed countries, change in occurring most rapidly in emerging markets.

  • Cultural Multipolarity The ability to produce and disseminate culture in its modern forms is rising in more places around the world. New centers of cultural power are ascending, driving the emergence of cultural multipolarity.

  • Asia Rising The countries of Asia are strengthening their economic and cultural clout and boosting their prominence in the world. This is clear whether measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rates, increasing scientific and technological capabilities, the growing variety of goods and services now available to Asian consumers, or simply the feeling of buzzing energy on a busy street in Bangalore, Shanghai, Bangkok.

  • Media Spread More people have access to mass media than ever before. Media devices including radios, televisions, computers and mobile phones are becoming more affordable, while new broadcast media, like satellite and the Internet, are increasing choices and accessibility.

  • Social Freedom The range of personal, political and economic options open to individuals is growing around the world. Propelled by political change, economic growth, and information flows, social freedom is expanding the range of choices available to consumers and allowing individualism to spread.

  • Transparency No, this isn’t Sarbanes Oxley, or at least not entirely. The increasing ability to gather, store, and share information is making it easier to know about people, products, companies, and governments, propelling the world towards transparency. Driving factors include information technology, the spread of media, social freedom, and rising incomes and education levels.

  • Monetization Consumers are increasingly substituting purchased products, devices, and services for labor and time. As more people equate time with money, many are choosing monetized goods and services – from packaged flour to washing machines to dog-walking services – that offer convenience and time savings.

  • Rising Mobility People are upgrading their mobility, enabling them to move farther and faster than before. Rising mobility in emerging markets will be transformational, impacting lifestyles, and opening up new areas of demand for mobility-related goods and services.

  • Migration Over the next few decades, international and internal migration will continue at high levels, altering both the lives of people moving and the societies and regions receiving them. This migration will affect language, social values, food, entertainment, and many other aspects of daily life.

  • Networked World Networked information devices are spreading, enabling new connections between people, organizations, and objects and allowing more information to travel faster. Already, 15 percent of the 6.4 billion people on the planet have some form of direct Internet access, and the number with access to fixed and mobile phone networks is higher still, at over 2 billion. The networked world trend is having profound impacts, which are likely to accelerate.

  • Consumerism Thanks to globalization and rising incomes, consumerism is becoming an option for more than ever before. As this happens, lifestyles that rely on consumer goods – and center on the acquisition of these goods – continue to spread around the world.

  • Changing Families The basic size and structure of families are changing all over the world. Fertility rates are falling, resulting in fewer births and smaller families. Smaller families are driving the aging of the world population, and changing the structure of many societies in emerging and developing markets.

  • Women’s Power Women around the globe continue to gain social, political, and economic power. They are exercising greater control over their lives and pursuing new options, propelled by better education and changing values and social attitiudes.

  • Electrification Access to electricity is growing around the world, and a number of developing nations are pushing forward aggressively with electrification programs. Electricity changes lives – how people cook and do daily chores, how they work, their access to entertainment and information, and the general pace of life.

  • Aging The global population is not only aging, but will age faster in coming decades than in the past. By 2050, the median age is projected to rise by 10 years, to 37 and there will be nearly 2 billion people aged 60 and over.

  • Ethical Consumption Ethical consumption integrates personal values into purchasing choices. Rather than focusing only on standard consumer variables such as price, quality, and convenience, buyers consider ethical, religious, political, and other beliefs in their decisions.

  • Population Growth Population growth continues to be one of the world’s most significant trends. Every decade adds hundreds of millions of people to the global population, with the vast majority in medium- and lower-income countries.

  • Growing Middle-Class Over the last century the emergence of large middle-income groups within more developed societies has gone hand-in-hand with the creation of modern consumerism. Now a new wave of middle-class growth is unfolding in emerging markets.

  • Urbanization The number of people living in urban areas has risen sharply in recent decades, from roughly 1 billion in 1960, to 3 billion now. People’s lives change when they move from rural areas to cities. They can do different work, increase their income, and encounter new social rules, ideas and lifestyles. The fastest urban growth will occur in emerging and developing markets, driving the creation of vast numbers of new customers.

The purpose of the study is to provide corporate and government decision makers with insight into the changing consumer landscape and help them shape their long-term strategies. To complement the Top 20 Consumer Trends report, Social Technologies is conducting a new study which will analyze the top 20 areas ripe for technology –enabled innovation through the year 2020. Results of this will be available in June 2006.

“In creating the Top 20, we wanted to get beyond the trend lists that are really just about the U.S. or rich countries, and think about consumers everywhere,” Tom Conger, founder of Social Technologies commented in a prepared statement. “While a trend may be more mature in one part of the world than another, many of these trends are happening in the poorest nations, as well as the richest.”

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