Andy Crouch, who is slowly establishing himself as the closest Christian equivalent to Malcolm Gladwell, lists the top 10 cultural trends from the past decade.
It’s a brilliant bit of analysis, especially his mention of informality. Yet I think number two, place, needs a little work. He writes:
Therefore, oddly enough after a decade of wild growth in invisible telecommunications, place mattered more in 2010 than it did in 2000. Travel and transport remained basically flat throughout the decade. Total vehicle miles driven, while an impressive 3 billion miles in 2010, were only up from 2.7 billion miles in 2000, a period during which the population increased from 288 to 318 million—meaning the average American drove less in 2010 than in 2000. At 9:45 tomorrow morning there will be roughly 4,500 commercial flights in the air, just as there were on 9:45 the morning of 11 September 2001—no change despite a decade of economic and population growth. And mobility, the hallmark of twentieth-century United States culture, declined throughout the decade and reached a post-war low in 2010, with less than 10% of American households changing their address.
Notice that he compares 2010 with 2000 to make his case, while suggesting that we have had a “decade of economic and population growth.” While it’s true we’ve had population growth, fertility rates in America have stayed at replacement rate, suggesting that most of the population growth was from immigrants–many of which, though by no means all, are lower-paid employees and hence have less discretionary income for travel or building nicer homes.
Additionally, comparing address changes between 2000 and 2010 as evidence that Americans want to be more rooted is a bit misleading. The reality is that 2000 was right at the beginning of the housing boom, but in 2010 most people couldn’t move even if they wanted to. Their houses were underwater or they were out of work.
Even though the market has mostly recovered, adjusted for inflation most people have lost money. Add negligible or negative job growth despite the increase in population and it feels a lot like we’re only treading water.
The market isn’t the economy, of course. But it is indicative of how much discretionary income people have, discretionary income which often goes toward travel and new homes. What’s more, 2009 was so catastrophic that even though the market recovered in 2010, most people didn’t feel as though they had any more money from it. And when push comes to shove, that feeling of being squeezed is going to force people to cancel trips or stay in their houses when they might otherwise rather move.
Booming economies make mobility easier and more attractive. And while I hope Andy is right that “the 21st century dream seems to be to put down deeper roots,” I suspect that dream has not only started to become a reality because the harsh realities of an economic downturn have forced it on an unhappy public.