What social trends have taught us about the 2023 economy

This year the world learned that some men can’t stop thinking about the Roman Empire. Here at the New York Times, we can’t stop thinking about what social trends like this tell us about the American economy.

We’ve had no shortage of viral memes and talking points in 2023. Americans have flocked to Paris (and abroad in general). Millennial women have stocked up on Thermos Stanley their fathers used one of the many consumption patterns fueled by women. Thanks in part to Barbie, Birkenstocks have also returned harder than a 90s trend. People were talking in Taylor Swift lyrics.

Such social developments can tell us a lot about the economy in which we live. To wrap up 2023, we reviewed some of the major cultural events and what they taught us about the job market, economic growth and the outlook for 2024.

“Barbie,” the film that sparked a thousand thoughts, hit theaters this summer with a telling promotional tagline: “She’s everything.” “It’s just Ken.”

This was clearly a film about the job market.

The film depicted Barbie trying to fight the harshness of a real world that wasn’t dominated by women, and Ken trying to find her jogging after realizing she lacked a clear place in the world. fictional world of Barbie.

It was more than just a social commentary. Like Barbieland, America has seen a real divergence in the outcomes of young and middle-aged men and women in recent years, particularly in the job market. Younger women were working at historically high rates before the pandemic, and they rebounded immediately after the 2020 economic downturn.

Men were a different story. Employment of younger men has rebounded, but they are still working at rates much lower than a few decades ago. Men aged 35 to 44 in particular are working less and less over the years and have recently failed to return to their 2019 employment peak.

In 2023 more precisely, women gained 1.4 jobs for every menu did (until November).

What is behind the long-term decline in male employment? Economists and sociologists cite a certain number of causes: A walk away from marriage and the decline of childbearing have eroded a traditional social justification for work. Men may be experiencing something of a workplace identity crisis in a modern economy where many new jobs are geared toward “pink-collar” service sectors like child care and nursing.

“Ken is trying to find his place in the world,” said Betsey Stevenson, an economist at the University of Michigan, explaining that he is linked to a world of different opportunities that have left some men looking for a new jogging. “We have moved from an economic model where the median job is making things to an economy where the median job is taking care of someone. »

Men are also less educated than young women today, which can leave some of them with a less marketable resume. (In the film, Ken tries to find a job on the shore but is told he doesn’t have the skills. He laments, “I can’t even go to the beach here!” “)

This year, women didn’t just dominate the workforce: it was a year of female-centric consumerism. Take for example the two summer music events. Beyoncé and Taylor Swift had huge concert tours that spurred great economic activity. They also released movies of their shows, bringing fun (and money) to the box office.

The concert frenzy itself was an example of a broader economic trend. Consumers continued to spend strongly in 2023, notably on the services like live music and international travel. That was somewhat surprising because forecasters believed that much higher interest rates imposed by the Federal Reserve risked tipping the economy into recession this year.

Another place where women led the way in 2023? Culinary innovation. Young women posted Viral TikToks on what could, depending on each person’s demographic dialect, have been made: a charcuterie platter (millennial), a The plowman (Brit) or lunch (Oscar Mayer). But for Gen Z, it was Girl Dinner.

This, much like the Roman Empire and the men meme, was an example of applying gender to a fairly broad and basic concept. Girls’ dinners came in many shapes and sizes, but they were essentially meals made from relatively affordable ingredients: think leftover cheese, boxed macaroni, or chicken nuggets.

What they clearly echoed was a broader economy-wide trend toward a greater food economy. Major retailers including Walmart and McDonald’s say they’ve seen a new group of shoppers, even affluent, middle-class consumers trying to save money on groceries after years of rapid food inflation . Overall price increases slowed significantly in 2023, but several years of rapid inflation have deepened, leaving many prices significantly higher for many basic needs.

Consumer grocery trends have seen another big and unexpected change this year. Some big food companies worry that people are about to buy less food because of products like Ozempic and Wegovy, which rose to prominence this year as part of an efficient new set of weight loss medications. While this is a moment of hope for many who have struggled with obesity and its health effects, it has caused consternation and adaptation among some retailers and fast food chains. Walmart said so already sees an impact on demand.

Healthcare wasn’t the only field seeing a big breakthrough in 2023. OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot rose to prominence this year for generating human-like writing, and its competitors came up with their own offerings (including one who fell in love with a Times columnist).

Such technologies could have better economic implications, remodel our way of working, replacing certain jobs and potentially increase productivity. For now, office workers use it to write emails. Students used it to write papers. Your friendly business correspondent tried to use it to write this article section, but the Times’ artificial intelligence and editors have a different understanding of the term “brief.”

The freely available version of ChatGPT works off 2022 data, so it also declined to comment on another key development from this year.

“If ‘rizz’ refers to something specific, please provide more context or clarification,” the chatbot responded when asked if it had Oxford’s Word of the Year, a shorthand for the generation Z for “charisma”.

Prodding him a little more, he admitted: “I don’t have any personal qualities. »