Winners & Losers 2009: Signs of the times

How do people behave in a bad economy? Tupperware parties were up, home invasions were down and fewer people were in the mood to tie the knot in 2009.

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? Dental hygiene
Unfortunately for dentists — and happily for thousands of anti-dentites — in a bad economy, a visit to the dentist’s chair is likely to be written off as a luxury. According to JPMorgan, 84% of dentists said the economy was negatively, or strongly negatively, affecting their practice, and most of those expect the decline will last for the next 12 months.

? Tupperware and face creams
When times get tough, women start shilling plastic and face cream. At least, that’s what the numbers from Avon, Mary Kay and Tupperware indicate. Plastic-container producer Tupperware exceeded analysts’ expectations in Q3, and Avon — makers of beauty products and fragrances — reported that its number of sales reps had grown by 11% in 2009. Privately owned Mary Kay cosmetics said its sales force had increased by close to 22% over the year before.

? Mailing letters
Not only is e-mail cheaper than the post, it’s greener too. This year, Canadians sent 8.5% less mail, the country’s largest-ever annual decline. South of the border, the Postal Service is expected to lose US$7.1 billion by the end of 2009, and has announced plans to reduce mail delivery and cut 57,000 jobs. Likewise, Canada Post plans to cut $250-million worth of costs by year end.

? Television viewing
Tube time reached an all-time high in the U.S. this year, with the average American watching four hours and 49 minutes every day. Benefiting from viewers’ intensified devotion was Universal Electronics, a wireless universal remote producer, who reported a record $80 million in sales in the last quarter — a first in the company’s 23-year history.

? Prostitution
It’s been a little harder to hustle love this past year, despite the fact that the sex trade has traditionally been considered recession-proof. In Germany, some brothels have cut prices for services, or introduced incentives like discounts for seniors, and ‘day passes.’ In Costa Rica, fewer tourists and a surplus of foreign working girls have led to price cuts of up to 50%. Even in Canada, reports suggest that street workers are having a hard time recruiting customers and are charging less for services.

? Weddings
Budgets for a walk down the aisle are tight this year, according to an Arizona-based research firm the Wedding Report, which found the average amount couples spent on their dream wedding decreased by at least 10% in 2009. Newlyweds were also choosing cheaper getaways: the Caribbean and Mexico improved their market share of honeymooners this year, while couples passed on Hawaii.

? Regifting
With 36% of Americans planning to re-gift Christmas presents this year, it seems there’s no longer any shame in passing unwanted items along. This number is up from 31% last year and 24% in 2007. A third of the respondents also said they would spend less on gifts this year, which is a good thing since 6% of Americans are still carrying around debt from last year’s Christmas shopping.

? Shoplifting
Shoppers with sticky fingers caused an estimated $115 billion in losses for global businesses this year. Cases of shoplifting jumped 5.9% worldwide — the highest rate since 2001. North Americans were the worst looters, swiping 8.1% more goods than last year. The number of middle-class thieves grew this year, too, as those hit hard by the recession tried to keep up with the Joneses.

? Burglary
Recession desperation was expected to cause home invasions to escalate, but according to FBI statistics, burglary rates fell this year in many large American cities, including Los Angeles and Phoenix. Dramatic drops have primarily occurred in large cities experiencing severe increases in unemployment. This has led police officers to speculate that numbers are down because more citizens are at home and on the lookout for trouble.

? Men’s underwear
For a quick read on the economy, some economists, including former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan, look to men’s underwear drawers. When cash is tight, the argument goes, skivvies are one of the first things men stop buying. By the end of January 2009, after a year-long, 12% decline, men’s underwear sales finally stabilized. We’ll know the economy has made a solid recovery when boxers and briefs start growing 2% to 3% annually.

? University enrolment
The bunkers of higher education have proven an attractive spot for Canadians to weather the economic storm this year. Full-time enrolment at Canadian universities was up 4.6% in September — lack of jobs and demand for skilled workers were cited as the two biggest draws. Even Atlantic Canada, which has battled declining enrolment in recent years, saw its undergraduate numbers rise by 1.5%. Reports estimated that 390,000 jobs for labourers without higher education were eliminated in 2009, but 60,000 jobs for new graduates were created.

? Fidelity
Online infidelity facilitators Ashley Madison, whose cheeky slogan is ”Life is short, have an affair,’ helped more would-be adulterers find partners online than ever before last year, despite the recession. The website saw exponential growth through 2008 (its membership grew by 81% to 1.4 million), and the trend has continued though this year — their number of visitors is up 42% in 2009.

? Sex at home
The good news is, the evidence suggests more couples are having sex at home with their spouses, too. To begin with, people are entertaining themselves at home to save money. Moreover, nurses have reported more pregnancies in recent months, predicting the recession is causing a baby boom. The U.K.-based pharmacy chain Tesco reported that sales of folic acid — a popular prenatal supplement — have doubled in the past year, while condom purchases fell by 9%.

? Charitable giving
Canadians weren’t able to spare much change this year — and neither was anyone else — resulting in dreadfully low charitable contributions around the world. Donations to the Salvation Army’s food centres were down 40% this year, even though 75% of the 275 food programs they run saw increased demands. A study done in the U.K. reported that women were being more generous than men, with nearly three-quarters of females donating compared to only two-thirds of men.

? Camping
The idea of the ”staycation,’ dreary to some, has been a boon for Jarden, the parent company of camping-gear retailer Coleman. Vacationers unable to afford to jet off to tropical beaches have opted instead for local trips, which has boosted sales of tents, sleeping bags and fishing gear. To help make camping more accessible, Parks Canada froze camping fees at national parks across the country for the next two years.

? Online dating
Online dating, an extremely cost-effective way to screen potential mates before wasting money buying them dinner, is a particularly appealing service in recessionary times., and have all seen dramatic recent growth, and many dating sites have set records for new membership within the past year. Recent numbers from, an online dating site that boasts 236 of its members marry every day on average, indicate that monthly registrations are up 20%.

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