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US Lifestyles Segments

The Ethos Survey Series
The Ethos Survey Series is a national research project undertaken by PERCEPT to collect and distribute information about the beliefs, attitudes, concerns and religious behavior of the American people. The primary purpose of the project is to provide church leaders with useable, cost-effective tools to help them better understand and respond to people they seek to reach.
What does Ethos mean?
Ethos comes from a Greek word and refers to the essential spirit and fundamental character of a group of people which is comprised of similar beliefs, attitudes and concerns, and the typical behavioral responses that accompany such.
Why is the Ethos Survey Series Important?
Demographic information provides you with a powerful introduction to the people in a community by detailing such things as their age, income, racial/ethnicity, education level, occupation and family structure. However, demographics do not describe what people believe or value, or what concerns they might have. In some ways, demographic information is like a blueprint of a group of people. Although the information provides outline and structure, it is missing the color and three-dimensional detail that would be found, for example, in a full architectural rendering. Since it is not practical for most church leaders or social services agencies to enhance demographic data by personally interviewing each and every member of a typical community, survey research is a commonly used technique for gathering information on a smaller scale and projecting the results to the larger population.
Churches, religious organizations and social services agencies have for many years conducted surveys and used the results to enhance and focus ministry and human services efforts. Unfortunately, this research is often limited by the time and financial commitment it requires. Many simply do not have the resources to undertake extensive regional or local survey research. As a result, critical information which could guide and enhance decision-making often remains unavailable. Planning efforts are forced to rely almost entirely on the perceptions and experience of the participants to fill in the picture.
Through the Ethos Survey Series, PERCEPT surveys extensive cross-sections of the American public. This assures that the Ethos database is responsive to the information needs and concerns of local, regional and national church leaders as well as human services agencies across the United States. A national report on American religious behavior is certainly useful and interesting, and as such, the Ethos research has much to say about the larger trends in the United States. However, national views are just scratching the surface of the capabilities Ethos provides. In fact, one of the most valuable features of the Ethos database is its usability for projecting the likely ethos of any particular community or region in the United States based upon the demographic characteristics of that area. This has been accomplished by linking the Ethos Survey database to a sophisticated geo-demographic segmentation system called U.S. Lifestyles. PERCEPT refers to this technique as LocalLink and it has been recognized by American Demographics magazine and thousands of clients as a cost-effective and accurate means of understanding local or regional dynamics beyond basic demographics.
How was the Information Collected?
PERCEPT contracts with National Family Opinion Research (NFO; based in Toledo, Ohio to conduct the surveys for the Ethos Survey Series. NFO Research has been employed for several reasons:
NFO Research is a nationally known and respected research organization that maintains one of the largest and most statistically reliable survey panels in the United States. It is used extensively by many of the Fortune 500 companies in the United States for their consumer research needs.
The NFO Research panel contains over 375,000 nationally balanced households that represent every region of the country and all walks of life. The panel is balanced to the latest U.S. Census information with respect to market size, age of household head, and income within each of the nine Census regions. The sample also matches Census quotas on: family versus non-family households; state quotas, and the top 25 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs).
All households in the NFO panel are coded by their U.S. Lifestyle segment, the key to LocalLink technology and accurate local area projections.
NFO provides the U.S. Lifestyle segment distribution of the respondent universe for weighting of the survey results.
The panel can be used to track respondents over time and to collect trend information.
What is the Size and Sampling Error of Each Survey?
Year of Survey Distribution Sample Size Return Rate Sampling Error
Ethos I Fall, 1991 25,000 15,000 60% Less than 1%
Ethos II Fall, 1993 30,000 18,500 62% Less than 1%
Ethos III Spring, 1998 40,000 27,500 69% Less than 1%
Due to the large sample size, the overall survey sampling error is plus or minus 1% at a 95% confidence level on any national Ethos Survey. For example, the Ethos II survey found that 37.8% of American households say they are not involved with their faith. The sampling error for this question is plus or minus 1%. Therefore, were a similar survey to be conducted randomly and within the same time frame, there is a 95% level of confidence that the results would fall within one percentage point of the 37.8% figure.
The average sampling error for individual U.S. Lifestyles segments is plus or minus 4 percent.
How are the Results Biased?
In spite of our best efforts, bias exists in any survey research exercise. We have addressed sampling bias through the selection of a household panel in which the household representation in the panel closely matches representation in U.S. households overall. The results have been weighted (adjusted) to reflect the degree to which the respondent universe matches the incidence of households in the U.S. overall. These efforts have decreased the problem of the sample being biased in favor of affluent households, or white households, or households from any particular geographic region of the country.
Weighting to minimize sampling bias is done primarily by U.S. Lifestyles. We determine the percentage of households receiving the survey in each U.S. Lifestyles segment, and compared these percentages to the percentage each segment represents among all U.S. households using U.S. Census and Claritas data. We then weight the findings up or down to reflect the bias imposed through the mail-out. These adjustments are very minimal since the mail out percentages were close to the national averages for each segment.
Questionnaire-related bias is minimized through intensive questionnaire design workshop sessions conducted by PERCEPT. Ethos Surveys are also pre-tested. This testing is designed to assure that the survey questions are universally understood and to uncover any sensitivities toward certain questions that might result in biased responses, or no response at all.
Non-response bias is controlled through the choice of a national panel which produced an average 61% response rate. This suggests that non-response bias, though present, is minimal.
How is Ethos Survey Information
Projected for a Local Study Area?
Every community and region in the United States can be described as a unique combination of some or all of the 50 U.S. segments, which are created at the ZIP+4 level. ZIP+4s typically contain 10 to 15 households on a common street and as such, are extremely accurate in distinguishing neighborhood characteristics. Since PERCEPT has extensive and statistically sound survey research describing the ethographic characteristics of each of the 50 household segments, it is possible to project the likely ethos of an area based upon the segments found there. For example, the survey research has found that households in segment number 32 are more than twice as likely as an average household to describe their religious preference as Catholic. No matter where you are located in the United States, if you have households from segment 32 near you, these households are statistically twice as likely as an average household to express a Catholic preference. However, PERCEPT has also created projections for segment 32 (as well as the 49 other segments) that are sensitive to 11 sub-regions within the United States generally corresponding to the U.S. Census regions. Therefore, segment 32 households in California may be slightly less likely to express a Catholic preference than segment 32 households in Illinois where there is a historically stronger Catholic presence. By combining the regionally adjusted projections for all the segments found in your local area, PERCEPT can make a highly accurate inference (i.e., projection) for each ethographic variable. PERCEPT refers to this methodology as LocalLink and it has been recognized by American Demographics magazine as well as thousands of PERCEPT clients as the most accurate ethographic projections available today.
How are the Regions in the U.S. Defined?
The eleven regions of the United States used for Ethos projections are created by combining neighboring states into state groups (i.e., regions) that are generally proportional in total population. They are defined as follows:
Region 1 - Northeast Atlantic: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Rhode Island
Region 2 - North Atlantic: District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania
Region 3 - Mid-Atlantic: North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia
Region 4 - South Atlantic: Georgia and Florida
Region 5 - Southeast Central: Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee
Region 6 - Southwest Central: Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas
Region 7 - Northeast Central: Ohio and Michigan
Region 8 - Mid-North Central: Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin
Region 9 - Northwest Central: Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska and South Dakota
Region 10 - Mountain Pacific: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming
Region 11 - California
How Should Ethos Information Be
Interpreted for a Local Study Area?
First and foremost, it is very important to understand that Ethos estimates for a study area are only partially based upon a local survey of that area. While the U.S. Lifestyles component of LocalLink technology is driven entirely by local census and other data, the Ethos Survey portion is not. To gather concern and religious preference data at that level would require effort similar in scope to the U.S. Census which typically consumes several billion dollars of taxpayer resources, is hugely labor intensive and requires many years of advance planning. Since an effort of that magnitude is clearly not practical for local churches or human services agencies or even national denominations or agencies, PERCEPT has instead surveyed households extensively in each of the 50 U.S. Lifestyles segments in 11 major regions of the country and linked the results to each of the nearly 400,000 census block groups in the United States via PERCEPT’s proprietary and nationally recognized LocalLink technology.
The ethos projected in the reports and maps for a local study area is computed based upon the actual distribution of U.S. Lifestyles segments in that area. As a simple example, if 100% of the households in a local study area are classified as segment 1, and the Ethos database indicates that 50% of the households in segment 1 in that region are primarily concerned about maintaining personal health, then the projection for the study area would be that 50% of the households are concerned about their health. In reality, an extensive local surveying process might return a figure which is somewhat higher or lower, but short of that kind of undertaking, there is no way to know with precision whether the local figure is closer to 52% or 48%. However, since only 37% of all the households in America expressed this concern, it is safe to say that in this particular community, the concern about personal health is well above the national average (50% versus 37%). If you are willing and able to conduct additional research and there is a justifiable reason for doing so, you may be able to obtain a more precise local figure. However, in many cases, this is not necessary since knowing that the concern is well above average is precise enough. It might be nice to have a more finely tuned local figure, but generally it is not necessary given how the Ethos information is being used. Therefore, it is critical to understand why and how you are using Ethos projections.
The real value of Ethos information is that it creates a picture of a community or region much like an impressionist painting. The impressionist approach to painting is defined as “the depiction of a scene, emotion, or character by details intended to achieve a vividness or effectiveness more by evoking subjective and sensory impressions than by recreating an objective reality” (Webster). Though impressionism seeks to evoke an affective response, it is still possible to comprehend that which the painting portrays.
By analogy, Ethos information seeks to accomplish the same end by creating a powerful impression of how a community is likely to look and feel. The information is designed to stimulate or evoke response by making human need and related opportunities more vivid and engaging. It provides a baseline from which to ask additional questions and narrow your focus to specific issues. Ethos information should never be portrayed as the final word on any issue.
Now, with this concept in mind, consider how you might use the Primary Concern Indicator on maintaining personal health. You might ask, what good does it do me to know that 50% of the households in my community are likely to be concerned about this? Well, since the national average is only 37%, the average household in your area is considerably more likely to be concerned about their health. In the absence of information to the contrary, you now have some objective data indicating that this is a higher than average concern in your community and a likely source of distress. You now have some basis upon which to justify further examination of this issue whether it be in the form of local interviews, additional surveying or some other form of research. Without the initial Ethos projection, you have no objective basis upon which to narrow the focus of your exploration.
Even in this simple example, it should be apparent that the best use of the Ethos information is to stimulate thinking by creating a powerful and engaging impression. Building upon this, what has your experience and other information told you about the community? Does the Ethos information confirm or challenge that? If the Ethos information contradicts assumptions you have made, why is that? Don’t just assume that an Ethos estimate is too high or too low. It may be, but perhaps you should investigate your assumptions further. Let them be challenged and shaped by the information.
For instance, someone may perceive that the Ethos estimate of households with their particular religious preference is way too low for their community. Yet, a possible explanation for this perceived discrepancy may be that their church had been unusually successful in attracting households that typically do not prefer their religious affiliation.
To state it again, Ethos information is attempting to provide a powerful impression of what is likely to be true in a study area. It is simply saying that in the absence of extenuating circumstances, this is the ethos we might expect in a typical community populated with the kind of people in the study area. PERCEPT has found through thousands of local community studies, that in most cases the projections closely match both client experience as well as locally collected survey and other data. In cases where they don’t, try to focus your energy on the possible reasons for perceived
discrepancies (i.e., extenuating circumstances). Ultimately the question is this: What’s really going on in your community and how should you respond?