Insights below are highlights from the second edition of the Back to School Report (July 2023), available in full to CivicScience clients. This three-part series focuses on back-to-school shopping habits and the socioeconomic forces impacting families.
With the end of the summer season in sight, families of school-aged children and college-aged students across the country are preparing for the upcoming school year. New CivicScience data indicate this year’s back-to-school shopping is being influenced by learning losses resulting from the pandemic and price concerns from lingering inflation. The return of student loan repayments is also disproportionately impacting younger consumers and is bound to shape plans for higher education moving forward.
Read on for three key highlights from the report:
1. Learning losses drive earlier shopping and tech purchases.
Following staggering learning losses from the pandemic, 58% of adults with school-aged children say their student(s) are struggling in at least one subject area. As seen in May, parents report mathematics remains the leading area where students lag behind, followed by reading and writing.
These learning losses are shaping the way affected parents are approaching back-to-school shopping, one way being they are investing more heavily in purchasing new technology (such as smartphones and tablets).
Another is that they are more likely to shop earlier than parents not reporting learning losses. That said, back-to-school shopping in general is well ahead of July 2022 numbers – consumers across the board have already completed more shopping this year in comparison (details available in the report).
2. Parents plan to cut back on spending in certain areas more than last year.
Households with children under age 18 express growing concern over inflation and rising prices, outpacing the general public. Those with the greatest concern about inflation plan to spend less this year on back-to-school items. At the same time, parents of children under 18 report slightly stronger financial health (based on the CivicScience Consumer Financial Health Index), as well as less price sensitivity than the Gen Pop.
Even so, high prices are having a more pronounced impact on consumers of school-aged children this year. They are more likely today to say they plan to cut back spending in certain areas compared to this time last year. Spending cuts have increased the most for clothing (up more than 6 percentage points) and streaming services (up 5 points) and decreased most for gas (down 8 points). These categories saw the most change among all U.S. adults as well.
3. Student loan repayments disproportionately impact young consumers.
Not surprisingly, the Supreme Court’s recent ruling striking down President Biden’s student loan forgiveness program has had a disproportionate impact on younger consumers under age 35. However, level of concern over student debt correlates with differing attributes that help to explain consumer behavior among this large group of consumers, such as social media activity and likelihood to spend or save money (more details available in the report).
The general attitude toward higher education has likely been impacted by the student debt crisis and current economic conditions. Most U.S. adults (90%) say that students should consider the return on their investment in their education when choosing a major, with computer science and engineering ranking as the top two fields of study that students should be encouraged to pursue.