"Shut up about the Dow, let’s talk about me…"

Did the financial crisis usher in a new “Me Decade?”

Google, the always-on ledger of our societal preoccupations, suggests it has.

An ambitious crunching of Google Trends search data since 2006 by ConvergEx Group researchers Nick Colas and Jessica Rabe shows that since the crisis, Americans’ interest in financial markets and traditional investment planning has sagged in recent years, while search activity focused on individual “human capital” and entrepreneurship has surged.

Since January 2006 - comfortably before the first tremors of what would become an economic earthquake - interest in traditional financial assets are down 19%. Search terms “stock market,” “mutual fund,” “investments” and “stock tips” are down anywhere from 46% to 73%. 

Even with the markets rebounding powerfully over the past five years, the public isn’t particularly curious about learning why or getting in on it. Since the frantic depths of the crisis in October 2008, searches for “stock market” are down 86%, and most basic investment terms have become similarly less common.

This confirms the general sense that the market’s run to all-time highs has been mostly about corporate financial strength and the wealthy and professional investors playing risky assets in a low-yield world - not a broad public enthusiasm for stocks.

(Some like to argue this means the bull market has a long way left to run. Maybe, though a similar claim was made in 2007 that the “little guy” wasn’t yet in, yet the market peaked anyway.)

Searches related to buying land, a house or renovating/flipping homes is up solidly both since 2006 and 2008, so the housing crash has not left the average person sour on real estate.

Instead of hunting for ways the financial markets can fulfill one’s goals and dreams, people are seeking help to make a go of…something, on their own. Some of the fastest growth has come in these human capital categories, as the ConvergEx team describe them: “open a store,” “patent an idea,” “startup jobs,” learn a language” and “write an app” are all up between 46% and thousands of percent since ‘06. 

Interestingly, though, this self-realization impulse is not being directed toward the standard schooling route. Among the biggest drops in search activity were in “law school,” “business school,” “vocational school” and “college.” In Rabe’s phrase: “School is out; experience is in.”

Searches related to “life changes” since 2008 seem to show an abiding interest in building a family and an economic life, perhaps because the crisis and Great Recession forced younger people to defer household formation. Since 2008, the greatest growth among “life change” search phrases was in “buy a car,” “first job,” “buy a house” and “have a baby.”

It’s refreshing, too, that searches for “have a baby” are - so far - handily outpacing the growth in “funeral home.”