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Y2K Predictions: Martian travel, wealth and a "marriage-happy" society?

NEWARK, DE.--What's on tap for the year 2000? Computer chaos and stockpiling dry goods, or unbridled prosperity and family togetherness?

Travel to Mars, continued economic growth, a "marriage-happy society" and escalating environmental concerns were among the Y2K predictions offered by selected University of Delaware experts:

ECONOMIC STABILITY: "The outlook for the U.S. economy in the year 2000 is pretty good," says James Butkiewicz, chairperson of the Department of Economics at UD. "The economy could shift if the Federal Reserve raises interest rates too much, but I don't think that will happen." Today's consumers are less sensitive to higher energy prices, Butkiewicz explains, and key Asian economies are making a comeback. "We're seeing a recovery all around the world," he adds. "That will create an increase in demand for goods and services globally. The United States was a source of strength while Asia was weak, and now that they are recovering, we can gain momentum from each other." The Federal Reserve is concerned about the tight labor market, Butkiewicz says, but "so long as the inflation rate remains low, interest rates should hold." On Wall Street, Internet-related and technology stocks will remain hot, he says.

SCIENCE AT THE EDGE: In the 21st century, scientists will discover "Earth-like planets outside the solar system," according to Harry Shipman, the University's Annie Jump Cannon Professor of Astronomy. And yet, he says, they will still be searching for a radio message from an extraterrestrial civilization by the century's end. Also by the year 3000, "We will have traveled to Mars and established human outposts on Mars' satellites, Phobos and Deimos," Shipman says. Meanwhile, ethical debate pertaining to biotechnology and our ability to alter the human genome will intensify, he says, and tiny "nanomachines" will perform surgeries such as cleaning out clogged arteries. Though some technologists will continue to predict that computers will replace human beings as teachers, Shipman says, "Human beings will still be teaching in our schools, colleges and universities." Shipman also offers a top-10 list of scientific discoveries for the past century. Call (302) 831-6408 to request the list.

SOCIETY AND FAMILIES: The U.S. divorce rate has stabilized, and second marriages are on the rise, says Tamara K. Hareven, Unidel Professor of Family Studies and History. Hence, she says, "Divorce is not leading to the disappearance of the American family." In fact, the "traditional" American family may be nothing more than a nostalgic myth, according to Hareven, since "even in the late 19th century, there was a high proportion of one-parent families." Like her colleague, Bahira Sherif, a UD professor of individual and family studies, Hareven says that Americans "still have a commitment to the family and marriage," as shown by the high rate of remarriage. Sherif predicts that America will continue to be a "marriage-happy society," viewing wedlock as an ideal in the coming century, although married couples with children now represent only about 36 percent of all U.S. households. What's needed, Sherif says, are role models and tools to help young people. Providing adequate care for children and elderly people will be key challenges for 21st-century society, Hareven says. Currently, some 62 percent of all U.S. women work outside the home, Sherif reports, and "that trend will continue to have major implications for gender relations, parenting, and child and elder care." Also in the new century, Sherif says, look for a growing acceptance of diverse family forms, from gay and lesbian couples to single-mom or single-dad households and grandparents raising children.

COMPUTING TECHNOLOGIES: Will computers go haywire in Y2K? What's on the horizon? Susan J. Foster, vice president for information technologies at UD, expresses optimism for continued Internet advances. "I have great hope and the expectation that future uses and consequences of technology use will be foresighted," she says. Recent Y2K concerns led many, and perhaps most institutions, businesses and government agencies to replace aged, noncompliant systems with new, compliant, flexible ones, she notes. The process also led to opportunities for business process reengineering and an increased focus on information for decisionmaking and consumer needs. "It's likely that information technology organizations will press their constituents to remain technologically and, therefore, informationally current in the future," she says. "The complexity of the world's user-computer technology means that it's not possible to foresee every outcome. But, the Y2K imperative has made everyone more aware of the need for thoughtful and foresighted development and uses."

WEATHER WATCHING: Expect more accurate forecasting technologies in the new century, and "near-normal" temperatures and precipitation levels for the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region in the year 2000, says Daniel J. Leathers, Delaware's state climatologist and an associate professor of geography at UD. A dramatic escalation in the debate over global warming and ozone depletion is on the horizon, too, according to Leathers. "We've said for many years that we should be able to provide some answers to the global-warming and ozone-depletion questions in the new century," Leathers notes. "Well, the new century is here. People want answers."

Contacts: Ginger Pinholster, (302) 831-6408, gingpin@udel.edu

Dec. 22, 1999

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