The Call-Waiting Connection

IN this age of advanced telecommunications, call waiting occupies an unusual place: it is a low-tech add-on that almost everyone can afford. As reflected in this map of the country’s 212 media markets, call-waiting users represent two distinct pockets of consumers: upscale suburbanites and urban blacks and Hispanics. Thus the map shows users concentrated not only in major metropolitan areas, with their inner cities and vast suburban rings, but also in smaller cities, such as Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Norfolk, Virginia; and El Paso, Texas, that have disproportionately large black or Hispanic populations. In the mapping of U.S. consumer patterns a landscape with this bimodal portrait of users appears only once approximately every 500 times.

According to a spokesperson at Bell Atlantic, “The more people you have in a household, the greater the need for call waiting.”That stands to reason. The greatest concentration of call-waiting users is found among households that contain members of three generations. Although this may in part explain the prevalence of call waiting in inner cities (where many households consist of a grandmother, a mother, and the mother’s children), telephone-company officials emphasize that the deep penetration of call waiting among blacks and Hispanics is primarily cultural, and reflects a greater than average reliance on the telephone for communication generally. Surveys show, for example, that Americans as a whole spend an average of thirty-eight minutes a day on the phone at home; African-Americans log nearly three times the norm, at 100 minutes a day.

Industry experts predict the continued growth of call waiting, for generational and cultural reasons. Young people will keep using the feature as they age. and the pace of American life in general will demand such real-time services. —Michael J. Weiss

Call-waiting users as compared with the U.S. average, 282. percent

High

Above average

Below average

Low

Sources: Claritas Inc., Simmons Market Research Bureau