Redefining U.S. Households

It wasn’t many years ago when the Dick and Jane household was typical: Mom and Dad and two children … with four grandparents living nearby. Just a quarter-century ago, 45 percent of U.S. households consisted of a married couple with children. That percentage has fallen to 26 percent.

Many people still maintain this image when they think about households. In today’s America, it’s a fantasy. The phrase “head of household” creates an image of “Dad the provider.” However, the number of households that fit this traditional image is the minority. It’s impossible to point to a typical American household.

More than half of families are remarried, or re-coupled. The average marriage lasts only seven years. One out of two marriages ends in divorce. That percentage jumps to 66 percent if the couple is younger than 30, and 75 percent of those people will remarry. Two-thirds of those who are living together or remarried break up when children are involved. In 80 percent of remarried or re-coupled families with children, both partners have careers. Eighty percent of married women have careers, and women are less dependent on support of the male partner.

Four of the five states that lead the country in divorces are in the Bible Belt. People who self-identify as evangelical Christians are now more likely to get divorced than non-Christians.

Half of the 60 million U.S. children younger than 13 live with one biological parent and that parent’s current partner. There are more stepfamilies than original families. More than 1 million children yearly have parents who separate or divorce. The United States is now the world’s leader in fatherless families. Nearly 40 percent of children in our country go to bed each night without their biological father in the home, and 35 percent of those children never see their fathers.

Single parents account for 27 percent of family households with children younger than 18. One in two children will live in a single-family household at some point in childhood. One in three children is born to an unmarried parent. The number of single mothers increased from 3 million to 10 million between 1970 and 2000. One child out of 25 lives with neither parent.

Cohabiting couples, people who live with unmarried partners, represented almost 4 percent of households in 2000. However, it’s 11.2 percent among people ages 20-24, and for people ages 25-29 it’s 9.8 percent. Those not completing high school are nearly twice as likely to cohabit as those completing college. Thirty percent to 40 percent of college students are cohabiting at any given time.

Six million to 10 million children of lesbian, gay and bisexual partners live in the United States. One-third of lesbian households and one-fifth of gay male households have children. There are 3 million gay and lesbian people living in committed relationships, though there are only 600,000 gay and lesbian families.

In direct marketing, we constantly refer to “households” without regard for the ever-changing definition of a household. A household consists of all of the people who occupy a housing unit, regardless of their relationship. A family household has at least two members related by birth, marriage or adoption, one of whom is related to the householder. A non-family household can be either a person living alone or a householder who shares the home with non-relatives only, often boarders or roommates.

Households have decreased in size. The share of households with five or more people dropped from 21 percent in 1970 to 10 percent in 2000, while those with only one or two members grew from 46 percent to 59 percent. The average number of people per household is 2.62, compared with 3.14 in 1970.

These household trends are seen by comparing the 1970 census to the 2000 census. Families represented 81 percent of households in 1970, but only 69 percent of the nation’s 105 million households in 2000. Are you specifying “one per household” on your list rentals? Cohabitants value independence more than married people. Cohabitants are less likely to be financially responsible for their partners. They have separate bank accounts, and they value their personal leisure and individual freedom. Money and property tend to be “his” or “hers,” not “theirs.” Certainly if you sell financial services, you’re better off mailing to both people in the household.

A subset of cohabitants is the millions of caregiver households. Elderly parents are often being taken care of by their adult children who live in the same household. It’s usually the adult child who makes the majority of the purchase decisions.

Since we live in a world of households, it's important that we truly understand what that word means in today's society. With people living together and breaking up … marrying, divorcing and remarrying, it’s important for direct marketers to grasp these new definitions of households and to have their marketing plans address each of these household structures differently.

Related Posts