A Different Family Lifestle

  • by December 27, 2000
A Different Family Lifestle

An article in the December edition of American Demographics alerts us to a niche, but growing, market segment that requires special attention in marketing and merchandising, but is difficult to identify and reach. Three-quarters of U.S. households are comprised of living arrangements other than that of the "traditional" nuclear family: The percentage of "married with children" households has decreased from 45 percent in 1972 to 26 percent in 1999, according to the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

There are nearly 8.5 million Americans living with an opposite-sex partner, up from 878,000 in 1960. There is a growing subsegment (estimated at between 1 million and 2 million people) who are living with significant others in very committed, long-term relationships.

The demographics of cohabitors are everything from 70-year-olds who choose not to remarry because they don't want to lose Medicare benefits, to young, highly successful professionals who want to keep their independence. There has been an economic maturation of unmarried couples.

Not only are these couples accumulating more assets, they're getting older. The biggest chunk of cohabitors today are in the 25- to 34-year-old range. A substantial number are over the age of 45, and 4.4 percent are over the age of 65.

Since about two-thirds of divorced people choose cohabitation over remarriage after a break-up, part of this trend can be linked to the growing divorce rate--up from 9 divorces per 1,000 married women in 1960 to almost 20 today. And as the 78 million Baby Boomers age, the number of older unmarried couples is poised to boom as well: 58 percent of all current divorced people are Boomers (aged 36 to 54).

The main reason marketers have so far ignored this segment is that most have never thought of unmarried, opposite-sex couples as a consumer demographic. But there are about 2.5 times as many opposite-sex cohabiting couples as there are of the same-sex variety (4.2 million compared with 1.7 million).

Besides ATMP and the American Association for Single People [AASP] in Los Angeles, there are few, if any, other groups and no known media outlets specifically targeting this category.) Nolo Press will link its site, with niche Web sites such as (ATMP's site) and (AASP's site). But Nolo does very little paid media advertising or direct marketing to this group of consumers, simply because data on them is extremely difficult to come by.

Some marketers are beginning to take steps toward change. Most hotel chains no longer have policies asking couples for their marital status. The majority of credit card companies ask for a "co-applicant" instead of "spouse" on applications. Airlines now tout "companion" rather than "family" fares. The AAA Automobile Club of Southern California, among others, has expanded its multiple car "family"

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