Losing Numbers but Maintaining Spending Power

The percent of households that are married couples with kids declines, but still outspends most segments

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Just because a segment is declining in numbers doesn't mean it's not still important. Married couple households have been falling for decades and have dropped below 50% of households for the first time, as of the 2009 American Community Survey. But they still outspend just about any other segment you can slice off -- especially if they have children.

Recently we took a look at the largest millennial markets. As the second-largest age segment, they are a gathering economic force who will one day drive the economy in the way the boomers have for the past decades. We used Ad Age's new tool, Market Finder, to track down where they live -- both the raw numbers and concentrations and then we looked at some market potential based on spending data from Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As promised, we're going to be looking at some other segments through the same lens. Here are the top metro areas ranked by population of married couples with children under 18, and then the top indexing metro areas for that group and for the subgroup whose oldest child is under age 6.

The first table below deals with raw populations. For all but Dallas and Houston, the Index figures hover around 100, showing both that numbers even out at that size and that a small change in percent scales quickly to a significant number of consumers.

There are 6.8 million households in the New York City metro area. If it were an average U.S. city (and we all know it's not) you'd expect 1.4 million of those households would be married with kids under 18. A tiny bump in the index for a city of that size yields 35,000 more households -- or as many such households as in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Looking at the Index concentrations of the "married with kids" households, we find a whole lot of Utah going on. We've already discussed that Utah is where the babies are with the high level of fertility in the state and its cities so this fits that trend, especially when you look at cities with high populations of children under 6. This bucks another trend we've discussed with the growth in children being almost exclusively being driven by the Hispanic population. These metro areas are not unusually Hispanic except for the 90% Hispanic population of the McAllen, Texas, metro area.

So what do married households with children spend their money on? Everything. They overindex in spending on categories like personal services, children's apparel, footwear and education, as you might think. But also milk, mortgage payments, entertainment and food both at home and away. Overall it comes out to a 9% average overspend compared to the rest of the population, or about $5,000 per household.

Where the Married Couples with Children Are:
Metro area Number of Married Couples with Children Index: Children under 18 Index: Oldest child age 6 or younger
New York 1,433,784 103 107
Los Angeles 965,563 113 98
Chicago 760,864 109 107
Dallas 562,845 124 128
Houston 513,360 124 123
Highest Index, married couple families with children under 18:
Metro area Number of Households Index: Children under 18 Index: Oldest child age 6 or younger
Provo, UT 57,685 201 216
Ogden, UT 59,292 168 186
Idaho Fals, ID 13,639 154 168
McAllen, Texas 69,159 153 132
Logan, UT 11,492 148 188
Highest Index, married couple families with oldest child age 6 or younger:
Metro area Number of Households Index: Oldest child age 6 or younger Index: Children under 18
Jacksonville, NC 15,407 231 125
St. George, UT 13,041 217 139
Provo, UT 57,685 216 201
Logan, UT 11,492 188 148
Odgen, UT 59,292 186 168

Finally, let's dive back into the Census and look at a couple other useful stats. The married-with-children segment is more prevalent in nonurban areas (31.5% of households) and suburbs (29.8%) than in principal cities, where they make up just 21.1% of households. One in three Hispanic households are this type -- a far higher percentage (33.1%) than non-Hispanic whites (20.9%) and blacks (14.2%) but trailing Asians at 34.8%. Only 16.6% of Hispanic households are single people.

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Peter Francese contributed reporting to this story.

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