Why You Can No Longer Sell to the Average American Household

New Census Data Finds No Majority in Household Types but Hints at Housing Growth to Come

By Published on .

What will finally drive some growth in the housing industry? It might be nothing more dramatic than a release of demand that's been pent-up since the start of the recession.

Last week the Census Bureau published results from a March survey that found 117.5 million households in the U.S., up a mere 0.3% from 2009. That's about one-third the average annual increase over the past decade. Coming on the heels of an equally meager increase of 400,000 from 2008 to 2009, this suggests a coming wave of new households once the economy loosens.

As of March, 12 million American families are living with 21 million of their adult children, a record high. One fourth of those "kids" are age 25 or older. As the economy improves, most of these adult children will probably (hopefully?) leave the nest and jump start the housing market's recovery.

Other noteworthy trends
The fraction of households that are married couples with children under age 18 is edging ever closer to just one in five households. The number of U.S. married couples with children has not changed in over 40 years. Now, as in 1967, there are 24.6 million of them.

One-person households, at 31.4 million, are significantly more numerous than married couples with children and now make up 27% of all households. The reason: People who live alone (most of whom are women) have more than tripled since 1967, while married couples with children have stagnated. Another reason is the aging population: The average age of people who live alone is 56.6 years old, and among ages 65 or older, almost half of all households (45%) are single individuals.

The number of households in the U.S. by age and type
U.S. Census Bureau
The number of households in the U.S. by age and type (in thousands)

The chart above shows just how segmented U.S. households are by age and type of households. The average American household no longer exists. Even the largest household type, married with no children under age 18 living at home is only 29% of households. All married couples, which used to be the vast majority of households has slipped for the first time to a minority position of only 49.7 percent.

Non-family households with more than one person are almost all made up of two so far unrelated people, some of whom are gay or lesbian couples. They are now just 6% of households, but may diminish if same-sex marriage become more common.

The chart below shows graphically just how segmented US households have become.

Married couples are now less than half of all households in the U.S.
U.S. Census Bureau
Married couples are now less than half of all households in the U.S.

Peter Francese is the founder of American Demographics magazine and is Ogilvy & Mather's demographic-trends analyst.