The American Family in the 21st Century

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Ward and June Cleaver used to represent the typical American household. Today, marketers would be remiss in not incorporating the likes of Murphy Brown, Ally McBeal, and Will and Grace into their business plans.

Census 2000 data shows that while the traditional family — two parents with kids — still represents a lucrative market, so do the new types of households: single parents, singles and non-relatives living together. Small, yet consequential, shifts in household composition are taking shape today, which represent new, fast-growing and profitable markets for businesses.

There are now 105 million U.S. households — 14 million more than a decade ago. But it's not just the number of additional households that should be of interest to marketers. The more important change is in the way people are living.

The Census Bureau categorizes households into two types: family and non-family. The total share of family households — defined as married couples, single parents and people who live with other relatives — has declined to 68 percent in 2000 from 70 percent in 1990. Meanwhile, the share of nonfamily households — defined as those who live alone or with non-relatives — has risen to 32 percent in 2000, from 30 percent in 1990.

While these percentage shifts may seem small, the sheer numbers have significance for marketers. Consider this: a shift of 2 percentage points, to 32 percent, means that about 34 million households today are considered non-family households — about 6 million more than in 1990. It's important for business to realize that the shift in what is considered a “household� is creating a marketplace of exponentially expanding opportunity.

For example, there are more than 60 million households without children living in them, a market that will only grow as Baby Boomers continue to age. As the demographic forces of diversity and age continue to play out on a national level, nowhere is the effect more evident than in the home. The July 2 issue of Forecast explores the American household at the start of the 21st century.

Household Changes

Family households still outnumber non-family households but grew at a slower rate in the past decade.

1990 2000 % GROWTH
Family households 64.5 million 71.8 million 11%
Non-family households 27.4 million 33.7 million 23%
Total households 91.9 million 105.5 million 15%
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Forecast analysis
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