Single-parent families are on the rise in most racial groups (chart) FRIENDSHIP AND CHOICE NOW THICKER THAN BLOOD

By Published on .

In one TV spot for furniture retailer Ikea, a newly divorced mother with an infant daughter shops while talking about moving into a new apartment. As she browses through the store, she says she wants nice furniture so "I can have guys over maybe in, like, 10 years."

The Ikea spot is just one example of how marketers are beginning, albeit slowly, to adapt to the changing structure of the American family, now undergoing a radical shift.

At all ends of the economic spectrum, single-parent families are on the rise, due to the staggering divorce rate-half of all marriages split-and a significant increase in unwed motherhood. In 1993, there were 3.5 million never-married mothers, up 25% from 1980.

At the same time, more single fathers are taking on household and child rearing responsibilities; the instances of grandparents raising their children's children are growing; and the occurence of gay couples raising kids is coming into vogue.

As the nation approaches 2000, family might no longer mean just relationships by blood.

"Friendship and choice more than blood and obligation" will soon define family for some, says Gerard Harrington, managing editor of Trends Research Institute's quarterly Trends Journal.

The changes in the structure of the American family have a profound effect on society, and marketers cannot afford to ignore them as they move into 1995.

"Consumers are made up of many different segments, and we are trying to illustrate real-life situations and experiences with our store," says William Agee, Ikea's director of advertising, of the ad campaign created by Deutsch, New York.

Single parents comprise 30.2% of the 36 million U.S. families with children, according to the census bureau. About 63% of African-American families with children are maintained by a single parent, as are about 25% of white families.

"In the past, you had your traditional household families and you would market to the woman because she was the traditional purchaser of the product," says Audrey Guskey, a marketing professor at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, who studies consumer trends. But now the market is fragmented into several different types of non-traditional families, and only 36% of U.S. households fit the traditional family mold.

"Marketers have to pay close attention to capture these new markets. There is a lot of opportunity," she says.

Del Monte Foods, like Ikea, is following that advice. Faced with a flat market and increased competition from private label and fresh products, Del Monte is broadening its target market, focusing on younger consumers, unmarried couples and single parents. It's an attempt, the company says, to move beyond middle-aged homemakers and appeal to the new shoppers of the 1990s.

"It is important for marketers to show that they care about these segments," says Judith Langer, president of consultancy Langer Associates.

As the family structure changes, so do buying responsibilities, particularly with teens, who are shopping for groceries and other major purchases more often.

According to a recent Simmons Market Research Bureau teen research study, about 27% of teen-agers do major grocery shopping each month, a trend the company attributes to the changes in family structure.

"Teens and children are acting as pseudo-adults in divorce situations," says Alex Abrams, an author and lecturer on youth.

Despite the Census Bureau's projection that single-parent families will increase 3.8% each year, many marketers still cling to the image of the nuclear family.

"Some marketers are afraid that by showing single parents, they will alienate other people," concludes Ms. Langer.

Most Popular
In this article: