While researching our latest report, “Meet the New Family,” we spoke to Kathy Sheehan, who has global responsibility for GfK’s consumer trends services. Sheehan spoke to us about how and why families are changing and how marketers can respond. “You have all types of new and not-so-new family formations becoming more common,” she told us, but also noted, “It isn’t that family is less important or that the notion of family is going away. In fact, it’s stronger than it has ever been.”
From our research, it looks like the shape and definition of family is changing rapidly. Would you agree?
[Family] is changing so quickly, and when you think demographically, demographics traditionally tend to be pretty slow moving and easy to predict where they’re going. What’s happening with family right now is so interesting because it is so dynamic and changing so rapidly. There’s a lot of interest from our clients in understanding where it’s going.
The notion of family is ever more important. So we’re seeing a lot of changes in what the family looks like, but the concept of family is a really cohesive and important component of what people are thinking about—it isn’t that family is less important or that the notion of family is going away. In fact, it’s stronger than it has ever been. It’s just that the definition of what it is is changing and evolving very rapidly. The concept is still very, very relevant.
We see family is still relevant because that’s [people’s] priority, spending time with family. When we ask them what they want to be doing more of, it’s even more focused on family.
The traditional or the conventional family—a mom, dad and 1.x kids—is demographically no longer a majority in the United States. You have all types of new and not-so-new family formations becoming more common. Some of these are driven by the economic cycle that we’re in. For example, the increase in multigenerational households. Part of it is also cultural and demographic: You have an aging population, so you have the trend of people aging in place. You might have more elderly people moving in with their adult children because that’s a more manageable or comfortable living arrangement, given declining health. You also see a demographic driver when you look at certain cultural groups. For example, multigenerational households are much more common in the Hispanic community.
Are there any other key drivers behind these changes?
Culturally, when Gen Xers were the age or younger than Millennials are today, there was that sense of, you were going to move out of your parents’ house no matter what. And that was an important marker or transition point of being an adult. Now what we see with Millennials is the parent as friend as opposed to parent as parent. So the idea of moving back in with your parents is a lot more palatable than it was to prior generations. Again, that’s driven by the economy, but it is also driven by the relationship that Boomers have with their Gen Y children. So there are a lot of things—demographics or economics or culture—that are feeding into this fluidity of what describes a family.
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