Families today come in all shapes and sizes. Of course, a close reading of the historical record indicates that this has always been true, but over the past 50 years in the US, there has been a marked diversification in the ways our households are composed. We’ll be looking at these household shifts over the next two posts.
First up, family households. Back in 1960, at the height of the Baby Boom, one in two American households was composed of a married couple with minor children. Since then, things have changed dramatically, as the following graphic shows:
Married Couples With Children No Longer Dominate US Households
Today, only one in five US households is composed of a married couple with minor children.
This is a big shift in our nation’s household composition, and has ramifications for museums of all types given that our client work leads us to estimate that 90% of core family audiences to museums are families headed by a married couple. (Keep in mind that we are talking about core family audiences, who go to museums often, not casual family visitors for whom museum visitation is a more sporadic activity.)
For children’s museums and science centers, whose primary markets are family audiences, this means that, as a percentage of the population, their target audience is shrinking. (Depending on location, it may be shrinking in terms of raw numbers as well, especially in the Northeast.) Diversifying to reach more of the one-out-of-three families not headed by a married couple may be necessary to keep up attendance numbers.
For other museums who primarily serve adult audiences, such as many history and art museums, well, we’re not letting you off the hook. Even though the percentage of households comprised only of adults may be increasing, that is not excuse to scale back efforts to attract and engage families, as our previous research has shown that the amazing collections held at museums are extremely memorable for children who grow up into adults who love museums. It is still crucial to reach children of all ages, and provide them with those experiences.
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Data Source: US Census Bureau historical data