If you look at the family memberships at most museums, they assume a family means two adults and children. And for a logical reason: based on our client work, our latest study among children’s museum core visitors and members, and US Census analysis, we estimate that 90% of core visitors with children are married.
But a third of US households with children are headed by single parents. That’s a big gap – and a gap that is growing wider by the day. Since single parents also tend to have lower levels of income and educational attainment, and are more likely to be minorities, the gap becomes more troubling.
This gap has been on our minds for a while, so a comment in that recent study of children’s museum core visitor really stood out for us:
“Unfortunately, we will discontinue our membership when it expires because they no longer offer a [membership] for 2 people. I am NOT willing to purchase a family membership – at double the price . . . I am a single mom, only [one] income, and only one child. We will not be able to purchase a Supporting membership (4 people). This makes me sad.”
Professionals in the museum field talk a lot about attracting more diverse audiences, and having difficulties finding the levers to better attract them. But are we also setting up barriers when we don’t consider the financial challenges many families do have that put visitation and membership out of reach?
Maybe we need to look at our admissions packages and membership levels, and think about how families that don’t fit that traditional model of two parents + children might fit in. Can we make these packages and membership more flexible? Can we do it in a way that is fair to families of all shapes and sizes, but not in a way that is likely to be abused by those seeking an even better bargain (that is, we don’t want families headed by two parents to choose only one parent to put on the membership . . . we want both parents to visit!).
We are not suggesting that changing membership levels will instantaneously draw more diverse audiences to a museum. It takes much more than that. But breaking down barriers that we have imposed ourselves, albeit unwittingly, is a good step in the right direction.
This post, which touches on admission fees as well, is a perfect segue to a new series of posts we’ll be running in the next few weeks, based on a quick survey we conducted last winter on attendance trends. We’ll be coming back to our latest research on meaningful museum experiences later in the summer.
What do you think? Simply click on “comments” below to share your thoughts (and if you are reading this from your e-mail subscription, go to our blog to comment).