A new U.S. Census Bureau report released Aug. 27, 2013, presents a number of demographic changes in U.S. households that could have a significant impact on the interior design industry. The report analyzes data collected between 2005 and 2011, and it reveals that the traditional American household — i.e., a married couple with children — is becoming as much a relic of the past as Main Street.
“Over the last half-century, the trend in the U.S. has been toward smaller households, fewer family and married-couple households with children, and more people living alone,” states Jonathan Vespa, one of the report’s co-authors.
The share of households that consisted of married couples with children shrunk by half between 1970 and 2012, from 40 percent to 20 percent. At the same time, the percentage of households consisting of a person living alone climbed from 17 percent to 27 percent. Overall, between 1970 and 2012, the average number of people per household declined from 3.1 to 2.6.
One particular area of interest in the report is the effect of the recession on households. “During the recession, economic well-being worsened for families with children,” notes Jamie Lewis, another of the report’s co-authors, “and homeownership among families declined.”
Nationally, the number of householders with children under 18 who owned their home declined by 15 percent between 2005 and 2011. This decline was even sharper in some parts of the country. The six states with the steepest drops in homeownership among households with children were Michigan (23 percent), Arizona (22 percent), California (22 percent), Ohio (20 percent), New Hampshire (19 percent) and Florida (19 percent).
Also as a result of the recession, a higher percentage of young adults age 25 to 34 lived in their parents’ home in 2012 than in the early 2000s — a 4 percent increase among men and a 2 percent increase among women. Combined with the trend of a rising age at first marriage, one would expect that many millennials will put off buying their first home until well into their 30s or even later.
Another factor affecting household configuration is the aging of the population. Older adults make up a sizable portion of homeowners living alone, and many of those are women. In addition, the multigenerational household is making a comeback. In 2012, the majority of multigenerational households (64 percent) consisted of a householder living with a child and a grandchild.
One has to wonder, as more and more members of the baby boomer generation reach retirement age and those of the silent generation come to need eldercare, will there be buyers for their homes when they want to sell? Will Gen Xers and millennials want to live in the suburbs? And even if they do, will they be able to afford a home when they are ready to have families of their own? Or will they push to have suburbia converted into live-work-play complexes, with multipurpose, multihousing structures towering over a landscape once dominated by tree-lined streets and rows of single-family homes?
There will always be the traditional client for interior design services, just as there will always be traditional “mom and pop” households. But these trends, when taken together, suggest that potentially a different type of client may be emerging, especially among younger professionals who are beginning to enter the middle stage of their careers.
One such client, most likely a woman, will live alone or perhaps be a single parent or an adult caregiver. Another is the childless couple living in an urban or ex-urban environment. They will have a smaller home than the traditional client, probably their first home, or own a unit in a multihousing structure after having rented for many years.
Although they will want a tasteful and stylish decor, their primary need will be for good, multifunctional design to help them make the most of the space they have, including integrating universal and green design principles. Because they will have a limited budget to work with, they will want to know up-front what their project will cost and how they can economize. Accustomed to do-it-yourself projects, they will be looking for a designer who is willing to work with them, to be as much an advisor as a designer.
Perhaps you already have clients like these. Chances are in the future you will have many more. The American household is changing. Is your business model changing as well?
Michael J. Berens is a freelance researcher and writer with more than 30 years of experience in association communication and management.
Photo caption: The share of households that consisted of married couples with children shrunk by half between 1970 and 2012, from 40 percent to 20 percent. At the same time, the percentage of households consisting of a person living alone climbed from 17 percent to 27 percent.
Photo credit: David Sacks