How the New Demographics Will Affect Businesses

This article from BusinessWeek points to changing demographics in the U.S., particularly the rise in singles and decline of married couples with kids.

The U.S. Census Bureau's newest numbers show that married-couple households — the dominant cohort since the country's founding — have slipped from nearly 80% in the 1950s to just 50.7% today. That means that the U.S.'s 86 million single adults could soon define the new majority. Already, unmarrieds make up 42% of the workforce, 40% of home buyers, 35% of voters, and one of the most potent — if pluralistic — consumer groups on record.

The article points out that this affects the way companies offer benefits, and challenges the traditional marriage-centric view they tend to have.

As the reality of unmarried America sinks in, CEOs, politicians, and judges will be challenged to design benefits, structure taxes, and develop retirement models that more fairly match the changing population. Already in Corporate America, more than 40% of the 500 largest companies have started to revise their marriage-centric policies, reexamining everything from subsidized spousal health care to family Christmas parties. Companies such as Merrill Lynch & Co. (MER ) and Bank of America have (BAC ) have begun to accommodate the shift by instituting "extended family benefits." These plans allow employees to add a qualified adult household member to their health plans — be it a domestic partner, extended family member, or grown child. American Express Co. (AXP ) is considering a plan whereby employees who are parents pay more for each kid they add to the health plan. At Xerox Corp. (XRX ), employees now get $10,000 upon joining the company, on top of a standard benefits package, to spend on whichever programs they choose rather than having it automatically earmarked for families; at Prudential Securities Inc. (PRU ), cohabitants can get health benefits for opposite or same-sex partners as long as they've been living together at least six months.

I would say that not only does this affect company benefits, but product offerings, marketing strategies, and everything else a company does. Some people see this as a bad thing, but I think it's just a different thing, and you can't put a value judgement on it one way or the other. Managers need to change and adapt to this new trend, rather than live in the past or hope it reverses itself. One of the major rules of business is "embrace the inevitable."

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