“I never will marry,” goes the old folk song. “I expect to live single all the days of my life.” Now a new report from Pew Research suggests this might actually be coming true for more and more people. According to the report, as many as 25% of Millennials will never get married.
The research is summarized in this report at Time.com. The causes come down to three main factors:
1. 30% say they just haven’t found the right person
2. 27% say they — or a prospective spouse — aren’t financially stable enough
3. 22% say they aren’t ready to settle down — or it may be that cohabiting, rather than actually tying the knot, is easier
But is this more than a transitory trend? Yes, according to the study, and largely because of economics:
The quality most women want in a husband, somewhat unromantically, is a secure job, followed very closely by similar ideas on raising kids, which was the quality most men wanted in a spouse. The problem is, the report points out, that young men are increasingly less likely to be employed. “In 1960, 93% of men ages 25 to 34 were in the labor force; by 2012 that share had fallen to 82%.” Those young men who are employed are not bringing home as much bacon as they once did. In fact, if you adjust for inflation, the median hourly wages of men aged 25 to 34 are a fifth less than they were in 1980.
Compounding that issue is that women have entered the labor force in much higher numbers. So while there are more men than women who are single and available, there are far fewer employed men who are single than employed women. Fifty years ago there were 139 single young men with jobs for every 100 single young women; that ratio has now dropped to 91:100. “If all never-married young women in 2012 wanted to find a young employed man who had also never been married, 9% of them would fail,” says the report, “simply because there are not enough men in the target group.”
This doesn’t mean marriage is a disappearing institution. A significant majority want to, and will, get married. But if one quarter of Millennials will remain single — and if those who do marry, as we have seen in many studies, get married older, then this will seriously mess with much of public policy and all of conventional marketing wisdom.
Marketers still wildly overspend against the younger demographics, and just as significantly underspend against Baby Boomers and seniors (i.e., the people who have most of the money and purchasing power). One major reason is that marketers are still trapped in a consumer “lifestage” model that hasn’t really budged since the 1960s. Under this model, the most desirable consumers are young people in the “family formation” stage: they’re shopping on their own for the first time, they need a ton of products and services, and their band preferences still aren’t fixed and finalized — so this is the perfect time to go get ’em. Besides, they’re more numerous than any other segment of the market (i.e., the Baby Boomers in their young- to mid-20’s).
But that model doesn’t work anymore, for obvious reasons. First, the Millennials don’t have anything like the spending power that the Boomers had at that same age. And second — as studies like this one demonstrate — they’re not marrying and forming new families in the first place.
You’d think that marketers — supposedly being cold, calculating, numbers-driven opportunists — would get all this. But too many still don’t.