Children missing from typical household in developed West

The trend is towards a couple or single person living alone, implying changes in consumption

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 August, 2012, 4:43am

The mention of a family usually conjures up an image of a mum, a dad and a couple of children. However, a recent Deutsche Bank report shows a different picture of the typical household in advanced markets.

Single-person households are now the largest category of household in the US, Britain and Germany, followed by couples without children. The traditional nuclear family - a couple with children - now represents a small fraction, according to the report, titled "Who are the World's Consumers?"

"The decline of the nuclear family is often blamed on the increase in divorce rates, but this is not the full story," says Deutsche Bank global strategist Sanjeev Sanyal, the report's author. "An equally important factor is that people are simply not getting married in the first place."

In Germany, single-person households form 39 per cent of all households, and couples without children constitute 32 per cent; traditional nuclear families make up only 22 per cent. The rest are single-parent or multigeneration households.

In Britain, the figures are 34 per cent and 29 per cent, respectively, with just 19 per cent being traditional nuclear families. A similar pattern is found in the US, where single-person households make up 27 per cent, couples without children another 27 per cent, and traditional families 22 per cent.

What does that mean in terms of consumer behaviour?

Sanyal says the traditional nuclear family likes to live in a house with a garden in the suburbs to have more space for the children. Parents own cars, which they drive on highways to go to work or take the children to school.

A single person, however, typically wants to live in a smaller flat in the city, which is more convenient and close to friends or the workplace.

The new demographics mean more demand for household products.

"A family of five people uses a heater, while a single-person household also needs a heater," Sanyal says. An increase in single-person households would mean greater demand for domestic appliances such as coffee makers, cooking utensils and televisions, he says.

Another interesting trend is that there has been a revival in both the US and Britain of the multigeneration family, which means grandparents, parents and children all living together under one roof. In the US, 16 per cent of households are multigenerational, compared with 12 per cent a generation ago.

Dubbed the "Boomerang Generation", some people who lost their jobs in the global financial crisis returned to live with their parents or grandparents to save money, while some moved in to take care of ageing family members.

However, the report shows that the traditional nuclear family still dominates in developing markets such as mainland China, India and Brazil. On the mainland, for example, 49 per cent of households are traditional nuclear families, while 13 per cent are couples without children. Single-person households make up just 7 per cent of total households.

But Sanyal points out that mainland China and other emerging markets are now rapidly urbanising, which means they may soon see similar trends to those in the West.