As we enter the season finale television season, advertisers will spend billions of dollars on marketing campaigns as they compete for Americans’ hard-earned disposable income. However, advertisers often fail to take into account a very large (and growing) market with expendable income: the childfree.
A Growing Demographic
Even without the popular (and controversial topic) of the childfree lifestyle highlighted in TIME, CNN, and the Huffington Post, the numbers are hard to ignore: approximately 1 in 5 American women ends her childbearing years without having borne a child, compared with 1 in 10 in the 1970s (Pew Research). A Yale study found that in western countries, the proportion of childlessness among women in their late 40s has doubled over the past three decades.
Twenty percent is not a small number, especially when compared to other traditionally marginalized groups. According to the most recent U.S. Census, women make up half of the U.S. population, putting childfree women at 10% of the population. In comparison, Hispanics make up 17.4% of the American population, African-Americans make up 13.2%, Asians make up 5.4%, and gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals comprise approximately 3.8% of the population.
Who are these childfree adults?
Long gone are the stereotypes of the traditional childfree women: the high-powered executive or the spinster with five cats- or the men: perpetual bachelors who spend their free time on yachts.
Childfree men and women encompass every race, religion, and ethnicity and are found in every state, city, town, and socioeconomic strata. They are teachers, dentists, engineers, IT specialists, secretaries, clerks, artists, waitresses, physicians, nurses, social workers, cashiers, mechanics, small business owners, lawyers, judges, veterinary techs, nuclear physicists, and everything in between.
According to an informal poll on Facebook in three private childfree groups, childfree women spend the majority of their disposable income on travel, clothes, entertainment (bars, restaurants, museums, concerts, etc.), cars, home goods, personal care, and saving for retirement.
Gross Assumptions Lead to Lost Revenue
In an interview with a group of approximately 100 childfree men (20%) and women (80%) ranging from age 18 to 65, the group felt almost entirely ignored as a demographic when it came to advertising.
“Stuff is either marketed to young pre-children folks or to families. It's a massive marketing blunder too, because DINKS [“double income no kids,“ a term commonly used to refer to married childfree couples] have got much more disposable income to spend on more expensive stuff than families anyway,” says Lisa, 29, of Michigan.
Brian, 25, of Oregon, believes that “this diminishes the validity of the childfree lifestyle- like it’s something we’ll grow out of- like being gay. But we won’t. This is who we are.”
Falling in Between the Gaps
Traditional marketing segmentation techniques, which typically take into account age, gender, race/ethnicity, life-cycle stage, dwelling/neighborhood, and social class, make gross assumptions about men and women who have chosen not to have children.
While advertisers have made it their mission to become more inclusive of all races, and even feature homosexual couples in advertisements, parental status is still not recognized as a demographic characteristic or as an acceptable life-stage cycle based on traditional marketing theory, which breaks down stages into the following: bachelor, newly married couple, full nest, empty nest, and solitary survivor life.
“Advertisers discriminate against us by assuming that there are only two types of consumer: singles and families.” says Rose, 30, of Illinois. “Almost every women's product has a child angle, as if that's all we are interested in.”
Mark, 19, of Colorado asks, “If advertisers didn’t show African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, or people of a certain age, wouldn’t there be public outcry?”
Without a doubt, there would be.
A Double Standard
While there are dozens of childfree men, their ads are not as divisive. A man can play golf, watch sports, drink beer, eat wings, and drive sports cars regardless of his parental status.
In a random sampling of commercials from five primetime television shows (Walking Dead, Modern Family, Empire, Law and Order: SVU, and The Voice), in commercials where humans were primarily used to communicate information about the product (as opposed to product-focused commercials not using actors), women were shown in maternal roles in 40% of the commercials whereas men were only portrayed as fathers in 10%. This is despite men comprising approximately 60% of the characters in the commercials.
The Spending Power of the Childfree
One question that advertisers might ask themselves is “why worry about a the childfree demographic?”
The answer is in the massive amount of spending power of the childfree. A CNN study found that the average cost of raising a child is $245,00 for 18 years, not taking into account inflation.
By that calculation, the cost of a child is $13,611 annually. Assuming discounts on daycare, the use of hand-me-downs, and other savings in bulk measures, a low cost estimate of raising two children annually is $20,000.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median salary for men is approximately $46,228 and $37,492 for women.
Assuming 50% of a couple’s income goes towards basic necessities (rent, insurance, mortgage, etc.), a childfree couple will have approximately $41,860 discretionary income leftover.
A couple with one child will have approximately $28,249 left.
A couple with two children will have approximately $21,860 left.
(That’s before putting money into college savings.)
For single parents who make the median income and do not qualify for government assistance, the discretionary income dwindles to less than $5,000.
Translation: childfree couples have far more money to spend on non-essential goods and services than those with children.
A Golden Opportunity
For advertisers, this means that there is a large demographic group that few, if any, advertisers are really paying attention to. Ad Age sums it up by pointing out the obvious: “The spending behavior of childless couples rests on some attractive demographic qualities. Two-income couples without children are better educated than two-income couples with children. “
It’s time that our voice is heard and our dollars are spent