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The Changing U.S. Population

iStock_000017046890XSmallOn Wednesday August 10 USA Today published a fascinating article called 1990-2010: How America Changed. The article’s focus was on the demographic trends during the 20 year 1990-2010 period. Obviously an interesting corollary article might look at the rapid pace of technological change during that same period.

I always find it interesting to see how we are changing. In same cases, there are changes each year that may not seem overwhelming but when you take a snapshot in 20 year increments, the shifts are seismic and change the underlying definition of who we are and what the future holds.  

The real change over the 1990-2010 period is that the “typical” suburban family of Caucasian husband, wife and 2.5 children idealized in early TV in the Donna Reed Show & Leave it to Beaver, has long been a thing of the past. We are a far more diverse country in lifestyle and ethnicity than ever and when we look back at the U.S population twenty years from now, we will view the changes today as merely the first step of once again becoming a true “melting pot”.

Here are some highlights of the key findings:

1. The Hispanic population is rapidly growing.

Hispanics now comprises 50Million Americans or 1/6 the U.S. Hispanics have more than doubled in numbers since 1990, and had surpassed the size of the African-American population in 2003.

2. 41% of births are from unmarried women.

In 1990 26% of births were from unmarried women, so this has been a truly dramatic change. Women who do marry are waiting longer to do so, with more than ½ marrying at 26 or later.

3. There are fewer children than ever

Only 1/3 of households now have children under 18, and only 24% of the population is 18 or younger, and the composition of the under 18 group is becoming more Hispanic. Hispanic fertility is at 2.9 children per woman vs. the national average of 2.1

4. The population continues to shift to West and South

This one is no surprise as the West/South now comprises 60% of the U.S. population while the Northeast/ Midwest now comprises 40% of the population. National politicians have long understood these shifts.

5. One in seven new marriages include spouses of different racial or ethnic backgrounds.

This is compounded by a growing number of Americans who claim more than one race, obviously including some of the most famous Americans–President Obama, Derek Jeter and Tiger Woods, among many.

6. The population is aging

This too is no surprise, but the changes are dramatic and furthermore as we look over the horizon our population will feel the “double whammy” of the Baby Boomer cohort moving into 65+ aged segment (the front edge is already doing so), and increased longevity with a 65 year old man today expected to live until 82, and a 65 year old woman until age 85. This will place an incredible strain on social services.

What do these shifts mean to marketers?

1. Obviously the broad homogeneous appeals of yesteryear are a thing of the past. Segmented marketing is paramount and specific appeals and tight media selection is critical.

2. Blindly marketing to “youth” makes little sense unless the product is truly targeted to a younger audience.

3. Smart marketers recognize the growing importance of Hispanic consumers and target this market appropriately. By the way, as every smart marketer knows, there is no singular “Hispanic market”; rather there are several Hispanic segments with Spanish language as the common denominator.

4. The growing importance of 50+. There are reams of data on the financial power of this segment. No need to restate here.

Most importantly, if you are a marketer and are questioned about why you are doing something a certain way, please don’t answer “because that’s the way we’ve always done it”. The way you’ve always done it, is invariably built on a set of assumptions no longer true. Look forward and look beyond the horizon. Today’s “truths” will not last long.

Strum on….




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