Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Majority of Americans Are Now Single -- and What Does THAT Mean for Us?

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on……………."

Tectonic demographic shifts - from minority populations moving to majority, from dramatic shifts in middle class income and buying power, from retiring boomers to burgeoning millennials, from rural migration to cities - all continue to impact our strategies and approaches to surviving - to our marketing and audience development efforts.

Now comes another major revelation - a report in Bloomberg notes that a majority of Americans are now single.

"Single Americans make up more than half of the adult population for the first time since the government began compiling such statistics in 1976. 
Some 124.6 million Americans were single in August, 50.2 percent of those who were 16 years or older, according to data used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its monthly job-market report." 

Moreover, the report notes that:  "The percentage of adult Americans who have never married has risen to 30.4 percent from 22.1 percent in 1976, while the proportion that are divorced, separated or widowed increased to 19.8 percent from 15.3 percent."

It's unclear from the report how many people (though perhaps 'technically' single as they are not married) are, nonetheless, "coupled" in one form or another -- at least as they perceive themselves.  There is also no data on how this plays out differently in different ethnic, geographical, educational and income groups. Still, being 'single' - as a trend - has implications.  As Boomers age and pass on, more marriages end in divorce or separation, and fewer Millennials get married (or couple together), more people join or remain in the single ranks. And so we have yet another factor to consider in our attempts to strengthen our approaches to audiences and supporters.

Questions as to the behaviors and preferences of single people vs. those who are  married (or coupled) immediately arise.  Do single people attend arts performances or exhibitions by themselves?  I suppose some do, but I suspect most eschew the very idea.  I don't even like going to the movies by myself, though as often as not if there is no before or after meal with friends, I might as well go alone - we just sit in a darkened theater and don't talk to each other.  Then we go home.   Still, just going to the movies is a social event, and I would think an arts event is even more so.  Then there is a societal stigma to being out alone - whether at a movie, a restaurant or an arts event.  A classic SNL skit with Steve Martin had him show up at a restaurant -- alone -- and that fact was announced to the assembled diners who stared at him in disbelief and pity.  A spotlight shined on him "alone" at a center table as though he was a specimen on display.  But maybe Millennials feel differently. I doubt it, but it would be instructive if we had data on the question.  What do we know of the composition of our audiences in terms of their status as 'singles' or 'couples' and of how those in different categories behave in terms of attending our events?  What do we know about what kinds of solicitations from us they are more likely to respond to?

How do we adjust our marketing efforts if a majority of adults over 16 are now single and that cohort is likely to get bigger?  If subscriptions to performing arts events are a thing of the past, and single performance tickets are now the mainstay - what is the effect of an increasing number of single adults on our declining audiences.  What kinds of questions should we be asking?

For singles to attend an event, it is arguably more difficult as there must be more planning to coordinate with other singles (assuming they do not want to go it alone).  What can be done to incentivize them to engage in that extra effort so they will attend?  What are the barriers that keep them away?  What are the group dynamics that affect a decision to gather some friends and attend an arts event?  Like other group activities does the happening of such a gathering depend on someone who acts as the group's social leader?  How do we identify those leaders?  What are the means to motivate those group leaders?  What do we know about them and how they operate?  Are there different lessons to be learned for different generations?  Are older singles likely to respond to different stimuli and incentives than true for younger singles?

Should we consider singles only nights as an incentive? Should we differentiate between generational singles in our marketing and audience development approaches?  Should our messages and the forms of our outreach be different when directed to singles vs. couples?  Should we then have Singles LGBT nights too?  Or for other niche groups?  Should we collaborate and cooperate with others who are trying to attract these same groups in ways that are mutually beneficial?  What ways might be mutually beneficial?  And should we also promote other special group nights that would focus on the reality of the rise in singles, if not necessarily calling direct attention to that fact?  Should we consider other ways to make it easier for singles to coordinate with other singles in attending our events?  And what might those ways be?  Discounts?  Special offers?  Transportation tie ins?  How does this play with the other demographic shifts noted above?

Clearly you may need to challenge your previous assessments and assumptions, and you ought to begin to ask yourself: What is your strategy to market to singles?  Do you have one?  Does it matter?

Yet something else to think about.  It's all getting increasingly more complex.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

1 comment:

  1. At my theatre, we did a lot of audience research recently and found that most patrons were older women and they came in pairs with a close friend or even their sister. They still viewed it as "a date", just not a romantic one.

    As for my age group (20s) - I have a diverse group of friends from attend-ALL-the-arts to never-attends, and we are similar to those older folks. I have a boyfriend but we never attend arts together - I take my little sister (a college student) or I go with my best friend.

    So even when "married" seemed like the default option for our patrons, they weren't coming as married couples. They came as patrons who just happened to be married.