ageing

Have you read the latest on the Greek bailout? Last I heard people who were lucky enough to have government jobs are on strike because they are about to lose them, thanks to austerity measures being forced on the country by the EU and the IMF.

The sunny Mediterranean country is the eye of the storm of the European debt crisis. It also has one of the lower birth rates in Europe — at the current rate Greek women on average will bear less than 1.4 children.

According to a new report from the Social Trends Institute in the US these two things are connected. The report, Sustainable Demographic Dividend: What Do Marriage & Fertility Have To Do With The Economy? points out that in developed countries like Greece social welfare programmes are straining to support surging dependent elderly populations, while productive, working age populations stagnate or shrink.

The report suggests that demographic trends in marriage and fertility play an underappreciated and important role in fostering long-term economic growth, the viability of the welfare state, the size and quality of the workforce, and the health of large sectors of the modern economy.

The section headed “Marriage and the Baby Carriage” brings to subject close to home by tracing the economic impact of family purchasing. Using US data it shows that married parents spend more on child care, food at home, healthcare, home maintenance, household products and services, life/personal insurance, and pets and toys, compared to single, childless adults of the same age. Which seems kind of obvious, but is the sort of important stuff that can be overlooked in big-picture statistics.

This means that the bottom-line performance of companies that focus on these sectors of the economy is likely to be linked to the health of the family in the United States—and much of the globe, for that matter. Companies as varied as Home Depot (home maintenance), Johnson & Johnson (healthcare), Kellogg (cereal), Kroger (groceries), Mars (sweets), Mattel (toys), Northwestern Mutual (life insurance), Procter & Gamble (household products), UnitedHealth (health insurance), and Target (general merchandise)are probably more likely to profit when men and women marry and have children.

Apart from household size, factors driving this spending include:

* Domesticity: married parents devote more time and attention to home maintenance, home improvements, and domestic chores. They do more home cooking and mow their lawns.

* Responsibility: “Married parents—especially married men, who continue to be the primary earners in most families today—also spend more money on life insurance than other households. Thus, Anheuser-Busch takes a hit when men and women get in the family way, whereas Northwestern Mutual sees its market share expand.”

So: “In all likelihood, then, many companies would be performing much better today if the U.S. marriage rate had not fallen by half since 1970.”

Take-home — or, take to the boardroom — message? It’s time for corporations that depend on strong families to get behind social marketing of the family and to use their advertising to make family life look attractive rather than exalting single living all the time. They could put a bit of funding in the hands of non-profits that work to strengthen families — after all, the healthy family is their bottom line.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet