The percentage of visitors attending cultural organizations with their traditional nuclear family members has declined by 19% since 2006. Here’s how visitation trends continue to evolve…
People are visiting cultural organizations with different companions than they did twelve years ago. It’s up to these organizations – from art museums to historic sites to orchestras – to understand these changing trends regarding the travel parties of guests visiting their organizations.
The data below is from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study, and it shows the travel party construct of recent attendees to cultural organizations. The data is organized by the year of visitation and includes years 2006, 2012, and 2018.
Visitors responded according to the visitation category they fell into during their most recent visit to a cultural organization. In other words, this is how individuals themselves defined their respective travel parties.
The rise of the non-nuclear travel party
Travel party constructs have changed notably since 2006. In IMPACTS data lingo, what’s happening here is a phenomenon called “non-nuclear proliferation.” This is a fancy term for the “rapid increase in people attending outside of a traditional nuclear family structure.”
The biggest item of note is that the percentage of people visiting with nuclear families has decreased by 19%, and the percentage of people visiting with significant others has increased by nearly 12%. Visiting with friends and grandchildren has also increased slightly. Simply put, people are visiting cultural organizations with other people or in other ways beyond the “mom, pop, and the kids” construct that once ruled the land.
These changes are notable, and may play a role in how organizations approach programming, marketing, and membership offerings.
Why a lower percentage of guests are visiting with nuclear family members
It’s not because cultural organizations are necessarily perceived as being unwelcoming to children, or because they aren’t seen as providing an edge in a child’s education (In fact, that’s a cultural organization superpower of sorts).
It’s not necessarily about you, cultural organizations. It’s about the changing US population and our changing relationships with one another. Cultural organizations benefit by evolving with these changes to effectively create engaging programs, membership opportunities, and marketing strategies.
1) “Family” has new and changing meaning
Pew Research reports that fewer than half of kids today live in a “traditional” family. And remember: “Family” doesn’t necessarily mean “married with kids under 18 in the household.” A record share of Americans have never married, and when (or if) they do, they marry at a later age.
Interestingly, the data points to the idea that grandparents may be the new babysitters for their grandchildren. The percentage of adults reporting they’ve visited with their grandparents has increased by 16% since 2006. This is a significant change!
2) There are fewer children in the United States
The chart above does not itself show that fewer children are visiting cultural organizations. Children may be represented in several of these travel party constructs beyond the “family” category. They also fall into “visiting with grandchildren,” “visiting with children without spouse,” and “visiting with friends.”
This chart shows that a smaller percentage of adults are visiting with children than they did in 2006:
Before you despair about how these organizations are “getting worse” at attracting children, know that the percentage of US households with children has declined from 50.9% with children in 1970 to 36.2% with children in 2017. Moreover, there are 1.76x more US households without children than there are US households with children. Here are the numbers on this population change and what it means for cultural organizations.
3) The desire to enjoy unique experiences (that don’t necessarily involve children) is growing
Reaching children is important for several reasons. Beyond serving the mission of many cultural organizations, over 60% of current, adult visitors to these entities attended as children. Childhood visits may increase the likelihood of adult visits.
However, alongside the notable decline in the “family” travel party construct is the notable increase in people visiting with their spouses or significant others. This makes sense, as we know that people are getting married later and having fewer children. The increase in this travel party construct is actually a good thing to see, because it suggests that our engagement trends are at least moving in the direction of market behaviors and preferences. (Given the shifts that we are seeing in the population, it would be alarming if travel constructs of attendees were not changing. It would suggest that cultural organizations are not engaging audiences with much success and entirely missing opportunities.)
We’re observing a preferential shift toward relevant, unique experiences for the adult visitation decision-maker, which extends beyond the perceived benefit that such an experience may provide for a child (with whom an adult may or may not visit). In other words, cultural organizations have an opportunity to be destinations that people want to visit for themselves and with other adult companions.
If your organization is primarily marketing and creating programs and opportunities for “traditional” families – without updating this concept alongside travel party constructs and considering the rise in adult visitors – then you may be unknowingly alienating people. Or, at the very least, missing an opportunity to connect with people and create engaging programs.
The world’s changing. Let’s look up and regroup. Let’s make sure that we understand the trends taking place outside of our doors so that we may devise the best experiences to welcome people inside of them.