Parents of young children generally still prefer mask mandates, and changes in masking policies are impacting their intentions to visit cultural entities.
Since most governments have removed mask mandates for vaccinated individuals, museums and performing arts entities have been in an increasingly tough spot. Audiences have been divided: desires for mask requirements remain generally unchanged for people with children under 13 in the household, while desires to ditch the masks rapidly increase for others.
Potential attendees to cultural entities tend to be more educated, and also more wary of the coronavirus. This makes the stark contrast between potential attendees with and without young children even more notable. Though we’ve recently observed in the research that mask requirements generally support family visitation without jeopardizing attendance from others, many cultural organizations have “lost their cover” as their state and/or local governments officially dropped mask mandates. This has left family-focused entities grappling with important questions:
Given that nearly 70% of people with young children in the US believe that organizations should maintain mask requirements, how will removing mask mandates impact attendance?
How long can we “defend” our own mask requirement if we’re one of the only spots on the block still requiring them?
If we keep the mask mandate so families feel still feel comfortable but we’re the only ones in our community doing so, will families even know?
Mask mandates are seemingly being dropped everywhere. This isn’t unique to cultural entities. Are concerned parents even leaving the house?
These are good questions we think cultural entities should be considering given that children are still unable to be vaccinated in the United States – particularly if yours is an organization that welcomes families. To that end, we’re going to give you some data-informed answers on where things stand right now.
The desire to “get back to normal” continues to increase among those who already intend to visit cultural entities.
Let’s start with an update to the research we’ve been sharing on an ongoing basis. The chart below adds data from July 2nd to the mix and includes an additional 1,847 US adults who intend to visit a cultural organization in the next 90 days. These respondents are actively planning their visit to one (or more) specific cultural organization. In other words, here are the attitudes of people who have already decided they are going to attend a specific museum, aquarium, zoo, or performing arts organization.
No surprise here if you’ve emerged into the world yourself: People are increasingly getting used to things returning “back to normal.” And they increasingly expect their visits to feel “normal,” too.
Remember, this chart contemplates people who feel comfortable enough with current masking policies to be actively planning a visit. Many cultural organizations have already removed their mask mandates, and this research thus includes the people who have decided they are okay with this. (As you’ll see below, however, the number of people feeling comfortable going mask-free is rising.)
What about the perceptions of all likely visitors – including those who are still on the fence about visiting?
On the whole, masks are still important for people with children in the household.
The divide has grown, folks. While people without young children are generally comfortable removing their masks, the percentage of parents wanting masks has only slightly declined in comparison.
As of July 2nd, approximately 43% of high-propensity visitors to cultural entities in the United States believe that organizations should require all visitors to wear a mask. That’s down from 53% on June 18th, 62% on June 4th, and 67% on May 21st. The overall sentiment surrounding masks is that people are feeling more comfortable resuming mask-less activities. The decrease in the percentage of likely visitors requiring masks to visit is almost entirely driven by people who do not have children under 13 in the household.
The chart below cumulatively shows the belief that a cultural organization should require masks, and it contemplates nearly 7,900 likely visitors to cultural organizations in the United States. It is sorted to denote respondents who report having a child under age 13 in the household and those who do not.
This research doesn’t mean that entities without mask requirements should expect to see no children on site. After all, nearly 32% of US adults with children in the household do not think an entity should require all visitors to wear a mask. Remember that the people visiting your organization are those who decided to visit given your safety protocols – whatever they are. People who are comfortable without mask requirements are the people inside your doors when you don’t have a mask requirement.
Many cultural entities that welcome children are in a difficult situation: They see that a majority of people with children under 13 in the household don’t feel comfortable attending without mask requirements, but they also know that those without children want the opposite – and at arguably dizzying rates. Not only that, mask mandates are becoming more difficult to defend when government regulations have changed and other entities have lifted theirs. And how will parents even know that you’re still requiring them when they decide to visit?
Like nearly all other entities right now, cultural entities may be pressured to ignore the overall sentiment of people with young, unvaccinated children in the household. Overall, this population cohort represents fewer than 20% of US households. But for cultural organizations that welcome families, these individuals can make up a hefty portion of visitation.
What’s an organization to do? At this point, the answer may be to accept the realities of the behavior of people with young children right now…
People with young children in the house have notably decreased intentions to visit cultural entities for the next few months.
Many people with children in the household are doing things other than attending indoor cultural organizations right now. We observe a notable difference in the redistribution of demand for organization types among those with children and those without. For those with young children, leisure activity redistributions are similar to what they’ve been throughout the pandemic in terms of people preferring outdoor activities and cultural entities such as zoos, gardens, and outdoor historic sites and outdoor performances.
Parents visiting indoor cultural entities are those who already feel comfortable being out and about in a nation without mask requirements. That is not a majority of parents of young children yet, but it is notably more parents than have attended at any portion of the pandemic to date.
The chart below compares intentions to visit cultural organizations among US households with children under 13 in the household to those households without children. Unlike mere interest in visiting an organization, research shows that intent to visit aligns closely with actual plans and visitation behaviors. Visitors’ stated intentions to visit an organization within a defined duration have historically proven a dependable indicator of actual visitation behaviors and are generally a reliable gauge of likely attendance. This metric not only quantifies the strength of intentions to visit an organization but also identifies the duration within which the visitor intends to manifest this intention.
Intent to visit is shown in scalar values, and you’re familiar with our intent to visit metrics if you followed them during pandemic closures in 2020. A good way to think of these scalar values is as a measure of the relative certainty of an intended behavior being actualized. A value of “1” would indicate no intentions whatsoever to visit an organization, whereas a reported value of “100” would suggest that the respondent was essentially waiting in line for the doors to open.
The research is compared to the same period in 2019 to provide context as to what is usual in terms of historic intent to visit metrics for these time periods. For this research, we’re dealing in large sample sizes and differences of even one value are significant in these metrics. The differences in these numbers – both between audiences and compared to 2019 – have a big impact on attendance to cultural entities in the United States.
Let’s start with the bad news: Historically, people with children in the household have greater intentions to visit a range of cultural organizations than those without children. This is not the case for the next three months. Moreover, the summertime months tend to have the highest percentage of people with children visiting thanks to kids being out of school, meaning that these smaller-seeming changes are likely to have notable impacts on attendance when compared to past years.
People with young children in the household aren’t currently planning to attend cultural entities at historic levels this season. Period. They are largely choosing to stay home or take part in other activities that may be perceived as safer for their unvaccinated children than indoor experiences. This may be the case until children are able to get vaccinated and/or school starts and parents start to feel more comfortable in mask-free environments (if that sentiment changes. We’ll have to wait and see).
But there are some bright spots in the data…
First, intentions to visit are slightly higher this year than in 2019 for those without children. This is likely due to a measure of pent-up demand for cultural experiences combined with this group’s general feelings of comparative comfort in going mask-free. (We’ve received several requests to revisit predicted market potential for the cultural industry to see how/if it’s changed given vaccination news, and you can expect that on this site in the coming weeks. Subscribe here so you don’t miss it.)
Second, intentions to visit among those with children in the house are currently predicted to recover in between three to six months with a slight increase compared to 2019. This recovery is likely a result of parents’ hopes that children will be vaccinated within the next six months.
“But many kids go to school in person in a few months! These parents better get comfortable!”
Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. Consider this: Just because school may be taking place in person doesn’t mean that all parents are comfortable taking their children into environments for which they can control some aspect of exposure – like choosing to attend a cultural organization. There may also be a level of perceived protectiveness afforded to some schools by the nature of their community. Feeling comfortable with little Timmy in a classroom with other kids (whose caregivers presumably also care about them not getting the virus) doesn’t mean one will feel comfortable with little Timmy getting too close to a maybe-vaccinated/maybe-not mask-less, childless adult nipping at the bud to “get back to normal” at a history museum. For many parents, having their children attend school in person is a factor beyond their control. But bringing their child to a museum isn’t. Cultural executives benefit by understanding this differentiation when they consider parental expectations as we await vaccinations for children.
We don’t get to decide what makes audiences feel comfortable. Neither does the government. People decide for themselves and act accordingly.
We’re all desperate to find footing in recovery for our cultural organizations as swiftly as possible – and it’s relieving for many to see overall attendance improve in these summer months. We’re ready to be out of the woods and to say, “We made it through and now it’s all normal! I declare it so!”
But things are still a little off, and things are still a little different.
Children are not vaccinated yet and entities are likely to see this impact their attendance and/or audience composition in the coming months compared to historic metrics. Be aware that we’re not fully there yet – even if you find yourself wearing your own mask less frequently.
But also be aware that we’re on a good track – especially if younger children can be vaccinated relatively soon and yours is an organization that welcomes younger kiddos.
We’ll keep watching things, and we at IMPACTS Experience will keep you posted.
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