Motherhood Shifts, Follow Their Lead

June 11, 2010

Who’s better for a supermarket than a newborn baby?

Who’s better for a supermarket than a newborn baby? All those extra store trips and purchases add up over the years. But big differences in family formations today vs. 1990 mean that moms (and dads, if they’re in the picture) will have different lifestyles, economic pressures, and ways of relating to their children, brands and stores.

That’s the significance of new findings by the Pew Research Center, which compared Census Bureau and National Center for Health Statistics data from 2008 with data from 1990. Some of the starkest contrasts:

  • Women ages 35 and older gave birth in 2008 to 14% of newborns vs. 9% in 1990.  Births to women in this age group grew 64%, and gains were evident across different races and ethnicities
  • Teens accounted for 10% of births in 2008 vs. 13% in 1990.
  • The percentage of births to unmarried women jumped sharply in 2008 to 41%, up from 28% in 1990.

Total births were 4.3 million in 2008 vs. 4.2 million in 1990, the data show. But that figure could begin to turn down soon because the number of women in their prime childbearing years has declined. 

What are marketers to make of this? The data show these mothers are older and better educated (71% of women ages 35 and older who gave birth recently had some college education, up from 41% in 1990). Beyond that, The Lempert Report could speculate that more women pushed back childbirth because of economic considerations at home, and more women made the independent decision to have a child without marrying if they weren’t truly in love.

New mothers who are older, we suspect, would have different items on their shopping list beyond the baby’s needs than younger mothers. Single mothers might have less discretionary time to respond to baby care events a store might host, but might have greater need for the savings available through a retailer’s baby club. 

What a difference 18 years make. One major challenge today is the greater risk of childbearing due to obesity. With potential disruptions to the health of moms and their babies, a ripple effect could potentially be felt in supermarkets. Will demand emerge for special foods that promote weight loss in post-childbirth moms? Could stores promote meal assembly services or prepare salads and other healthful foods for pregnant women? These are starter thoughts for marketers to consider.