Declining Saudi families – but they're still big! | Declining Saudi families – but they're still big! -
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Declining Saudi families – but they’re still big!

: Wednesday, October 20 - 2004 @ 15:17

The Arab As Consumer, the path-breaking study on Saudi society conducted by TNS in 2001-2002 identified distinctive mind states reflecting different platforms of self expression. The same study also showed that with an increasing emphasis on individualism, this society is slowly but surely moving towards smaller, nuclear families.

TNS recently conducted its own independent survey on Family Size among a representative sample of 500 Saudis with the aim of answering — are Saudi families on average having or planning to have fewer children than before? And what factors influence this change – income, affordability, mindset, values?

The study shows that the average household size – defined as all family members in the household, excluding friends and helpers – has, in fact, declined and quite significantly over the last 10 years – from an average of 6.1 to 5.3. In a scenario where the population is increasing at a rate of 3% every year, this means a lot more families to cater to than ever before – another interesting phenomenon for the marketer.

The decline is even more dramatic if we consider the drop in the size of the immediate family – defined as husband, wife and kids only, no outsiders. Immediate family size of the current generation is estimated to be around 4.7 members as against a whopping 10.3 members per family, thirty or so years ago. Thirty years ago or so, the reader will recall, coincides with the economic boom of the ‘70s.

Even taking into consideration the number of children parents are intending to have in the future (3 more per family on average), the current Saudi immediate family size will add up to 7 members – clearly less than the typical family size of previous generations.

So, returning to the original question: are Saudi families having fewer children? The answer is ‘Yes – from an average of 8 previously to around 5 today’.

Within the current structure, however, the distribution of small (up to 4 members), medium (more than 4 but less than 6 members) and large (more than 6 members) families follows a predictable pattern: 50% medium sized families, and 25% each of small and large families. But an interesting dynamic lies in the differences between small and large families.

Smaller families are younger & better educated. They live in apartments and flats rather than villas and on average (and expectedly so) have more children less than 12 years old. Though their total household income is lower than larger families, it is interesting to note that the per capita incomes of these families is higher than the other two groups. An attractive segment to target: smaller and hence more homogeneous and in all probability, with larger disposable incomes.

The next questions are – what factors drive family size? Does affordability play a role in deciding number of children? Or is it a choice led by attitude and mind set?

The TNS Family Sizes study went on to understand this by assessing respondents’ reactions to a set of attitudinal statements.

The key driver behind family size appears to be affordability. Our sample agreed that they would have more children only if they were able to afford all their requirements.

And ‘affordability’ does not mean sheer sustainability. It includes whether or not they would be able to provide a good quality education for their children i.e. a solid foundation for a good life.

Agreement with statements linked to ‘education of women’, ‘children growing up in an uncertain environment’ or belief statements such as ‘men and women should have equal opportunities in life’- i.e. those which can be interpreted as more a reflection of mindsets and values – figured much lower in the hierarchy.

So what are some of the consequences for marketers? Some of the immediate thoughts that come to mind are

Ad communications: should family moments be built around smaller nuclear families instead of an extended family? And what kind of values, scenarios, etc. would find acceptance with small families given their unique profile?

Packaging: do smaller families need smaller SKUs?

Value: providing for the children’s future is a priority. Does this mindset have a consequence for how consumers will look at brands?

• Do corporations have a role to play in addressing this concern of parents? Can large multi-nationals think of more corporate programmes based around career paths?

Change, they say, is the only constant. Responding to these changes is our challenge.

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Wednesday, October 20- 2004 @ 15:17 UAE local time (GMT+4) Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Mediaquest FZ LLC.

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