“Modern families,” including blended and single-parent families, reported feeling less financially secure than married, heterosexual couples with children, according to a report released May 21 by Allianz.
Most respondents — 85% — called themselves middle class, a classification that has traditionally meant “they should be feeling some sense of financial security and achievement,” according to Katie Libbe, vice president of consumer insights for Allianz Life. However, 57% of modern families described their financial situation as “making ends meet,” “struggling financially” or “poor,” compared with 47% of traditional families.
There are far more modern families in Allianz’s study than traditional families. The LoveFamilyMoney study defined a traditional family as a married, heterosexual couple with at least one child. There were six distinct modern family structures in the study: multigenerational, where three or more generations live in the same household; single-parent families; same-sex couples; blended families, where a couple is married or living together with children from previous relationships; parents 40 or older with children under age 5; and “boomerang” families, where an adult child (age 21 to 35) returns home after leaving.
Less than 20% of survey respondents fit the “traditional family” definition, down from 40% in 1970.
“We decided to do a study on modern families and financial security just because the traditional family has morphed so much. The traditional family is shrinking as a kind of ‘market share’ of families, if you will, and all these other types of families are growing,” Libbe told ThinkAdvisor on Thursday. “We wanted to study some of the more interesting structures to see if they were struggling more than others.”
The study polled 4,500 online respondents age 35 to 65 with household income of at least $50,000.
Libbe said that the three modern family structures that seem to be struggling the most are the blended families, the boomerangs and the multigenerational families.
“When we dug a little further, we thought a good common denominator is the fact that there’s this disruption that occurs with an unplanned dependent: somebody moving back into the home, somebody trying to merge two families together with extra dependent, maybe having to take care of an elderly parent or something like that,” Libbe said. “It probably goes to say the more dependents, the trickier it becomes to stay financially secure, but when it’s unplanned that can be trickier.”
Same-sex couples were much more likely to report being financially secure than the other modern cohorts: 41% versus 27%. They were less likely to say they were living paycheck to paycheck or that they had to focus more on short-term issues like covering current expenses or paying off debt than on long-term planning issues.
In fact, same-sex couples were more similar to traditional families than the other modern cohorts, Libbe said. “They seem to be almost as financially secure, almost meeting their goals as much as traditional families; they just seem to be on top of it and doing the best out of all those modern family cohorts.”
Lack of dependents may be one reason for that, at least in this survey. “The same-sex couple families was the one cohort that didn’t necessarily have to have kids,” Libbe noted.
However, same-sex couples were also more likely than other modern family cohorts to say they’ve worked with an advisor or are working with one now.
“One thing we know from other research that we’ve done is same-sex couples tend to use financial advisors and financial professionals almost as much as traditional couples and in some cases maybe even more,” Libbe said. “Rationale for that is that they aren’t afforded some of the traditional legal benefits of a married couple like filing a joint return, taking Social Security based upon your spouse’s benefits, owning property together, estate planning issues. There’s a lot of benefit that same-sex couples get from financial professionals.”
One positive outcome in the study is that modern families tend to be open with their children about money.
“Modern families tend to have more discussions around the household personal financial situation than traditional families. We saw that as a really good sign that all in all families seem to be loosening the reins and talking about money; it’s not taboo like it used to be,” Libbe said. “That could bode very well for kids and future generations being more savvy about spending patterns and debt.”
She added that it could bode well for advisors, too. “If financial advisors understand that families are talking more to their kids about money, maybe there’s something to leverage there in client relationships, and maybe have them recognize that they could do more for family education, for instance, in their practices to build loyalty.”
Advisors may struggle to overcome modern families’ low levels of financial security if they don’t recognize their unwillingness to sacrifice certain things.
“One of the things that we understood when we did our qualitative research where we actually got to talk to some of these families is that they do not want to sacrifice short-term experiences that they believe are very important to have with their families,” Libbe said of modern families. “They’re not going to sacrifice that trip for retirement savings.”
The key, she said, is to find a way to balance short-term experiences and long-term planning. Advisors who are working with clients who are reluctant to act on certain advice should avoid coming across as scolding or disapproving of them, Libbe said. “They need to recognize that it’s very important to find a way to enjoy some short-term goals with their families, and maybe find ways to do that where they spend less money.”
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