Members’ financial needs don’t follow a fairy tale

The narrative of the traditional marriage and family is fading. Make sure your business practices reflect that.

It doesn’t take long for most adults to realize that the expectations they formed during childhood of fairy tale-like romantic lives were just that – fairy tales. Plenty of people don’t find the relationship they want until much later in life than they expected, if at all. Divorces happen, and are usually ugly and devastating. And every long-term relationship and marriage involves work and compromise.

Yet, the media we consume every day continues to feed us this narrative that without the perfect relationship and family, our lives are incomplete – even as reality continues to show us that not only is that goal difficult to achieve, it’s mostly out of our control. Thanks to the comparison culture created by social media, it’s easy for people who aren’t posting updates about engagement rings, weddings, ultrasounds and kids (mostly women) to feel left out and inadequate. In entertainment news, stories of engagements and pregnancies are always celebrated, while coverage of breakups and singles pushing 40 (again, mostly women) comes across as pitiful and shaming. Even small talk between strangers commonly and inappropriately turns to marriage and kids (believe it or not, I was recently grilled by a dental hygienist about whether or not I was married in our first meeting!)

And in the financial services industry, when institutions design offerings to fit various consumer life stages, they tend to follow a formulaic path: College, first car, marriage, mortgage, kids, kids’ college and retirement planning on a dual income. When discussing generational financial needs, there’s this assumption that “now millennials are married and having kids” and “Gen X is the sandwich generation, caring for both aging parents and children.” The financial needs of divorcees, single parents and middle-aged singles, for instance, are rarely highlighted.


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