We Are Family

Trends / Realness
Gabrielle Pedro Fredrick
Sep 21, 2023
In a post‑civil rights America, television became a dominant media and sitcoms such as All in the Family in the 1970s and Family Matters in the 1980s helped solidify images of the “all‑American” family. As the country continued to become more diverse, 2009’s Modern Family showed us how diverse blended families could be, while 2015’s Fresh Off the Boat highlighted the experiences of a first‑generation immigrant family. Even today, the Sex and the City follow‑up, And Just Like That… shows us different nuances of evolving family dynamics, dealing with issues such as co‑parenting, navigating gender and sexuality identity, infertility, widowhood, or even found family.

The concept of family is one that is so personal but resonates with all of us. In fact, the term “family” is consistently the #1 most‑searched term around the globe on the Getty Images and iStock sites. With evolving cultural norms such as the rise of LGBTQ+ and/or multigenerational families and factors like as the economy (childcare is expensive!1) or even the climate2 (having children drastically increases your carbon footprint) influencing our decisions about family, how do top visuals compare to a society of shifting family demographics?
Popular imagery can be homogeneous and ignore today’s evolving demographics
There are some scenarios that tend to appear in popular downloads more often than others, painting a more traditional image than may be representative of today’s modern families. 72% of popular imagery focuses on young, heterosexual parents with young children. Often, mothers are more likely to be shown cooking while fathers are seen having fun outdoors. In fact, women are featured in over 77% of visuals showing families in the kitchen. Overall, these families remain homogeneously white.

But as of 2023, “family” paints a much richer picture of different dynamics than what is shown in top imagery. In fact, American families have seen the tripling of interracial children born3 since the 1980s, increased adoption and fostering, and a rise in multigenerational housing4, particularly among families of color. Almost 60 million Americans (almost 20% of the population) live in some form of multigenerational household, yet it makes up 11% of popular family images downloaded by Getty Images customers.
Changes in family structures and living situations indicate shifting norms
When we consider LGBTQ+ families, our VisualGPS research found that more than half of Americans report seeing more LGBTQ+ stories over the past year. Yet when we look at the most popular images featuring families, less than 1% of them feature LGBTQ+ families. In 2022, searches for “lgbtq family” on the Getty Images site saw an above expected upward growth of +20%.

Within top Getty Images’ downloads, the most common family dynamic is composed of young children and two heterosexual parents – and coupled parents are twice as likely to appear than single parents despite the US having the world’s highest rate5 of children living in single‑parent homes. Additionally, the US census reports that marriages (and divorces) have seen an incremental decrease6 over the past twenty years. In fact, VisualGPS research indicates that 52% of Americans believe that in the future, traditional institutions such as marriage will start to fade away over time. We’ve started to see this make its way into popular downloads, as depictions of marriages and weddings have decreased from pre‑pandemic numbers.

Connect with consumers by highlighting unique family dynamics
To embrace the changing image of an American family, consider a diversity of different kinds of family structures, such as single parent homes, multigenerational families living together or LGBTQ+ families. Continue the representation of different races and ethnicities in different family structures, keeping in mind the rise of multiethnic family dynamics – interracial families are currently among the least represented family demographics despite their rising numbers. Highlight families in a range of living situations, such as multifamily homes or apartments, outside of single‑family homes, which are the most seen in popular imagery. VisualGPS research reveals that more than 3 out of 4 people believe that in the future, it will be important for businesses celebrate diversity of all kinds – and that celebration of diversity can start in the home.
Works Cited
1) The real story behind America's population bomb: Adults want their independence (USA Today)
2) To Breed or Not to Breed? (New York Times)
3) The Changing Face of the American Family (Parents)
4) Financial Issues Top the List of Reasons U.S. Adults Live in Multigenerational Homes (Pew Research Center)
5) National Single Parent Day: March 21, 2023 (US Census Bureau)
6) National Marriage Divorce Rates (US Centers for Disease Control)
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