One of the consequences of the long economic slump from which we finally appear to be recovering is that many recent college graduates delayed marriage. This hasn’t been particularly good news for jewelers or wedding planners, or for manufacturers and retailers that traditionally cater to growing families.
But there is a silver lining: It means many young professionals in their 20s and 30s are more footloose and fancy free than the same age cohort a generation ago. And this could be a plus for U.S. companies when they expand into new overseas markets or look to fill positions in foreign countries where they do business.
The marriage slowdown comes at a time when the world’s talent pool has never been more mobile. Several of my Boston Consulting Group (BCG) colleagues, working with The Network, the global recruitment alliance, confirmed this in a 2014 survey of more than 200,000 job seekers in 189 countries.
But the mobility of today’s global workforce doesn’t really solve all the challenges companies face when they’re trying to fill positions in the far corners of the world, since many of the workers who say they’re ready, willing and able to move to another country for the right job have only one country in mind: the United States. They want here, not Outer Mongolia.
A multinational looking to grow doesn’t have that luxury. It may have important positions to fill in Africa, Asia or Latin America for which local job candidates don’t have the necessary skills.
Of course, a company may have to make a tradeoff here, since an American job candidate may not know how to operate in a particular foreign market, so there could be a steep learning curve either way.
Still, if a company is filling positions from the global, rather than the local, labor pool, unattached “singles” typically are more realistic job candidates than married individuals — especially married individuals with school-age children. So the recent marriage slowdown might benefit corporate managers and recruiters — and provide some unexpected opportunities to U.S. job seekers.
The marriage trend is part of a wider demographic shift that will affect virtually every company in our country.
The first part of this shift is the relentless retirement of the 76-million or so post World War II baby boomers, who are leaving the workforce at the astounding rate of 10,000 per day on average.
This mass exodus from the labor force of America’s most experienced workers is one of the reasons some companies might face a skills gap in coming years, if we don’t ramp up our education system and fix our immigration laws. It will also have a huge impact on government finance and the economy, affecting retail, housing, travel and leisure, health care and other sectors.
The second part of this shift is the slowdown in family formation: the marriage dearth.
For the first time since the federal government started collecting such data, unmarried adults in the United States now outnumber married adults, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In 1976, when BLS first started collecting this data, 37.4 percent of the over-16 population was unmarried. Today the figure is 50.2 percent, or approximately 124.6 million people, as of August 2014.
Even in a robust economy, these demographic trends would create an interesting challenge for U.S. companies and government agencies.
Harold L. Sirkin is a Chicago-based senior partner of The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.