The traditional nuclear family — a married couple with children — might be the first image that comes to mind when we think about families, but family structures are changing.
The number of families that fit the nuclear family definition has been decreasing over time. According to Census data, only 17.8% of the 130 million households in the U.S. (about 23.1 million households) include married parents with children younger than 18. That represents a 40% decrease from 1970 levels.
America’s family dynamics are changing, which has implications for everyone — including companies that want to attract and retain top talent.
For employers to stay competitive when it comes to hiring, they need to provide adequate and equitable employee benefits packages. That means changing company policies to embrace and provide resources for a broader definition of family.
The Changing Face of the American Family
There are several factors contributing to our evolving definition of family.
For starters, many couples are choosing to get married later in life. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the median age of first marriage was 28 years for women and 29.9 years for men between 2015 and 2019, up from a respective 26.3 years and 28.1 years from 2006 to 2010.
And that’s assuming couples choose to get married at all. Cohabitation is increasingly common in the U.S., and plenty of people choose to fly solo. A 2019 Pew Research Group study found that 38% of American adults were living without a spouse or partner.
There are couples who choose not to have children. There are couples who adopt or have children through assisted-reproduction methods like IVF or surrogacy. There are blended families that include children from previous unions. There are single adults who raise children alone or with assistance from family members and close friends (or older family members who exclusively raise children). There are young adults who return home to live with their parents (which was on the rise during the pandemic).
And sometimes there’s a full house with parents, children, grandparents, and maybe even an aunt or uncle — all living together under one roof.
When it comes to family, there is no one-size-fits-all definition. To better describe the full scope of family structures, some sociologists have started to use the term “extended nuclear family.” An extended nuclear family can include domestic partners, same-sex partners, grandparents, uncles, aunts, siblings, stepparents, foster parents or guardians, and even pets.
Just as a single definition cannot adequately cover every possible family structure, a one-size-fits-all approach to employee benefits packages could unintentionally exclude some employees’ loved ones. Extending offerings to include loved ones who do not fall under the nuclear family definition can help employees feel supported — and even celebrated.
Tips for Updating Benefits Strategies
As the world and workplace continue to evolve, HR professionals are in a powerful position to help employee benefits packages truly represent the family structures of today’s workers. Truly responsive HR leaders can ensure more equitable access by:
1. Building benefits programs that support all employees.
Not every benefit will work for everyone, but employee benefits packages must support more vulnerable populations such as working parents, BIPOC employees, and LGBTQ employees. In short, equitable benefits programs are inclusive benefits programs.
2. Designing resources for navigating care.
Employees might need some assistance to understand new offerings or make informed decisions on which options are best for their unique situations. Providing HR advice services can empower team members to find new providers who are closer to their homes, schedule appointments, transfer medical records, and much more. This level of support shows workers that their employer is committed to their best interests.
3. Offering flexible access and personalized communication.
Convenience is an important component toward ensuring every employee is confident in their ability to access care. Creating multiple channels — think web, mobile, and phone — for employees to find information about their benefits can go a long way toward driving active participation. Some resources can even be targeted to provide personalized alerts specific to each employee’s needs.
4. Providing benefits that address all health needs.
Every person has unique health needs, and benefits offerings should be designed with that reality in mind. That means making sure everyone has access to preventive medicine, specialty services, family dental care, and everything else they need to feel their best.
5. Making it easier to pay out-of-pocket costs.
Employers can’t know everything their employees are going through. Major events like the arrival of a new child or an aging parent’s transition to assisted living are life-changing — and usually quite expensive. And during times of high inflation and other economic stressors, it’s crucial to ensure employees are set up for success. A benefit like Paytient makes it easy for employees to pay for their family members’ out-of-pocket healthcare expenses without resorting to credit cards or personal loans.
In many ways, inclusive benefits have become a business imperative. Companies that go the extra mile to ensure their team members feel valued and respected are better able to recruit and retain employees. And when employees aren’t stressed about how to take care of their families, they’re more engaged and productive at work. Updating employee benefits to meet these evolving needs isn’t just a nice thing to do — it’s a smart choice.