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The changing family structures reflect in our urban homes. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
The changing family structures reflect in our urban homes. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

Opinion | What the shrinking trend of urban households tells about us Indians

The average urban Indian household has shrunk from 4.85 people to 4.44 since 2005

Think home and the image that comes to mind is of a place where we grew up. It is a place where a family—mother, father and children—live. After all, the average household size in urban India has been in the range of four to five people for the last many decades. However, this is changing.

The average urban Indian household is shrinking. It has shrunk from 4.85 people in 2005-06 to 4.44 people in 2015-16. The norm in big cities has changed from multi-generational or joint family homes to nuclear families and further to single and two-people unit homes. These could be older people living alone or even unmarried people.

A good 15.6% of the overall urban households in the country are single-people and two-people units. This number has increased by 70% in 10 years, between 2005-06 and 2015-16, according to two nationally representative surveys—India Human Development Survey (IHDS) 2005-06 and National Family Health Survey (NFHS) for 2015-16.

The changing family structures reflect in our urban homes. For instance, over the last five years, apartment sizes have reduced between 15-27% in the top seven cities of National Capital Region, Mumbai Metropolitan Region, Bengaluru, Pune, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Chennai, according to Anarock Property Consultants.

Interestingly, the sharpest decline in apartment size is seen in Bengaluru, followed by Pune. These cities are known to be hubs for innovation, start-ups and IT companies. They are home to a large upwardly mobile and young workforce. These are people who spend more time on their smartphones, often eat out or even order-in or pick up something ready to cook. These people, says architect Hafeez Contractor, have little time to spend in their kitchen.

Sure enough, kitchens too have undergone a change. Earlier, kitchens were a separate unit in themselves. Our grandparents needed space to store grains and staples for the entire year as there was no guarantee of continuous supplies at constant prices. Also, there was abundant house help available to assist with the cleaning and cooking. Now, nearly 14-16% of new developments have open kitchens, or living rooms and kitchens are combined as one open unit, as compared with 5-7% five years ago or a minuscule 2-3% 10 years ago, property consultant Anarock said.

Of course, there are also softer aspects that open kitchens represent. They are considered stylish and upmarket, besides projecting a progressive or forward-looking mindset as the chore of cooking has moved from being the woman’s job to a shared responsibility.

The way we live, shop, eat, store and cook food has all changed. Today, everything is available at the click of a mouse. Yet, it was only in 2001 that Kishore Biyani, who is credited for giving form to modern retail in India launched the first Big Bazaar hyper market store in Kolkata. Or take Flipkart’s launch as an online book retailer in 2007. The fact that within a short time frame of a decade, Flipkart has gone from struggling to being acquired for $16 billion by the world’s largest retailer Walmart Inc speaks volumes of the developing consumer landscape.

To be sure, digital connectivity, with data being available in abundance and at affordable prices, has impacted our changing lifestyles. Youth today prefer virtual interactions over real ones. Nearly one in every four people interviewed across Stockholm, Mumbai, New York and Shanghai by an IKEA Life at Home 2017 study thought that it’s more important to have good Wi-Fi than to have social spaces at home.

Moreover, nearly one-fifth of the respondents thought it’s more important to keep in contact with friends online than to invite them to their homes. Yet, the story is not just of mindless consumption. Or even about digital’s influence on our lives. On the contrary, the Ikea study noted that consumers today are becoming more mindful of things at home. They want fewer things given the smaller living spaces and an increased concern for the environment. Moreover, messy homes, said the study, are a source of irritation and a big reason for arguments. This is even truer for youth.

The signs are telling. Millennials or people with the millennials’ mindset prefer to collect experiences rather than material goods. Our social status no longer can be classified only on the basis of our address or size of homes or physical possessions. Selling objects based on income, age and gender or just value then seems old-fashioned. Perhaps it’s time for marketers to go back to the drawing board.

Shop Talk will take a weekly look at consumer trends, behaviour and insights.

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