Report: Shifting African-American Population

Though many marketers are focusing on how the 2010 U.S. Census will show growth in the Hispanic population, a new study argues that the African-American community presents another great opportunity. The report, commissioned by BET and based on U.S. Census Bureau data, shows that black Americans are both more well-off and more suburban than previously thought.

Overall, the report, entitled “African Americans in 2010,” finds that the black population is growing 34 percent faster than the population as a whole. When the U.S. Census tallies its 2010 numbers, demographers expect it will show that there are about 50 million Hispanics in the U.S. and around 42 million African Americans. But though there are fewer African Americans, the population is changing in ways that make such consumers more attractive to marketers, namely:

• African Americans are nearly six years younger than all consumers; 47 percent are between 18 and 49 years old, which is considered the top-spending age demo by marketers.

• Black households making $75,000-plus have increased 47 percent in the last five years—1.5 times faster than the general population.

• If current trends continue, by 2015 more than half of all black Americans will live in the suburbs.

• Although their population is smaller, there are more African-American households in the U.S. than Hispanic households because the latter tend to have larger families.

• Forty-two percent of black adults have never married compared to 26 percent of all adults. This trend is increasing among younger age groups.

Jacklynn Topping, a business strategist and co-author of the study, acknowledged that there is some bad news as well. Although more young black women are going to college, men of the same age are not achieving at the same levels, by and large. She said, “I have not seen anything that indicates that  is changing.”


But the data shows a change in the population that Topping believes marketers should act on. “The main point is that in times when you’ve got flat or declining sales, this is a growth market, and marketers need to look at it like that,” she said.

For instance, Topping said that although Diane Keaton does ads for L’Oreal and Ellen DeGeneris promotes CoverGirl, there is currently no black “face of aging,” though there are plenty of African-American baby boomers approaching their seventh decade.  

Peter Franchese, co-author of the study and founder of American Demographics, said he believes the black population is very similar to where the overall population was 15 or 20 years ago in terms of education, income and geographic concentration. Franchese said most people are unaware that blacks are moving to the suburbs in such great numbers. “We tend to think of blacks living in the inner cities and nowhere else, but that’s no longer true,” he said.

One marketer that has picked up on the trend is The Home Depot, which includes partnerships with Steve Harvey and Tom Joyner to forge “a consistent and sustainable dialogue with customers in the segment,” said Tia Robinson, a rep for the retailer. “The Home Depot recognizes the importance of connecting with the African-American consumer market. As such, we have a 360-degree marketing plan to help us reach our target.”

Over time, Franchese said he believes that the move is likely to make black and white Americans much more similar. But in the meantime, Franchese thinks marketers will need to address African Americans differently than they do the general population.

“Here’s my take. I think for some time, maybe five to 10 years, marketing people should address this market with a deeper understanding of the cultural differences, which are going to gradually disappear as  they move to the suburbs,” he said. —with Noreen O’Leary