How do we define parents?
written by Keith Phillips
Conducting both parents and kids market research is important for many industries. But what does it mean to be a parent? And how does our definition shape the questionnaire wording and our client’s data? When we ask someone if they “are a parent of a boy 5 to 8 years old” will they consider themselves a parent if their child doesn’t live with them, but they see them on a regular basis? Do they consider themselves a parent if they haven’t seen their child in quite some time? Does it matter to the research being conducted?
We began to ask ourselves these questions as we profiled parents on our research panels that have children living in their household. Our goal of profiling was to be able to target for kids surveys in the future, but would we also be able to use our profiling information to target parents as well?
To investigate this further, we created a questionnaire that classified various types of parents. We first asked participants if they were the parents of any children that lived in their household. Then we defined a household as “the place where the child spends the majority of nights each week” and gave participants the option to reconsider their original assessment. Finally, we probed participants about children they were the parents of and had a relationship with, but who did not live in their household.
As one would expect, the number of parents in our sample decreased when we specifically defined living in the household, but increased when we specifically probed to include children outside of the home.
However, we did not expect the difference to be so small. In fact, the parent classification produced such small differences, that during child segmentation analysis, no statistically significant differences were produced. The one group of participants we did not account for in our sampling, were parents who had little or no contact with their children. Are those people truly parents and even if they are considered as such, would we want to include them in a parents study? Our data shows that asking parents if they have kids in the household generally encompasses all parents who are part of their kids’ lives. Perhaps this also reveals that even participants who do not have primary custody, do indeed consider themselves to be a primary parent.