Intergenerational Influences in the Formation of Consumer Attitudes and Beliefs About the Marketplace: Mothers and Daughters

Elizabeth S. Moore-Shay, University of Florida
Richard J. Lutz, University of Florida
ABSTRACT - A coorientational model for examining dyadic interaction is advocated for the study of consumer socialization processes. Preliminary results of a pilot study are reported in which mother-daughter dyads were asked to report on a variety of brand preferences, choice rules and marketplace beliefs. Examination of the patterns of intergenerational agreement and accuracy offered tentative insights into the content and depth of consumer socialization. Future research focusing on the processes of socialization is outlined from a coorientational perspective.
[ to cite ]:
Elizabeth S. Moore-Shay and Richard J. Lutz (1988) ,"Intergenerational Influences in the Formation of Consumer Attitudes and Beliefs About the Marketplace: Mothers and Daughters", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 15, eds. Micheal J. Houston, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 461-467.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 15, 1988      Pages 461-467

INTERGENERATIONAL INFLUENCES IN THE FORMATION OF CONSUMER ATTITUDES AND BELIEFS ABOUT THE MARKETPLACE: MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS

Elizabeth S. Moore-Shay, University of Florida

Richard J. Lutz, University of Florida

[Elizabeth S. Moore-Shay is a doctoral student and Richard J. Lutz is a Professor, both in the Marketing Department, University of Florida, Gainesville.]

ABSTRACT -

A coorientational model for examining dyadic interaction is advocated for the study of consumer socialization processes. Preliminary results of a pilot study are reported in which mother-daughter dyads were asked to report on a variety of brand preferences, choice rules and marketplace beliefs. Examination of the patterns of intergenerational agreement and accuracy offered tentative insights into the content and depth of consumer socialization. Future research focusing on the processes of socialization is outlined from a coorientational perspective.

INTERGENERATIONAL RESEARCH IN CONSUMER BEHAVIOR

Consumer researchers have only begun to investigate the skills, attitudes, and behaviors that are transferred intergenerationally and the processes by which they are transferred (Moschis 1985). Intergenerational patterns may take a variety of forms, ranging from the sharing of very specific brand preferences to much broader systems of beliefs about how the marketplace functions.

One of the first researchers to address intergenerational issues found that a family's ability or inability to attain their financial goals seemed to be transmitted from one generation to the next (Hill 1970). In a longitudinal study of three generations, Hill reported intergenerational consistencies in the degree to which families preplan their financial actions and then effectively fulfill those plans. Intergenerational similarities were most pronounced at the impulsive or indiscriminate end of the planning spectrum.

In more recent years, researchers have tried to determine what other facets of consumer behavior might be subject to intergenerational influences. In particular, brand preferences, task allocation within the household, perceived risk and opinion leadership have been hypothesized to depend in some measure on intergenerational influences. Arndt (1971, 1972) found a significant pattern of intergenerational agreement between college students and their parents on opinion leadership, innovativeness and favorite store pattern. No such similarities were detected for brand loyalty, perceived product importance or perceived differences among brands.

Woodson, Childers and Winn (1976) were the first to demonstrate that intergenerational influences extend into the realm of brand and product class choices. They observed substantial intergenerational carryover effects in a study examining the purchase of auto insurance. Approximately 32% of their sample of men reported that the insurance company with which they dealt also supplied coverage to their fathers. As expected, the greatest degree of overlap (62%) was reported among men in their twenties. This proportion fell to 19% for men fifty and older.

In an exploratory investigation (unpublished) that is a forerunner to this research, the present authors conducted a study with college students and their parents to assess the degree of preference similarity in frequently purchased branded goods. The findings revealed a greater than chance degree of intergenerational carryover across a wide range of consumer packaged goods.

Collectively, the research findings on intergenerational carryover indicate that parents and their adult children share in some measure economic management skills -and buying styles as well as brand and product preferences. Further research is needed, however, to more completely specify the processes through which intergenerational influence occurs as well as the range of consumer attitudes and skills that are subject to these influences. Reflecting the inherent difficulties involved in studying socialization, little is known about the processes by which parents influence the development of their children's consumer skills and attitudes. New research methods are required to advance our understanding of intergenerational phenomena beyond the simple presence or absence of carryover effects.

RESEARCH PURPOSE AND APPROACH

Although the general purpose of our research is to investigate both the content and processes of consumer socialization, only content issues are addressed here, due to space constraints. The present study focuses on the content of consumer learning among mothers and daughters. The degree to which mothers and daughters share specific brand preferences is investigated as well as their similarity with respect to more overarching beliefs about the marketplace and shopping strategies. Intergenerational carryover was examined across a hierarchical array of variables, allowing a preliminary analysis of the depth of consumer socialization occurring as a result of family influences. At the most specific level of the hierarchy are brand preferences. At increasing levels of generality are choice rules and marketplace beliefs.

Choice rules are decision heuristics or strategies that consumers may use while shopping. Examples include redemption of grocery coupons, reliance on well-known brand names, and response to advertised specials. Marketplace beliefs are beliefs about how the marketplace functions that can be generalized across a variety of product domains. For example, consumers may believe that advertising provides valuable information, that there is a positive relationship between price and quality, that salespeople are generally knowledgeable and that nationally advertised brands are better than store brands. The assumption is that consumers hold implicit theories about how the marketplace operates. These theories or sets of beliefs affect the shopping strategies consumers adopt and ultimately the products they prefer to buy.

The range of the variables enables investigation of the levels at which intergenerational influences are operative. Description of these patterns will enhance our understanding of the content of consumer socialization occurring as a result of family influences.

The research approach adopted in this study is based on a dyadic model of communication that may be particularly useful in deepening our understanding of intergenerational phenomena. This approach examines both the extent of intergenerational carryover as well as the effectiveness of communication underlying this carryover.

COORIENTATIONAL MODEL

To understand fully the family's role in consumer socialization requires the use of dyadic or interpersonal research approaches. Since communication or learning involves an exchange of information between two people, it is important that research adopt an interpersonal unit of analysis and conceptualize variables as interpersonal constructs (McLeod and Chaffee 1973). To examine interpersonal relational McLeod and Chaffee (1972) developed a coorientational model, incorporating variables that an individual-level model omits.

The coorientational model posits three structural relations. Two-of these, agreement and accuracy, are employed in the research design. Agreement is defined as the degree of uniformity between two people's cognitions with respect to a particular issue. Accuracy is defined as an individual's ability to correctly state the cognitions of the other person in the dyad.

McLeod and Chaffee (1972) suggested that the influence an individual has on someone else's view of a particular issue cannot be understood adequately through simple measures of agreement (i.e., carryover). Accuracy is viewed as an essential measure of the effectiveness of communication between two people. Agreement is the only measure which has been used in intergenerational research to date. However, it is not a particularly good criterion when used alone, since each individual's cognitions are in some measure the result of unique experiences. Perfect agreement is therefore unlikely even when extensive communication or learning has taken place. Accuracy, on the other hand, is a reasonable indicator of the effectiveness of communication between two individuals. Two measures of accuracy, one for each member of the dyad, are used to investigate the effectiveness of communication. The more two people communicate, the higher the anticipated levels of accuracy (Chaffee and McLeod 1968).

METHOD

A survey was used to investigate intergenerational influences among mother-daughter dyads. Both mothers and daughters completed questionnaires that asked them to report their own preferences and beliefs as well as estimates of their partner's. The mother-daughter dyad, rather than an individual, served as the unit of analysis. Three measures derived from the coorientational model (i.e., agreement, daughter's accuracy and mother's accuracy) were developed for each of the substantive variables

Sample,Materials and Procedure

Forty-nine female college students and their mothers participated in this study. The students were enrolled in an introductory marketing course at a large Southeastern university. They lived off-campus in apartments or houses and shopped for groceries on a regular basis Two questionnaires were developed, one for each member of the mother-daughter dyad. The questionnaires were quite similar; most items were simply reworded to match the respondent. At a series of small group sessions, students completed their questionnaires and provided their mothers' names and addresses. Mother's questionnaires were mailed by the researchers. All questionnaires were returned within two to three weeks of mailing.

Measures

Brand Preferences. Eight common supermarket items were chosen to assess similarity of brand preference: toothpaste, facial tissue, aspirin/pain reliever, peanut butter, spaghetti sauce, canned vegetables, coffee, and frozen juices. The first four were rated as high visibility brands and the remaining four as low visibility brands in a pretest. Visibility refers to the extent to which brands or products are in clear view within the home. Brand names are relatively apparent to family-members when products are typically stored or used in their original packaging. It might be expected, all else being equal, that intergenerational agreement and accuracy will be more pronounced among visible than among nonvisible brands.

Mothers and daughters were asked whether they used each of the eight products and to indicate in a free response format the brand they most prefer. They were then asked to predict their partner's usage and preference for the same products. Brand preference agreement was defined as the proportion of identical brands the mother and daughter reported. Brand accuracy was defined as the proportion of correctly identified brand preferences. Two measures, one for high visibility brands and one for low visibility brands, were calculated for each of three variables, i.e., agreement, daughter's brand accuracy and mother's brand accuracy.

Choice Rules. Twenty-five items were constructed to examine the choice rules (i.e., shopping strategies) typically used in grocery shopping. Both mothers and daughters were asked to indicate how often (1=always, 5=never) they used these strategies and to predict how their partner would respond to the same set of items. A factor analysis of their responses yielded a six-factor solution explaining 60% of the total variance. Examination of the varimax rotated factors (see Table 1) suggested the following interpretations: propensity to purchase items on sale, willingness to try new brands, brand loyalty, prepurchase planning, impulsive shopping and lack of reliance on the advice of others. To facilitate interpretation, summary variables were constructed which incorporated only those items with a factor loading of .40 or greater. These summary variables were used in all subsequent analyses. Paired comparisons of mothers' and daughters' responses were used to assess intergenerational agreement and mutual accuracy.

Marketplace Beliefs. Measures of mother-daughter agreement and accuracy for marketplace beliefs were obtained in an analogous manner. Both members of the mother-daughter dyad were asked to indicate their level of agreement (1=strongly agree, 5=strongly disagree) with each of 25 items and to predict how their partner would respond when given the opportunity. The pooled responses of mothers and daughters were used as input into a factor analysis, resulting in a five-factor solution accounting for 46% of the total variance. Examination of the varimax rotated factors shown in Table 1 suggested the following interpretation: belief in positive price-quality relationships, the usefulness of marketer conveyed information, a distrust of marketing practices, a belief in the value of advertising and the value obtained through purchase of sale and private label merchandise. Summary variables were utilized to obtain measures of mother-daughter agreement and mutual accuracy.

TABLE 1

FACTOR LOADINGS: CHOICE RULES AND MARKETPLACE BELIEFS

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Brand Preferences

Brand visibility had a positive influence on both mother-daughter agreement and accuracy for brand preferences, as indicated by mean comparisons. Intergenerational agreement was substantially greater for high visibility brands (49%) than for low visibility brands (31%). Brand visibility also seemed to have a positive influence on both mothers' and daughters' accuracy. Daughters were able to report their mothers' preferences for 5790 of the high visibility brands, but this proportion fell to 43% for less visible products. Similarly, mothers accurately predicted their daughters' preferences for 5696 of the high visibility brands but had -greater difficulty with low visibility brands (46%). It is interesting to note that accuracy measures were consistently higher than agreement. Both mothers and daughters were able to predict one another's unique brand preferences as well as the preferences they shared. Differential agreement and accuracy illustrate the value of a coorientational approach in intergenerational research.

Overall, substantial intergenerational agreement and predictive accuracy was observed for brand preferences among mothers and daughters. These findings support earlier work by the authors which revealed a greater than chance degree of overlap (i.e., carryover) across a wide variety of consumer packaged goods. Researchers have not yet investigated the role of intergenerational influences in the development of more abstract shopping strategies and beliefs about the marketplace. Given the proliferation of brands in the marketplace, it may be that the more enduring lessons learned as a result of family socialization are more strategic than brand preferences. Preferences may shift due to limited availability or changing needs. The choice strategies and belief systems an individual adopts, however, may be less malleable to changing circumstances.

Choice Rules

Pairwise comparisons were used to evaluate mother-daughter agreement and accuracy in predicting one another's choice rules. Means and results of dependent samples t-tests are reported in Table 2. Substantial similarity was apparent in the choice strategies adopted. A concern for value, for example, was shared by mothers and daughters. Though there was great variability among the dyads, within each pair mother and daughter tended to shop for and purchase sales items with approximately equal frequency. Mother-daughter pairs also reported similar patterns of brand loyalty. Both groups indicated that they tend to rely on well-known brand names because they have been satisfied with these products in the past and believe that they are of better quality. Daughters were on the average, however, more willing to try new brands than their mothers were. They reported more frequent impulse purchases and trial based solely on advertising that they enjoyed. Though both mothers and daughters indicated that they were only rarely among the first to purchase new products, mothers were less likely to be innovators than their daughters. This is not surprising given the substantial differences observed between mothers' and daughters' ] repurchase planning. Mothers reported significantly more planning prior to shopping than their daughters. Mothers were more likely to write out shopping lists, redeem grocery coupons and read newspaper ads before shopping. On average, mothers used these strategies to plan their shopping on a regular basis while their daughters reported using them only infrequently.

Mothers' and daughters' relative accuracy in predicting one anothers' strategies reveals both the extent of learning and the direction of influence between generations. As expected, daughters were more accurate in their predictions than their mothers. Daughters were better able to estimate how frequently their mothers used a variety of specific shopping strategies. For a daughter to learn decision-making strategies from her mother, she needs to be well aware of what those strategies are. However, her mother may not be as knowledgeable of her daughters' choice rules. Mother's accuracy depends on the process by which the daughter's skills are learned. When learning has resulted primarily from passive observation, differential accuracy might be expected. However, when learning occurs through direct parent-child communication then both participants learn about one another's strategies and relatively high mutual accuracy might be anticipated.

Daughters seemed to be well aware of how often their mothers shop for sale items, how much they plan their purchases before going grocery shopping and how brand loyal their mothers tend to be. These kinds of activities may be readily observed by the child and are therefore easily learned. Daughters' ability to predict their mothers' decision strategies varied across different choice rules, however. While daughters were able to predict accurately patterns of brand loyalty and planning, they tended to underestimate how often their mothers depend on the advice of others in making their shopping decisions. They seemed to view their mothers as more self-reliant or perhaps knowledgeable than the mothers perceive themselves to be.

Though mothers tended to be well aware of their daughters' proclivity to purchase sale items and brand name products, they did not seem to have a clear picture of other choice strategies their daughters utilize. For example, mothers had difficulty predicting how likely their daughters were to purchase new products. Mothers tended to overestimate both how much planning their daughters do before shopping and how much they rely on others' advice. Perhaps mothers believe they play a greater advisory role than they actually do. Mothers also tended to substantially underestimate how often their daughters purchase products on impulse or on the basis of advertising they find appealing. In general, it seems that mothers viewed their daughters as more conservative or deliberate shoppers than they actually are.

Marketplace Beliefs

In general, mothers and daughters seemed to share fewer generalized beliefs about the marketplace than specific shopping strategies. Mothers appeared to be less trusting of the marketing system than their daughters (see Table 3). They were more likely to question the value of advertising and less willing to assume a positive relationship between price and product quality. Though daughters seemed to have some uncertainty about the marketing system, they were significantly more positive than their mothers. They tended to both enjoy advertising and utilize this information in their decision-making to a greater extent than their mothers. Mothers and daughters did seem to agree, however, that certain kinds of marketer conveyed information (e.g., that provided by salespeople) are especially useful.

TABLE 2

PAIRED COMPARISONS: CHOICE RULES

Both mothers and daughters found it more difficult to predict one another's marketplace beliefs than shopping strategies. Though daughters were, on the average, more accurate in their estimates, they still had a relatively difficult time reporting their mothers' beliefs. Daughters substantially underestimated their mothers' disagreement with price-quality statements. They seemed to perceive their mothers as both more optimistic than they are and more optimistic than the daughters are themselves about the relationship between price and product quality. Daughters were also unsure of whether their mothers believed that sale and private label merchandise offers a real value to consumers. In general, daughters seemed to be much more unsure of their mothers views about pricing than other marketing variables.

Daughters were able to report accurately their mothers' views of other aspects of the marketing system including advertising and salespeople. For example, daughters recognized that their mothers do not place as high a value on advertising as they do. However, daughters generally exaggerate this difference. Daughters correctly indicated that their mothers believe that salespeople are generally helpful and knowledgeable. Beliefs about the usefulness of marketer conveyed information, salespeople in particular, is the one area where mother-daughter agreement and mutual accuracy were high.

Mothers were able to predict accurately their daughters beliefs in only one area. They correctly recognized that their daughters found marketer based information, especially salespeople, to be particularly helpful in making various purchase decisions. Mothers did not, however, have an accurate view of their daughters' beliefs about price-quality relationships, distrust of various marketing practices or the relative value of sale merchandise.

Collectively, the findings seem to indicate that mothers and daughters are more likely to share specific brand preferences and shopping strategies than more abstract beliefs about the marketplace. Perhaps children are more likely to learn consumer skills and attitudes from their parents that are both more specific and can be easily observed. As we might have expected, intergenerational influence seems to flow primarily from parent to child. Relative accuracy indicates both the extent of learning and the direction of influence between generations. Daughters were, on the average, better able to estimate their partners' shopping strategies and marketplace beliefs than their mothers were.

TABLE 3

PAIRFD COMPARISONS: MARKETPLACE BELIEFS

FUTURE RESEARCH DIRECTIONS

The coorientational model may be particularly useful in broadening our understanding of the processes by which preferences and attitudes are transmitted from one generation to the next. Socialization researchers have attempted to define the relevant learning processes in conceptual terms but appropriate methods have not yet been applied in empirical studies.

Ward, Wackman and Wartella (1977) identified three primary ways in which parents influence their children's consumer socialization. Parents may: (1) act as models, (2) directly interact with their children in a variety of consumption related contexts, or (3) provide children with independent opportunities for purchasing. Learning thus occurs through modeling (observation), direct communication and experience, respectively.

The effects of particular socialization processes may be reflected in the various patterns of overlap observed between parents and their adult children as well as their ability to predict accurately one another's preferences and beliefs about the marketplace. While measures of agreement may provide an index of intergenerational carryover, such measures indicate little about the learning processes that underlie intergenerational influence. An individual's accuracy, on the other hand, may indicate the relative role of learning by observation, communication and experience. An example of how the coorientational model might be used to investigate observational learning (i.e., modeling) in the development of shared brand preferences is described below.

In the absence of direct communication about consumption, children learn their parents' preferences through parental modeling. For modeling to occur, children need to be able to observe parental behaviors that provide useful or diagnostic information about the brands they prefer. Children therefore learn their parents preferences through observation of the brands they select and consume. Thus, brand visibility (such as a ketchup bottle on the family dinner table) is a necessary condition for modeling to take place. When learning has been primarily the result of modeling, a daughter's accuracy in predicting her mother's preferences will be relatively high while her mother's accuracy will be relatively low. In order for the daughter to be influenced, she must be aware of her mother's preferences. However, if the daughter is learning through observation, there is little reason to expect that the mother would be aware of her daughter's preferences. When there is little mother-daughter communication about consumption and limited involvement on the part of the child in family purchasing, a child has little opportunity to learn except through observational means. The relative impact of observational learning may decline substantially when there are other means by which consumer preferences can be transmitted.

The relative contributions of each of the three learning processes are currently being investigated in a study of intergenerational influence among mothers and daughters. The key independent variables in this study are brand visibility, mother-daughter communication about consumption and daughter's shopping experience. These factors were selected as indicators of the primary learning processes, i.e., observation, communication and experience. Coorientational measures of agreement and accuracy will be used to examine the relative impact of each of these learning processes in the development of brand and product preferences, choice rules and marketplace beliefs. Through the use of approaches such as the coorientational model, researchers may develop a better understanding of both the content and processes of consumer socialization.

REFERENCES

Arndt, Johan (1971), A Research Note on Intergenerational Overlap of Selected Consumer Variables, Markeds Kommunikasion, 3, 1-8.

Arndt, Johan (1972), Intrafamilial Homogeneity for Perceived Risk and Opinion Leadership, Journal of Advertising, 1 (1), 40-47.

Chaffee, Steven H. and Jack M. McLeod (1968), Sensitization in Panel Design: A Coorientational Experiment, Journalism Quarterly, 45 (Winter), 661-669.

Hill, Reuben (1970), Family Development in Three Generations, Cambridge, MA: Schenkman.

McLeod, Jack M. and Steven H. Chaffee (1972), The Construction of Social Reality, in The Social Influence Process, ed. J. T. Tiedeschi, Chicago: Aldine--Atherton, 50-99.

McLeod, Jack M. and Steven H. Chaffee (1973), Interpersonal Approaches to Communication Research, American Behavioral Scientist, 16 (April), 469-499.

Moschis, George P. (1985), The Role of Family Communication in Consumer Socialization of Children and Adolescents, Journal of Consumer Research, 11 (March), 898-913.

Ward, Scott, Daniel B. Wackman and Ellen Wartella (1977), How Children Learn to Buy: The Development of Consumer Information Processing Skills, Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Woodson, Larry G., Terry L. Childers and Paul R. Winn (1976), Intergenerational Influences in the Purchase of Auto Insurance, in Marketing Looking Outward: 1976 Business Proceedings, ed. W. Locander, Chicago: American Marketing Association, 43-49.

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