Family Type, Family Authority Relations, and Adolescents’ Purchase Influence

Tamara F. Mangleburg, Florida Atlantic University
Dhruv Grewal, University of Miami
Terry Bristol, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
ABSTRACT - This study examined the effects of family type and family authority relations on adolescents’ purchase influence. The conceptual model developed proposed that the effects of family type on children’s influence are mediated by various dimensions of family authority relations. These dimensions include parental coalition formation and parent-child authority roles. Results from a survey of parents of teens indicate that family type directly affected the parents’ perceptions of their adolescents’ influence, with influence being greatest in single-parent families and least in step-families. The effects of family type were partially mediated by parental coalition formation and parent-child authority roles. The family authority relations dimensions significantly affected influence as well.
[ to cite ]:
Tamara F. Mangleburg, Dhruv Grewal, and Terry Bristol (1999) ,"Family Type, Family Authority Relations, and Adolescents’ Purchase Influence", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 379-384.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Pages 379-384

FAMILY TYPE, FAMILY AUTHORITY RELATIONS, AND ADOLESCENTS’ PURCHASE INFLUENCE

Tamara F. Mangleburg, Florida Atlantic University

Dhruv Grewal, University of Miami

Terry Bristol, University of Arkansas at Little Rock

[The authors gratefully acknowledge the helpful comments of Joe Sirgy, Noreen Klein, Julie Ozanne, Kent Monroe, John Edwards, Juanita Brown, Sharon Beatty, and Jim Gentry.]

ABSTRACT -

This study examined the effects of family type and family authority relations on adolescents’ purchase influence. The conceptual model developed proposed that the effects of family type on children’s influence are mediated by various dimensions of family authority relations. These dimensions include parental coalition formation and parent-child authority roles. Results from a survey of parents of teens indicate that family type directly affected the parents’ perceptions of their adolescents’ influence, with influence being greatest in single-parent families and least in step-families. The effects of family type were partially mediated by parental coalition formation and parent-child authority roles. The family authority relations dimensions significantly affected influence as well.

In recent decades, the American family has undergone a period of rapid social change. Divorce and changing values regarding single-parenthood have fundamentally affected the structure of today’s families. Although the intact family predominated in the past, recent census information indicates that alternative family types, such as single-parent families and step-families, are becoming more prevalent, representing 25 percent and 20 percent of families with children, respectively. Although the issue has not received much attention from marketing researchers, differences in family type are likely to have important implications for family consumer behavior in general and for family decision-making in particular (cf. Rindfleisch, Burroughs, and Denton 1997). This seems especially true with respect to children’s roles in family purchase decisions.

The purpose of this study is to examine how and why children’s purchase influence might vary under different types of families. Differences in influence as perceived and reported by parents are examined across single-parent, step-parent, and intact families. This study also provides a theoretical explanation for family-type effects on children’s purchase influence. Specifically, we develop a model of children’s purchase influence that is based on socialization theory. In essence, the model proposes that children in different types of families are socialized into different family authority roles and relationships. These differing family authority relations, in turn, are conceptualized to directly affect children’s purchase influence. Thus, we present a mediational model for the effects of family type on children’s purchase influence.

A related goal of this paper is to examine the potential explanatory power of family authority relations in understanding children’s influence in purchase decisions. Although many studies have adopted a socialization perspective for examining children’s purchase influence, most have focused on variables such as parental styles and/or family communication orientations to explain differences in children’s influence and purchase process participation (see, e.g., Carlson and Grossbart 1988; Moschis 1985) rather than family authority relations.

CONCEPTUAL MODEL OF ADOLESCENTS’ PURCHASE INFLUENCE

Consumer socialization refers to processes by which "young people acquire skills, knowledge, and attitudes relevant to their functioning as consumers in the marketplace" and develop consumer-related self-concepts (Ward 1974, p.1). Indeed, the family is one of the most powerful sources of children’s consumer learning (Moschis and Churchill 1978; Moschis and Moore 1979; Ward 1974), and the types of authority relationships that exist between parents and children are likely to affect the extent of children’s purchase roles and influence. And because family type is likely to pattern various aspects of parent-child authority relations (Nock 1988; Weiss 1979a), it is, therefore, likely to have an impact on children’s purchase influence. Yet, only Darley and Lim (1986) have examined family-type effects on children’s influence. Their study indicated that children in single-parent families had greater influence in a family outing decision than did children in dual-parent families, but did not distinguish between intact and step-families. It seems likely that children’s influence will differ between these intact and step-families as well since the nature of parent-child relations is likely to differ across family types. Moschis and colleagues (Moschis and Churchill 1978; Moschis and Moore 1979) developed a socialization model of children’s consumer learning that can incorporate many of these ideas.

The proposed theoretical relationships between family type and family authority relations are based on that general model. Consistent with that model, family type can be viewed as an antecedent condition of socialization processes, which, in this case, focus on family authority relations, or dimensions of status roles and relations in the family. Similarly, children’s purchase influence can be conceptualized as an outcome of the socialization process since it is through influencing and making purchase decisions that children actively take on the consumer role and practice the consumer skills that they have learned. Thus, based on the model, family type is proposed to directly affect various dimensions of family authority relations, which, in turn, directly affect children’s purchase influence.

In addition, a number of studies have found that children’s influence is greater in purchase decisions for products for their own use rather than for the family’s use (see, e.g., Foxman, Tansuhaj, and Ekstrom 1989). Being the intended user of the product is likely to affect a child’s motivation to participate in the purchase decision (Beatty and Talpade 1994). In addition, other family members are more likely to acknowledge the legitimacy of a child’s influence when the child is the product user. Therefore, it seems likely that various product-related factors, such as the intended user of the product, may affect the relationship between socialization processes and outcomes. The effects of family-relationship dimensions on children’s purchase influence, then, are likely to depend on whether the product is child- or family-related.

Hierarchy in the Family

We have proposed that family type directly affects various aspects of family authority relations. To further elaborate on this relationship, we draw on Nock’s (1988) theory of hierarchy in the family. Hierarchy is concerned with the nature of status relations, or authority roles, in the family. At one extreme, parent-child role relations are characterized by high hierarchy, which is "a structured authority pattern in which children are categorically inferior to adults" (Nock 1988, p. 958). In contrast, in lower hierarchy families, there is greater equality in parent-child status relations. And according to Nock, hierarchy varies with different family types. Specifically, it is the family structure that allows certain types of parent-child authority relationships to exist and develop.

One characteristic of family type that affects hierarchy is the number of parents present in the household. When two parents are present, the effect is generally that roles are age-graded with parents occupying superior positions and children, inferior positions (Parsons and Bales 1955; Weiss 1979b). Two parents can form an authority coalition, and each can uphold the other’s authority in relation to children. In contrast, when only one parent is present, it is more difficult to uphold clear authority distinctions between parents and children. With no other adult present to reinforce a single parent’s authority, role statuses between parents and children tend to become more equal.

The degree of hierarchy is also contingent on the length of time that children are exposed to a specific pattern of role-status socialization. In general, the greater the time that children are exposed to a specific authority role model, the greater is children’s learning of that particular pattern of authority. With hierarchical role models, children learn that authority roles are structured into superordinate-subordinate positions. With non-hierarchical role models, children do not learn the superordinate-subordinate structure of authority.

On the basis of these considerations, family types can be viewed as varying along a continuum of hierarchy. Intact families are conceptualized to be the most hierarchical family form because two adults are present and children have only been exposed to hierarchical role models. Single-parent families are viewed as being the least hierarchical family type because only one adult is present and children have had exposure to less hierarchical role models. Finally, step-familie lie between these two extremes: two adults are present, however, children have also had some degree of exposure to less hierarchical role patterns prior to the parent’s remarriage. Their learning of these less hierarchical role relationships is likely to affect the establishment of authority in the step-family.

In the family, hierarchy is indicated by various aspects of family status roles and relations. In particular, Nock suggests that the extent of parent’s cooperation and support of each other’s views in relation to children (or parental coalition formation) is reflective of status roles in the family. Also, the extent to which differences in the status of parents and children exist suggests different patterns of parent-child authority (or parent-child authoritarianism). For example, in some families, children may be treated more as equals to parents whereas, in others, children may be viewed as subordinate to parents’ authority. Logically, these dimensions of family authority relations are likely to be affected by family type. Thus, family type is expected to be related to differences in parental coalition formation and parent-child authoritarianism, and these two dimensions of family authority relations are expected to affect children’s influence in family- and child-related purchase decisions. In the next section, we develop hypotheses for these relationships.

RESEARCH HYPOTHESES

Effects of Family Type on Family Authority Relations

Parental Coalition Formation. The relationship between a single parent and a former spouse is likely to be somewhat conflictual (see, e.g., Amato 1986; Demo and Acock 1988; Hess and Camara 1979). Therefore, one would expect there to be less agreement and working together among parents in this instance than would be the case in other family types. Also, given that roles in step-families tend to be somewhat ambiguous (Kompara 1980; Pasley and Ihinger Tallman 1989), step parents may be less likely to be involved in child-related issues than an original parent is.

H1:  Parental coalition formation will be greatest in intact families, less in step-families, and least in single-parent families.

Parent-Child Authoritarianism. Although not specifically tested, existing research suggests that parent-child authority roles may be more equalitarian in single-parent families than is the case in other family types. For example, studies of clinical populations suggest that intergenerational boundaries between parents and children may become blurred in single-parent families, with children often being treated in a friend-like manner by parents (Glenwick and Mowrey 1987; Wallerstein and Blakeslee 1989; Weiss 1979a, 1979b). Bates and Gentry (1994) also found that peer-like relations existed between single parents and their children. When children are viewed more as friends, this suggests that their status is more equal to parents. Further evidence for greater equality in parent-child authority roles in single-parent and step-families can be found in research on parental control. Numerous studies suggest that parental control and monitoring of children is less in single-parent and step-families than it is in intact families (see, e.g., Dornbusch et al. 1985; Hetherington 1988; Thomson, McLanahan, and Curtin 1992). This lack of parental control and monitoring implies greater equality (and child independence) in single-parent and step-families than is the case in intact families. On the basis of these considerations, we expect tht:

H2:Parent-child authoritarianism will be greatest in intact families, less in step-families, and least in single-parent families.

Effects of Family Authority Relations on Children’s Purchase Influence

Parental Coalition Formation. It is expected that increasing parental coalition formation will negatively affect children’s influence in family-related purchase decisions. With increasing parental coalition formation, parents are likely to make many purchase decisions without the child’s direct influence on the decision: forming coalitions is one means of limiting children’s influence. In addition, given that family-related purchase decisions are likely to be important to parents (more so than child-related decisions) because parents will be consuming these products, parents may be more likely to support each other’s preferences over those of children. Finally, children are likely to accept the legitimacy of parental dominance when there has been frequent exposure to parental coalitions.

H3:  Parental coalition formation will be negatively related to children’s influence for family-related purchase decisions.

Parent-Child Authoritarianism. It is expected that greater authoritarianism in parent-child relations will negatively affect children’s influence in both family- and child-related purchase decisions. When role patterns are more authoritarian, we would expect parents to limit children’s influence as one means of parents’ preserving their greater status relative to children. With greater authoritarianism, children’s preferences may also be given less weight and their input and influence valued less. Therefore, we expect that:

H4:  Parent-child authoritarianism will be negatively related to children’s influence in (a) family- and (b) child-related purchase decisions.

Mediation of Family Type Effects. The effects of family type on children’s influence in purchase decisions are expected to be mediated by the two aspects of family authority relations, parental coalition formation and parent-child authoritarianism. Specifically, we expect that the effects of family type on children’s influence in family-related purchases will be mediated by both parental coalition formation and parent-child authoritarianism. For child-related purchase decisions, we expect that the effects of family type will be mediated only by parent-child authoritarianism (parents may not be motivated to form coalitions for these types of decisions; therefore, parental coalition formation would not mediate family type effects on child-related purchase decisions).

H5a:  The effects of family type on children’s influence for family-related purchase decisions will be mediated by parental coalition formation and parent-child authoritarianism.

H5b:  The effects of family type on children’s influence for child-related purchase decisions will be mediated by parent-child authoritarianism.

RESEARCH METHOD

Sample

A convenience sample of parents of high-school-aged students provided the data for this study. Of the 172 questionnaires distributed through teens, 87 parental responses were received, yielding a response rate of 50.6 percent. With respect to family type, 33 respondents were single parents (37.9 percent), 13 were from step-families (14.9 percent), and 41 were from intact families (47.2 percent). The average age of parents was 43 years. The sample was 82 percent female and tended to be lower-middle-class: average household income was between $25,000 and $30,000. The average age of the adolescent on whom parents focused when responding to the questionnaire was 16 years. These targeted adolescents were 74 percent female. Finally, the average household had two children under the age of 18 years.

Measures

Family Type. Family type was measured on the basis of answers to demographic questions. Parents were asked "What is your current marital status?" Response categories included married, divorced, separated, widow(er)ed, and single, never married. Parents were also asked to indicate, if married, whether this was a first marriage for each spouse. Parents also reported the length of all marriages and, if single, the number of years single.

From responses to these questions, family categorizations were made as follows. Households were classified as single-parent if the parent indicated his/her marital status was single, divorced, separated, or widow(er)ed. Households were classified as step-families if parents indicated that they were married and if the length of the marriage was less than the teen’s age. Households were classified as intact if parents indicated that they were married and if the length of the marriage was equal to or greater than the teen’s age.

Family Authority Relations. Because these constructs had not been previously investigated, measures were developed for the two family authority relations variables. A pool of items was developed for each construct. To aid in scale development, all items were pretested on a convenience sample of 25 parents of teen-aged children. Although the size of the pretest sample was small, it was large enough to aid in item deletion. Items that formed reliable scales in the pretest were retained for further analysis in the study sample. The final measures and reliabilities for each of the two constructs are presented in the Appendix. Constructs were measured on five-point rating-type scales. To create the measures, items for each construct were summed and averaged.

Adolescents’ Purchase Influence. This study focused on adolescents’ direct influence in purchase decisions as reported and perceived by a parent, or the extent to which teens actively participated in a given decision. Perceptions of influence were rated on seven-point scales anchored by "parent(s) made decision alone" to "teen made decision alone." Parents rated their child’s influence over products, which were framed a priori as family- or teen-related (e.g., "family toothpaste," "deodorant for teen"). Because we wished to examine influence across a broad range of decisions, we selected products that had been previously studied and/or that would reflect a range of family- and teen-related types of decisions. The family-related products included: television, living-room furniture, microwave, toothpaste, breakfast cereal, snack foods, and soft drinks. Teen-related products included: clothes, walkman, bedspread, deodorant, movie, shampoo, and perfume/cologne. Responses to these products were summed and averaged to develop measures for influence in family- and teen-related purchase decisions.

RESULTS

Preliminary Analyses

To control for various background factors and to rule out rival explanations for family-type effects, in particular, a number of potential controls were included in this study (e.g., income, sex-of-parent and sex-of-teen effects). Although the level f income significantly differed across family types (F(2,49)=10.23, p<.01), income was not significantly related to adolescents’ influence in teen-related (F(1,50)=.13, p>.10) or family-related (F(1,50)=.44, p>.10) purchases. In addition, there were no statistically significant effects for parent’s or teen’s sex across family types for any of the variables included in this study.

Hypotheses Tests

The hypotheses were tested using ANOVA, regression, and ANCOVA procedures. The results, summarized in Tables 1 and 2, are discussed next.

TABLE 1

REGRESSION RESULTS--EFFECTS OF FAMILY AUTHORITY RELATIONS ON ADOLESCENTS' PURCHASE INFLUENCE

TABLE 2

MEDIATION ANALYSIS--DO FAMILY AUTHORITY RELATIONS MEDIATE THE EFFECTS OF FAMILY TYPE ON ADOLESCENTS' PURCHASE INFLUENCE?

Effects of Family Type on Family Authority Relations. The results indicate that family type does indeed affect parental coalition formation (F(2,84)=11.89, p<.001). Specifically, parental coalition formation was greater in intact families (mean=4.36) as compared with step-families (mean=4.15) and single-parent families (mean=3.34; F(1,84)=9.99, p<.003). Similarly, step-families indicated greater coalition formation than single-parent families (F(1,84)=8.07, p<.01). Thus, the results support the first hypothesis.

The second hypothesis pertained to the effects of family type on parent-child authoritarianism. As expected, parent-child authoritarianism was greater in intact families (mean=4.13) as compared with single-parent families (mean=3.58; F(1,84)=5.24, p<.05). However, unexpectedly, there was no significant difference in parent-child authoritarianism between step-families (mean=4.17) and intact families (F(1,84)=.01, p>.90). Thus, the results provide mixed support for the second hypothesis (F(2,84)=2.74, p<.10).

Effects of Family Relations on Adolescents’ Purchase Influence. We expected that both parental coalition formation and parent-child authoritarianism would have a negative effect on adolescents’ influence in family-related purchase decisions (H3 and H4a). These two hypotheses were tested and supported (p<.05) via regression analysis (see Table 1).

We also expected that parental coalition formation would not affect adolescents’ influence in teen-related purchase decisions, while parent-child authoritarianism would have a negative effect on adolescents’ influence in teen-related purchase decisions (H4b). The regression results supported the hypothesis as parent-child authoritarianism had a significant negative effect (p<.05) and the effect of parental coalition formation was not statistically significant (p>.10).

Mediation Tests. To test whether the effects of family type on adolescents’ purchase influence were mediated by family authority relations, we used a three-step procedure suggested by Baron and Kenny (1986). First, our results pertaining to the first two hypotheses provided evidence that family type was systematically related to differences in parental coalition formation and parent-child authoritarianism (i.e., the independent variable affected the two mediators). Second, as shown in Table 2, family type affected adolescents’ influence in both family-related and teen-related purchase decisions (i.e., the independent variable affected the dependent variable). Specifically, teens in single-parent families (mean=2.71) had greater influence in family-related purchases than did teens in step-families (mean=1.90) and intact families (mean=2.14; F(1,84)=11.09, p<.01). A similar pattern of results was found for teen-related purchase decisions, with teens in single-parent families (mean=4.80) having greater influence in such decisions as compared with teens in step-families (mean=4.09) and intact families (mean=4.47; F(1, 84)=6.76, p<.02). Third, the analysis of covariance results indicate that, when the two mediators (i.e., parental coalition formation and parent-child authoritarianism) are treated as covariates, the effect of family type on family-related purchase decisions is reduced and becomes non-significant. Furthermore, it must be noted that the efects of the two mediators (covariates in the ANCOVA results) were significant at the .05 level. These results support H5a. We predicted that only parent-child authoritarianism would mediate the effect of family type on teen-related purchase decisions. The ANCOVA results supported this prediction. The effect of family type on teen-related purchase decisions was reduced after controlling for parent-child authoritarianism. Furthermore, it must be noted that the effect of parent-child authoritarianism was significant at the .05 level, while parental coalition formation did not have a statistically significant effect. These results support H5b.

DISCUSSION

On the basis of our results, family type was found to be significantly related to differences in adolescents’ purchase influence, as perceived by a parent, for both family- and teen-related decisions. Specifically, adolescents in single-parent families had greater influence in both types of decisions as compared with adolescents in step-families and intact families. And, consistent with the theory of hierarchy in the family, one reason for teens’ greater influence in single-parent families appears to be differences in these teens’ socialization with respect to family authority relations. In particular, our results indicate that, as expected, teens in single-parent families are subject to less parental coalition formation and authoritarianism in parent-child relations, which, in turn, enhances their influence in purchase decisions. Note that we only used one possible operationalization of influence: through a survey, we relied on parents’ perceptions of their child’s influence rather than actual behavior. There is a need to replicate these results using different operationalizations and methods of inquiry such as observational studies. Moreover, it would be interesting to collect data from both parents and children to examine potential differences in perceptions; this study focused on the perceptions of only one parent.

Counter to expectations, our results did not demonstrate statistically significant differences in either family authority relations (i.e., parental coalition formation and parent-child authoritarianism) or adolescents’ purchase influence between step- and intact families. The number of step-families included in the sample was small (n=13). Thus, future research using larger samples than the one used here are needed to more fully address this issue.

Taken together, the results also indicate that the effects of family type on children’s influence in purchase decisions are partially mediated by specific dimensions of family authority relations. In particular, both parental coalition formation and parent-child authoritarianism partially mediated the effects of family type on teens’ influence in family-related purchases. And, also as expected, parent-child authoritarianism partially mediated the effects of family type on children’s influence in child-related decisions. These findings indicate that authority dimensions of child socialization are important predictors of children’s influence in purchase decisions.

Although our results indicate the importance of family authority relations in understanding family-type effects on children’s purchase influence, the fact that the effects of family type on influence were reduced rather than eliminated when controlling for parental coalition formation and parent-child authoritarianism implies that family types may differ on other (unmeasured) dimensions, which may also affect children’s purchase influence. As previously mentioned, much of the research on socialization effects has concentrated on examining family communication orientations in relation to children’s influence. It may be possible to integrate family authority relations and other aspects of child socialization, such as family communication orientations, in the future.

One other potential mediator of famly-type effects that might be fruitful to pursue in future research is the concept of family cohesion or integration. Perhaps another reason that teens in single-parent families have more influence, and teens in step-families have less influence, is that there are differences in family cohesion and integration among family types. For example, research suggests that step-parents have less positive affect toward children than original parents do (Peek et al. 1988) and that many step-parents have a disengaged style of parenting (Hetherington, Cox, and Cox 1988). Thus, perhaps children do not feel that they have as much invested in a step-family and, as a result, distance themselves from parents. Children in step-families, then, may not be integrated into the family decision-making unit. In contrast, one might expect family cohesiveness to be greatest in single-parent families. Given that the single parent and his/her children may have weathered stressful events together, their common experiences may enhance feelings of cohesion and cooperation in the single-parent family, which, in turn, may result in greater sharing of decision-making among parents and children. These ideas should be explored in the future.

Finally, consistent with other research on children’s influence, this study also demonstrated the importance of factors such as product type, which may affect teens’ motivation to influence decisions (see, e.g., Beatty and Talpade 1994; Foxman et al. 1989). Specifically, the level of teens’ influence varied on the basis of whether the product was family- or teen-related (with influence being greater for teen-related decisions). Moreover, the effects of parental coalition formation, in particular, differed between family- and teen-related decisions, suggesting that both parents’ and teens’ motivation should be considered in future research on children’s purchase influence.

APPENDIX

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