Family Decision Making: Husband, Wife and Children

George J. Szybillo, New York University
Arlene Sosanie, New York University
ABSTRACT - Family decision making research has frequently examined role relationships between husbands and wives across stages in the buying process end buying subdecisions, In contrast to previous research this study examines how family role relationships, inclusive of children, vary over stages in the buying process end buying subdecisions. Contrasts are made to related studies and the results are discussed in relation to communication and media strategies.
[ to cite ]:
George J. Szybillo and Arlene Sosanie (1977) ,"Family Decision Making: Husband, Wife and Children", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 04, eds. William D. Perreault, Jr., Atlanta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 46-49.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1977   Pages 46-49

FAMILY DECISION MAKING: HUSBAND, WIFE AND CHILDREN

George J. Szybillo, New York University

Arlene Sosanie, New York University

ABSTRACT -

Family decision making research has frequently examined role relationships between husbands and wives across stages in the buying process end buying subdecisions, In contrast to previous research this study examines how family role relationships, inclusive of children, vary over stages in the buying process end buying subdecisions. Contrasts are made to related studies and the results are discussed in relation to communication and media strategies.

INTRODUCTION

Research on family roles in buying decisions is becoming of increasing interest to those engaged in the marketing of goods and services. Advertising account executives and copywriters often seek information on how family members are involved in buying decisions so that they may present portrayals of buying decision processes. Marketing managers request information on family member involvement in buying subdecisions, such as color offerings and price evaluation, to assist them in development of product offerings and special promotions. Media analysts, planning the selection of media vehicles, question whether family member involvement varies between the stages of information collection and purchase. The literature in consumer behavior referred to as family decision making (Time, 1967) or family purchasing roles (Cunningham end Green, 1974) provides information, albeit often incomplete information, on these issues. One factor contributing to this situation is the way family role structure is frequently conceptualized end measured. The study reported here addresses this problem and that related to generalization across similar product or service category definitions.

Academic end commercial research studies have investigated how family member involvement varies over stages within buying decision processes (Davis and Rigaux, 1974; Hempel, 1974; Starch end Staff, 1958; Life, 1965; Time, 1967; Haley, Overholser end Associates, 1975), subdecisions within a product or service decision (Davis, 1970; Hempel, 1974; Cunningham and Green, 1974; Green end Cunningham, 1975; Starch and Staff, 1958; Haley, Overholser and Associates, 1975), and subdecisions and decision stages across product and service categories (Davis, 1970; Davis and Rigaux, 1974; Ferber and Lee, 1974; Life, 1965; Haley, Overholser end Associates, 1975). For example, Life (1965) found that across stages in the decision process wives were more involved then husbands in recognizing a family need for orange juice and purchasing orange juice, while both husbands and wives collected information about orange juice. Davis (1970) found that across automobile subdecisions wives were more involved than husbands with selecting an automobile color while husbands were more involved than wives in determining when to buy an automobile. This and related research has been summarized in a series of published review articles end reports (Davis, 1972; Granbois, 1972; Ferber, 1973; Sheth, 1974; Haley, Overholser and Associates, 1975). The results of these studies argue against generalizing about family member involvement in family decision making.

There are, however, factors which limit the application of these research findings; two of which are the breadth of family role structure categories offered to respondents and generalized product and service category definitions. Prior research has investigated "family" decision making for a number of product and service categories including cookies, ice cream, peanut butter, pudding, cereals, chewing gum, family vacations, children's clothes and hamburgers from fast food restaurants. However, as Davis (1976, p. 248) notes, "the 'family' in most studies of household decision making is in reality just the husband and wife." Reasons for focusing on the husband end wife dyad as the family decision making unit in these studies may include researcher intuition, desire to avoid complicated role structure measures where more then two people are involved as the decision making unit end desire for comparability of research (Davis, 1976). Yet, family role structure or family member influence categories provided to respondents should depend on the nature of family interaction associated with the products or services being investigated. Engel, Kollat, and Blackwell (1973, p. 204) state: "Many role structure studies probably grossly underestimate the influence of children, and research approaches sufficiently comprehensive to account for their influence have not appeared in the public literature end therefore need to be designed end tested."

From another perspective, few research professionals would ask such general questions as "Who usually is involved in your family's decision to purchase carbonated soft drinks?" Greater emphasis on family member influence in product subdecisions would be recommended (Davis, 1970; Engel, Kollat and Blackwell, 1973; Hempel, 1974). This specificity does not appear to have generalized to definitions of products and services in many studies. For example, asking who was most influential in the brand decision for non-diet carbonated soft drinks end diet carbonated soft drinks separately rather than carbonated soft drinks is more the exception than the rule (Haley, Overholser end Associates, 1975). To the extent that respondents answer general product or service category questions with different products or services within the category as a frame of reference, one could anticipate answers that would be inappropriate for any product or service within the category. The purpose of the research reported here was to examine how family role structures, inclusive of children, vary over subdecisions end stages in the buying process for service decisions which could be considered within a generic service category.

METHOD

Respondents

The data used to examine family role structures in buying decisions was gathered from a survey of married couples with children in the New York City area. Three hundred end forty self-administered questionnaires were distributed in three schools in the borough of Queens. One hundred and ninety questionnaires were returned with usable responses. Two facets of the sample deserve further consideration, respondent selection end sample characteristics.

Researchers (Davis, 1971; Engel, Kollat and Blackwell, 1973) have argued that family role structure responses from either spouse are adequate if one's purpose is to describe behavior on an aggregate basis. Davis (1971) explored family role structures for twelve consumer decisions based on responses from husbands and wives. Similar distributions of role categories for the twelve decisions were obtained from husbands and wives on an aggregate basis even though there was some disagreement within family members on an individual family basis. In that the analyses of this study were proposed at the group level and question structure was similar to that of previous studies (Davis, 1970; 1971), responses were sought only from wives.

Households range in age from the twenties to the sixties; with 39% in their thirties, 40% in their forties, and 15% in their fifties. All of the families have at least one child five years of age or older. Of all the families, 17% have one child, 45% have two children, and 38% have three or more children. The families are fairly well educated with 91% of the wives completing a high school degree and 60% of the husbands and 42% of the wives having a college degree. Finally, the economic character of the households is upscale with a median income of $30,000; partially determined by the high percentage of working wives (56%).

Procedure

For the purpose of this study, decisions were sought that would be capable of reflecting a full range of family role structures. Further, decisions were sought that would be comparable across services within a generic service category (e.g., family outings). Respondents were subsequently asked family role structure questions regarding their families' last decisions to have dinner at a fast food restaurant and to go on a one day family trip.

Among the tasks in the study were two tables for each service decision. The first two-way table for each service listed stages of decision making as row elements and family member involvement categories as column elements. A three stage decision process similar to that used by Davis and Rigaux (1974) was employed. Decision stages common across service decisions included: (1) initiation of purchase idea, (2) obtain and provide information on alternatives, and (3) final decision.

The second two-way table for each service decision listed subdecisions as row elements and family member involvement categories as column elements. Subdecisions common across service decisions included: (1) when to go, (2) what type of service to go to (e.g., fast food - hamburgers, fish and chips, pizza, or family trip -beach, zoo, etc.), (3) what service to go to (e.g., fast food - McDonald', Burger King, etc., or family trip - Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, etc.), and (4) how much to spend.

Family Member Involvement Categories

The measures of this study were different from those used in previous studies in that decision involvement was measured for the following family member designations: husband, wife, and child/children. For each family member designation, the respondent indicated on a three point scale whether the member was not involved, moderately involved, or very involved. This report looks primarily at the presence or absence of family member involvement by combining scores given by respondents into the following response categories: (1) husband, (2) wife, (3) husband and wife (referred to here as adult only categories), (4) child/children, (5) husband and child or (6) wife and child (referred to here as adult with child), and (7) husband, wife, and child/children (referred to here as complete family). Here we are simply looking at trends; no overall statistical test wag used because no single test was uniquely appropriate.

RESULTS

The data in Table 1 indicates the percentages associated with family role structures across decision stages within each type of service decision. Different role structures characterize the decision stages within services. For the decision stages associated with the fast food restaurant decision the data indicates that there is a marked trend away from adult only or children only role structures toward adult with children or complete family role categories. For each of the decision stages, at least 82% of all role structures were adult with child and complete family categories. In contrast to this finding, the data for the family trip decision indicates a split between adult only and complete family role categories. For each of the decision stages associated with the family trip decision at least 40% of all role structures were adult only structures; primarily joint decision making between husband and wife. Role structure categories showed little variation over decision stages for each of the service decisions.

TABLE 1

FAMILY ROLE STRUCTURES ACROSS DECISION STAGES WITHIN SERVICE DECISIONS

The data presented in Table 2 highlights the difference between role structures for the service decisions within each decision stage. Within each decision stage the data indicates more husband and wife involvement for the family trip decision than the fast food restaurant decision. The difference for husband and wife decision making between the two service decisions within any decision stage being at least 27%. The data also indicates greater adult with child and complete family role categories within each decision stage for the fast food restaurant decision in comparison to the family trip decision. The difference between the two service decisions being at least 24% for each comparison within a decision stage when all adult with child and complete family responses are combined.

TABLE 2

FAMILY ROLE STRUCTURES ACROSS SERVICE DECISIONS WITHIN DECISION STAGES

The data in Table 3 indicates that family role structures vary across subdecisions within each type of service decision. For the subdecisions associated with the fast food restaurant decision the data indicates, with the exception of "how much to spend," a greater percentage of role structures being adult with child and complete family categories. At least 72% of the role structure categories are adult with child and complete family for the subdecisions preceding "how much to spend." For the subdecision "how much to spend" there is greater percentage of adult only role structures; 60% of all role structures being joint decision making structures between husband and wife.

TABLE 3

FAMILY ROLE STRUCTURES ACROSS SUBDECISIONS WITHIN SERVICE DECISIONS

The data for the family trip decision indicates greater variation in role structure predominance across subdecisions than that for the fast food decision. The "When to go" subdecision is characterized as predominantly a complete family decision (58%) or a husband and wife decision (33%). For the "type of service" and "what service" subdecisions at least 80% of all role structures are characterized as complete family. For the subdecision "how much to spend" 82% of the role structure categories were adult only; 73% of all role structure categories being joint decision making between husband and wife.

The data in Table 4 highlights the differences between role structures for the service decisions within each subdecision. For the "when to go" subdecision there was greater husband and wife decision making for the family trip decision (33%) than husband and wife decision making for the fast food restaurant decision (23%). The "what type of service," "what service" and "how much to spend" subdecisions show little variation between role structure categories for the different services. For the "how much to spend" subdecision there was greater husband and wife joint decision making for the family trip decision (73%) than the fast food restaurant decision (60%).

TABLE 4

FAMILY ROLE STRUCTURES ACROSS SERVICE DECISIONS WITHIN SUBDECISIONS

DISCUSSION

This research used direct questions about family member involvement. This approach assumes that respondents can recall accurately who was involved in past decision making and are willing to acknowledge it to themselves and others (Davis and Rigaux, 1974). While these assumptions are questionable, others have argued that direct questions represent the best "interim approach" for identifying family role structures (Davis and Rigaux, 1974; Engel, Kollat and Blackwell, 1973).

Also, like many other studies of family member involvement (Davis, 1970; Davis and Rigaux, 1974; Starch and Staff, 1958) the data for this study was collected from a sample with distinct demographic characteristics. In light of past research relating demographics to family role structure, one could expect changes in role structure predominance with changes in demographic characteristics (Engel, Kollat, and Blackwell, 1973). Although these factors limit the generalizability of the results, the research represents an exploration of concepts related to service category definitions and extended family role structures which can later be used in larger survey research studies. The discussion which follows should be considered in context of these factors.

While family role structure predominance was found to vary little over stages in the decision process, the service decisions were characterized by different forms of family member involvement. For the marketer interested in portraying family member involvement in the process of arriving at a fast food restaurant decision the data indicates a high degree of adult and child interaction for all stages of the process; initiation of the purchase idea, provision of information on alternatives and the final decision. For each stage of the process at least 82% of the family role structures were characterized as having adult and child interaction. This suggests that communication should portray adults with children or the family as an entity, showing group discussion and activities between all family members. This implication is not evident in the data from previous published research examining family role structure for the service utilizing adult only measurements (Haley, Overholser, and Associates, 1975).

The family role structures for the stages in the family trip decision were also characterized by adult and child involvement. However, the adult and child interaction for each decision stage was not as pronounced as that for the fast food restaurant decision. Family role structure was found to vary by type of service within decision stages. At least 34% of all role categories for each decision stage in the family trip buying process were represented as husband and wife joint decision making. This would suggest that communications be developed indicating both full family involvement and husband and wife joint decision making.

The results from the comparison of role structures across service decisions within subdecisions provide an indication of where husband and wife joint discussion would be prevalent for the family trip decision. For the "how much to spend" subdecision there is greater husband and wife joint decision making for the family trip decision in comparison to the fast food restaurant decision. Although price promotion would probably be directed to both husbands and wives for both decisions this would appear to be more important for the family trip decision.

The overall pattern of results from the decision stage comparisons suggests that different media approaches be taken for the service decisions. The fast food restaurant decision would appear to be mere of an "all in the family" type of decision than the family trip decision. This would be supported by the greater adult and child interaction for the fast food restaurant decision across each decision stage. Implications for promotion allocation between adults and children are difficult to draw from previous research which has not included children in family role category designations (Cunningham and Green, 1974; Haley, Overholser, and Associates, 1975).

From a research perspective, the results of this study suggest that greater attention be given to product or service category definitions and expanded conceptualizations of family role structure. The service differences found here by stages in the decision process would argue that marketers design their research to be product or service specific. General category descriptions may imply general strategies which are unsuited for specific types of products or services.

In conclusion, this research indicates that future investigations should consider the potential involvement of children in family decision making. Too often have researchers referred to husband and wife decision making. research as family decision making. Future research attention should be given to exploring different methodologies for measuring family role structure, factors predictive of family role structure, and the effects of family role structure on household buying behavior.

REFERENCES

I.C.M. Cunningham and R.T. Green. "Purchasing Roles in the U.S. Family, 1955 arid 1973," Journal of Marketing, 38 (October 1974), 61-64.

H. L. Davis, "Dimensions of Marital Roles in Consumer Decision Making," Journal of Marketing Research, 7 (May 1970), 168-177.

H. L. Davis, "Measurement of Husband-Wife Influence in Consumer Purchase Decisions," Journal of Marketing Research, 8 (August 1971), 305-312.

H. L. Davis, "Household Decision Making," Working Paper 972-41, University of Chicago, 1972.

H. L. Davis, "Decision Making Within the Household," Journal of Consumer Research, 2 (March 1976), 241-260.

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Time Magazine. "Family Decision Making." Research Report 1428, 1967.

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