Conceptual and Methodological Issues in Research on the Quality of Life

William K. Zikmund, Oklahoma State University
ABSTRACT - This paper discussed three papers on consumer research and the quality of life. Issues of theoretical development, research design and data analysis are considered.
[ to cite ]:
William K. Zikmund (1981) ,"Conceptual and Methodological Issues in Research on the Quality of Life", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 08, eds. Kent B. Monroe, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 622-623.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 8, 1981      Pages 622-623


William K. Zikmund, Oklahoma State University


This paper discussed three papers on consumer research and the quality of life. Issues of theoretical development, research design and data analysis are considered.


At the outset, it should be stated that each of these papers is conscientiously trying to investigate a relatively unresearched topic. While they may be grouped together under the heading, Quality of Life, the diversity of these papers illustrates that there are numerous dimensions and aspects of this issue from a consumer standpoint. Each of the three papers deals with the very distinct topic.

Two of the papers are empirical. Some standard cautions should be given. There are limits to the inferences that can be made when no measure of reliability or validity is given. This seems doubly important in quality of life research because one of the major empirical works indicates that quality of life measures had very low stability coefficients (Campbell, Converse and Rodgers 1976). Both empirical papers suffer because of the lack of these measurers. A second deficiency, typical of conference papers, is that the data appear to have been collected in a limited geographical region (i.e., in the state where the researchers reside). These limitations should be considered by those reading the papers.


Unger and Kernan

The authors provide a comprehensive, if not exhaustive, review of the literature. Initially, a quick scan of the paper brings an awareness that the paper's references are absent. When I observe this in conference papers, I am somewhat skeptical. I often jump to the conclusion that the authors have not been concise in their presentation of the material. However, after receiving a copy of the bibliography I found that its length exceeds that of the paper. In this case, the proceedings space limitations should have been relaxed. The authors should be commended for their extensive search.

Some minor aspects of the literature review require clarification. When discussing the value of leisure for the various market segments, there seems to be a confusion between the perceived happiness construct and perceived satisfaction construct (c.f. Campbell, et. al. 1976, p. 32-36). A distinction is usually made between these two constructs in quality of life research. Second, although this issue might be the subject of a second review, no comments are made about the reliability and validity of existing measurers. It has already been suggested that this caution is more than the generalized statement of good research technique to provide true measurement because measures of the quality of life (Campbell, et. al. 1976) have lacked stability.

Beyond reviewing the literature, the authors' goal was to develop a subjective measure of leisure quality; "one that transcends specific activities and approaches leisure from a number of existential dimension," This subjective existential perspective seems to allow for a philosophical definition of leisure, somewhat similar to the classical Greek ideal of leisure as exposed by De Grazia (1964). According to De Grazia, "Leisure is not fully realizable, and hence an ideal, not alone in idea. Leisure refers to a state of being free from the necessity to labor, a condition of man, which few desire and fewer achieve" ... "Leisure is the state of being in which activity is performed for its own sake or as its own end." This view may be that of a philosopher, rather than a psychologist, sociologist or consumer researcher, but it does illustrate that the concept of leisure is somewhat elusive when subjective interpretations are allowed. To clarify the concept of leisure the authors attempt to identify the subjective properties of leisure: intrinsic satisfaction, perceived freedom, high involvement, arousal, mastery, and spontaneity. The question arises does this help us more precisely define leisure. This, to those of you who read Pirsig's (1974) Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, may be reminiscent of Phaedrus' exploration into the meaning of the term Quality. "As he became involved in finding quality he singled out aspects of Quality such as unity, vidiness, authority, economy, sensitivity, clarity, emphasis, flow, suspense, brilliance, precision, proportion, depth and so on; kept each of these as poorly defined as quality itself ..." And of course at one time before his madness he wrote, "But Even Though Quality Cannot Be Defined You Know What Quality Is!"

Take for example, "perceived freedom." Is it freedom from work? Or as Dumazedier (1967) suggests is "Contemporary Leisure ... Defined by contrast not just to one's job, but to all of the ordinary necessities and obligations of existence?" Is freedom any more concrete than leisure? Doesn't a subjective obligatory/discretionary continuum have the same definitional problems as leisure? Consider that the functions of leisure according to one view are relaxation, entertainment and personal development. It is not clear what empirical rules would be utilized so we can be confident that we should classify relaxation into "arousal" (its absence) or into intrinsic satisfaction. Of course, there may be some hope if the rules for specifying the subjective properties are clearly identified. However, they are not in this proposal.

It seems to me an inherent problem of a subjective measure is similar to the problems of objective measures. Of particular relevance is the situational content of leisure. The authors recognize that objective leisure measurers and subjective leisure experience appear to be highly situational. It is difficult to see how they will tackle this problem even though it is a recognized problem. In sum, the authors are dealing with an exceedingly difficult measurement problem, and while they shed some light on the issues they do not solve the problem.

Langmeyer and Miaoulis

The authors focus on a timely topic that is important to all of us.

The authors' begin the paper by identifying five research issues. The first three deal with understanding the behavior of health care consumers and the discussion of a normative prescription of the role consumers should have in health care planning and administration. For the most part, a satisfactory review of key articles is given. The authors do state that their literature review was not meant to be exhaustive, and they should not be severely criticized for this. However, it should be pointed out that there was an over-emphasis on the physician-patient interaction with almost a complete absence of the discussion of other health care alternatives. While there is a brief mentioning of health maintenance organizations, there is no review of the literature on physician assistant, nurse practitioners, or other forms of health care delivery. Research in this area (e.g., Zikmund and Miller 1979) indicates that there is a similarity between the underlying cognitive factor consumers hold toward nurse practitioners and those they hold towards physicians. Further, a clear-cut interpersonal dimension has been identified. The next two research issues reviewed deal with two marketing mix variables: health promotion and facility location (distribution). One might question if pricing issues (e.g., pricing strategies of denturists, Medicaid/Medicare, etc.) and other marketing mix questions should not be of concern to those interested in health care/satisfaction consumption issues. Only one citation from the literature related to facility location is given. Undoubtedly this issue has been dealt within proprietary research and as a regular business matter that has not generated substantial interests in the theoretical literature in recent years.

The main strength of this paper is to provide selected responses from several open ended statements. While the data base is composed of 1,000 Dayton, Ohio residents, there is no breakdown of the data by market segments to take advantage of this large sample size. One wonders whether dissatisfaction lies with a particular group, such as the aged, poor, or those who received healthcare in a particular location within Dayton? Further there is not any investigation of the different medical contexts that may create satisfaction or dissatisfaction. It is most surprising that no inferential statistical analysis is presented in the paper. One wonders why not. Surely the data permit some reasonably sophisticated analysis.

Aaker and Bagozzi

The paper by Asker and Bagozzi has several strengths. The paper is well written. It reads with clarity in both the conceptual and methodological sections. The data analysis also has some strong points. The research divides the sample into an analysis sample and a validation sample. Certainly a very sound methodological technique; too often omitted in consumer research papers.

In general, the use of stepwise regression seems appropriate to identify paths. Of course, the normal caveat that the widespread use of assuming ordinal scales have interval properties is violated. For example, the 4 point agree/disagree scale seems to be ordinal. Shouldn't the authors know that "despite the widespread treatment of the total (Likert) score as an interval scale, there is no evidence it has no more than ordinal properties" (Aaker and Day 1980, p. 186).

Some questions may arise about the data base. The survey was conducted in 1973, and is obviously somewhat dated. As the authors suggest, things may have changed since the OPEC embargo. Things have changed! Car pooling has increased. People didn't even know what Kalaka was in 1973. BART (Bay Area Transportation) has been completed and many other things have changed including the OPEC oil embargo. Certainly attitudes towards gasoline rationing, restricting freeway use have changed dramatically, especially in California where the sample was taken. And, of course, California isn't like anywhere else on this planet. The sampling question is of particular relevance in this paper. To the authors' credit, "objective measurers of actual pollution levels were included in the study." This is important especially in L. A. where in the autumn the air turns brown and falls to the ground?

However, the paper addresses theoretical issues and perhaps these issues can be minimized. Lets turn our attention to this topic. It appears to me that this study is an example of theorizing with an existing data base in mind. Certainly other constructs (not examined here) could be considered as factors influencing attitudes towards air pollution. Further, a more important conceptual issue is that this study seems to assume that air pollution is an exclusive function of the automobile. Automobile companies are not the sole "villains." Steel mills, oil refineries, and other factories have for years been portrayed with large black clouds flowing from their smoke stacks. The domain of "concern" in this study apparently is a variable that should be labeled "concern for air pollution generated by automobiles." A person living next to an oil refinery may have a great concern for air pollution, but not attribute this to an automobile company. To make a public policy decision based on this logic and under these circumstances would be unwarranted.


Like most discussants I have mentioned the papers' strengths and dwelled on their shortcomings. I assume the readers will realize that each of these papers deserves some merit. Because of the diversity of these three papers it is difficult to summarize them taken together and make a universal recommendation. One common characteristic is the fact that quality of life constructs, whether it is pollution concerns, health care satisfaction, or leisure, all are relatively subjective concepts that will vary within situational contexts. This presents difficulty to researchers wishing to measure these concepts. Certainly measurement is the main issue to be addressed in future research.


Aaker, D. A. and Day, G. S. (1980), Marketing Research, New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Campbell, A., Converse, P. E. and Rodgers, W. L. (1976), The Quality of American Life, New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Pirsig, R. M. (1974), Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Value, Toronto: Bantam Books.

Zikumd, W. G. and Miller, S. J. (1979), "A Factor Analysis of Attitudes Toward Nurse Practitioners," Research In Nursing and Health, 85-90.