Sex Roles, Husband-Wife Influence, and Family Decision Behavior

William J. Qualls, The University of Michigan
ABSTRACT - Major shifts in the life-style and role structure of the traditional family unit have prompted researchers to reexamine the decision-making practices in today's households. The examination of sex roles and their impact upon family role structures and decision behavior has received very little attention from researchers of consumer behavior. The present study investigates the impact of spousal sex-role orientation upon the joint decision process of a housing purchase by husbands and wives. A model is presented and hypotheses are tested which explore the effect of sex-role orientation upon family member decision influence, preference agreement, conflict resolution, and decision outcome. The results indicate that sex roles may play a key part in determining the household role structure and decision responsibility of husbands and wives.
[ to cite ]:
William J. Qualls (1984) ,"Sex Roles, Husband-Wife Influence, and Family Decision Behavior", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, eds. Thomas C. Kinnear, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 270-275.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, 1984      Pages 270-275

SEX ROLES, HUSBAND-WIFE INFLUENCE, AND FAMILY DECISION BEHAVIOR

William J. Qualls, The University of Michigan

ABSTRACT -

Major shifts in the life-style and role structure of the traditional family unit have prompted researchers to reexamine the decision-making practices in today's households. The examination of sex roles and their impact upon family role structures and decision behavior has received very little attention from researchers of consumer behavior. The present study investigates the impact of spousal sex-role orientation upon the joint decision process of a housing purchase by husbands and wives. A model is presented and hypotheses are tested which explore the effect of sex-role orientation upon family member decision influence, preference agreement, conflict resolution, and decision outcome. The results indicate that sex roles may play a key part in determining the household role structure and decision responsibility of husbands and wives.

INTRODUCTION

The nature of family decision behavior has traditionally been characterized by distinct role definition and task performance behavior on the part of husbands and wives. Typically, family decisions have been analyzed and classified on the basis of specific decision-role responsibility for both husbands and wives. Changes in cultural norms and sex-role attitudes have created the need to reexamine the process of family decision behavior. Shifts in sex-role perceptions and the roles portrayed by husbands and wives within the household suggest a transition away from male-dominated and female-dominated family decisions and a move toward shared roles and joint decision making (Haas 1980). It is the contention of this paper that shifts in sex-role perceptions within the family are a major contributing factor.

Scanzoni (1977) has long held that changing sex roles and how they are perceived by family members directly affects family decision-making practices Among the household decision practices that have been shown to be affected by sex roles are: the buying process (Cunningham and Green 1975, Qualls 1981), the handling of finances (Schaninger, Buss, and Grover 1982), household task allocation (Eriksen, Yancy, and Eriksen 1977), and marital behavior (Scanzoni 1975). While the majority of these studies have investigated the impact of sex roles on family decision outcomes, very few studies have accepted to explore their effect on the process of family decision-making. The present study attempts to fill this void by examining the impact of spousal sex-role orientation on the joint decision process for a housing purchase by husbands and wives. Four questions were used to guide the direction of the present study:

(1) To what extent does a husband's and wife's sex-role orientation aid in determining and explaining levels of perceived spousal influence in a joint family purchase decision?

(2) How does a husband's and wife's sex-role orientation affect patterns of preference agreement or disagreement in a joint family purchase decision?

(3) What effect does a family member's sex-role orientation have upon the decision. strategies employed by husbands and wives in resolving conflicts over preference discrepancies in a joint family purchase decision?

(4) What impact does a husband's and wife's sex-role orientation have upon the final decision outcome in a joint family purchase decision?

The results o. an exploratory study that attempts to answer these questions are presented. The central focus of this study is the relationship between husbands' and wives' sex-role orientation and the joint family decision-making process involved in the purchase of a house. In the present study, empirical evidence which suggests that sex-role orientations affect family decision behavior is discussed. In addition, a framework is presented for examining the influence of sex roles on family decision behavior. Finally, issues for future research are suggested.

SEX ROLES AND FAMILY DECISION BEHAVIOR

Sex roles have been defined in the literature in a variety of ways. Regardless of their precise definition, it is believed that family member sex-role perceptions lead to variations in household decision influence, task allocation, purchase responsibilities, and marital outcomes. One of the earliest studies examining the effect of sex-role perceptions on family purchase behavior was conducted by Green and Cunningham (1975), who found that sex-role perceptions were related to the number of decisions that were husband-dominated, wife-dominated, and joint. They concluded that there is a trend toward more joint decision making. More recent studies also suggest that sex-role perceptions have an influence on decisions related to "who prepares dinner" (Roberts and Wortzel 1979), nondurable purchases (Schaninger, Buss, and Grover 1982), and durable purchases (Green and Cunningham 1975, Qualls 1982). These studies support the contention that traditional theoretical paradigms of family decision making may no longer be sufficient to explain and predict household decision and purchase behavior.

Figure 1 presents a model of family decision making which focuses on the four major components of household decision behavior as conceived in the present study: (1) degree of husband/wife influence, (2) husband/wife preference agreement/disagreement, (3) mode of conflict resolution, and (4) final decision outcome. The objective of the study is to identify the effect of spousal sex-role orientation upon the variables -with the model.

As conceived in this model, family role structure has a major impact on family decision behavior. Specifically, it is proposed that the sex-role orientation (SRO) or a spouse plays an important part in determining his or her role perception and role behavior. Sex-role orientation is used here as an all-encompassing term that subsumes such terms as sex-role attitudes, values, opinions, behavioral standards. and cultural norms and constraints.

While numerous researchers have defined sex roles, no single definition has been universally agreed upon. Sex role has been conceptualized as being based on (1) sexual gender (Holter 1970, Nielsen 1978), (2) equality-inequality of rights (Meier 1972), and (3) preferences, norms, attitudes (Scanzoni 1970), Araji 1977). In the present study, sex roles are defined as individual values attitudes, and behavioral standards for men and women in today's society. A three-component classification scheme based on this conceptualization is utilized to categorize an individual's SRO. In previous studies, households have been classified as sex-role traditional (SRT), sex-role opposite (SRP), and sex-role modern (SRM). SRT households exhibit perceptions and behavior consistent with past conceptions of household and societal roles. Decision behavior within the family unit is dominated by the husband, while the wife takes a takes a more subservient role. In households classified as SRM, the role perceptions and behavior of husbands and wives are more egalitarian. Spouses in this group tend to share decision responsibility and task performance on a more equal or partnership basis. In SRP households, one spouse is traditional while the other is more modern. As illustrated in Figure 1, the importance of household sex-role orientation is the extent to which it affects the FDM process.

FIGURE 1

A SEX-ROLE ORIENTED MODEL OF FMAILY DECISION MAKING

The nature of family decision making has been characterized by distinct role definitions and role performance of family members. TypicalLy each family decision is analyzed with respect to a set of role expectations, standards, and task assignments. Given changes in the manner in which household roles are structured, then differences should also exist in the process by which those roles are enacted. No longer can se depend on the traditional categorization that the male/husband makes the major decisions in the household and the wife/ female remains subservient to his needs and desires. Granbois (1971) has suggested that agreement of family members preference structures should serve as a determinant of the type of decision process evoked in those decisions where both the husband's and wife's preferences must be considered. As such, the level of preference agreement or disagreement which exists between a husband and wife, may serve as an indicant of the specific role behavior which will be displayed by a spouse or vice-versa. It is expected that couples with traditional sex-role orientations will exhibit explicit preference agreement structures and very little preference disagreement because of the traditional role expectations and behavior assigned to husbands and wives. On the other hand, the preference agreement patterns of married couples with modern sex role orientations would be less explicit due to the level of expected preference disagreement. Because of the perceived equality of spousal member influence and the tendency for each spouse to attempt maximization of their individually desired preferences, role positions are less definite.

The model depicts four major family decision variables which are directly or indirectly affected by husbands' and wives' sex-role orientation. With respect to this study, the decision process to purchase a home can be initiated by either spouse. The family member's initial behavior is likely to stimulate some degree of interaction which serves to activate the family decision-making process. The first step is the assignment of family members' role position and decision responsibility. Once the evaluation of alternatives begins, the next major decision process is preference agreement. The level of preference agreement is affected by perceived spousal influence and household sex-role orientation. If total agreement is achieved, a decision is made, but if there are areas of disagreement, additional decision behavior in the form of conflict resolution is required before a decision outcome can occur. Depending upon the effect of household sex-role orientation, husband/wife perception of influence, degree of preference agreement/ disagreement, and mode of conflict resolution, the decision outcome can take one of three possible forms-immediate decision, delayed decision, or no decision.

Many of the concepts employed in the present model and their relationships to each other have been supported in previous studies (Becherer et al. 1973, Davis and Rigaux 1974, Munsinger et al. 1975, Cunningham and Green 1975, Burns and Granbois 1977, Belch et al. 1980). For this reason, only tile relationship between spousal sex-role orientation and the four proposed family decision variables will be explored. Thus, the following hypotheses will be tested in the present study:

H1: SRM households will exhibit equal influence for husbands and wives in all housing subdecision.

H1b: SRT households will exhibit greater influence for husbands in housing subdecisions related to price, location, optional exterior product features, and optional energy-saving product features, while wives will have greater influence in housing subdecisions related to style, master bedroom, floor plan. and optional built-in product features.

H2:Couples where both spouses are SRT will exhibit a higher level of preference agreement for each housing subdecision than will couples where both spouses are SRM.

H3: Households where both spouses are SRT will exhibit a greater frequency of concessive modes of conflict resolution than SRM couples.

H3b: Households where both spouses are SRM will exhibit a greater frequency of negotiative modes of conflict resolution than SRT couples.

H4:In households where both spouses are SRT, the husband will make the final decision, while SRM couples will make the final decision jointly.

SAMPLE AND METHODOLOGY

The study was conducted by way of in-home personal interviews, including both paper-and-pencil tests and tape-recorded observations of a couple's decision-process related to the purchase of a home. The reason for conducting the research study in the home was twofold: (1) It was believed that the majority of decision making between husbands and wives takes place within a home setting and (2) the household environment provided an aura of realism for the decision exercise.

Subjects for the study were identified and solicited through direct wail Leaflets and an advertisement placed in the local newspaper. Only .married couples who either owned a home (first-time purchasers within the Last year) or who were considering the purchase of a home within the next year were included as subjects in the study . The subjects included 108 married couples who had been married an average of six years. The median age for both husbands and wives was between 25 and 29, and at least one spouse was employed full-time. When both spouses worked, average household income was well over $25,000. The typical husband-wife couple in this study had one child and both spouses had graduated from college.

The housing purchase decision was chosen because it provided the opportunity to explore a decision commonly acknowledged to involve joint decision making, while simultaneously allowing the investigation of individual preferences related to the home purchase (Davis and Rigaux 1974; Hempel 1974, 1975; Munsinger et al. 1975). The housing decision per se is not the important issue; rather, the housing decision is the vehicle for examining the process by which individual preferences are combined into a joint household decision. The housing subdecision areas chosen for the study reflect a combination of variables used in previous research (Hempel 1975, Munsinger et al. 1975), and the product feature preferences of today's home buyers according to the American Home Builders Association. The housing product features of style, price, location and floor plan as demonstrated in the Hempel (1975) and Munsinger et al. (1975) studies found that when not viewed as a joint decision housing style and floor plan are perceived as wife-dominated decision areas while price and location housing subdecisions are perceived to lie in the decision domain of the husband. The instrumental-expressive framework of household decisions developed by Nye (1976) served as the basis for classifying the remaining four housing subdecisions (master suite, optional built-ins, optional energy savers, and optional exterior product-features). Specifically, those subdecisions hypothesized to be wife-dominated include housing style, floor plan, master bedroom, and optional built-in product features. Rousing subdecisions typically classified as husband-dominated include location, price, optional exterior product features, and optional energy-saving product features.

Measurement Instruments

The measurement instruments employed in the study were constructed to gather data on four critical issues salient to the proposed model of family decision behavior. The instruments utilized consisted of:

* Self-reported influence. For each housing subdecision and the housing decision in general, each spouse indicated the degree of his/her perceived influence based on a 100-point constant sum scale. Husbands and wives indicated their perceptions of household influence, independently for each housing subdecision (i.e., price, location, style, etc.) ranging from total influence by the husband to total influence by the wife, the influence scale employed, permits a spouse to indicate his or her own level of influence for specific decisions in relation to his or her perception of their spouse's level of household influence. A spouse's influence score was used to place each spouse in one of three classifications of influence--husband-dominated, wife-dominated, or joint--with respect to a specific housings subdecisions.

* Self-reported preference rankings. Each spouse rank-ordered his or product-feature preferences from most important (1) to least important (8), both individually and jointly for each of the eight housing subdecisions.

* Sex-role orientation scale. Each spouse was required to complete an attitude questionnaire regarding his or her own sex-role orientation (SRO). The instrument employed in this study is based on the Osmond-Martin (1975) sex-role attitude scale. The Osmond-Martin sex-role attitude scale has proven to be a reliable measure with a demonstrated cronbach coefficient alpha of .88. For the present study the alpha coefficient was .67 above the recommended level of .60. As determined by husband/wife SRO scale score, each household is classified as sex-role modern (SRM), sex-role traditional (SRT), or sex-role opposite (SRP). In the present study only SRM and SRT couples were examined.

* Assessment of conflict/conflict resolution. During the joint preference ranking exercises, interviewers were required to assess when preference disagreement occurred and how this disagreement was resolved. Conflict is operationalized as (in the context of) actual disagreement between husbands and wives over the first three preferences in each housing subdecision. Two primary conflict resolutions modes were utilized: concessions on the part of either husbands or wives and negotiative methods.

The data analyzed here represent only a portion of those collected in a much larger scale study. a e statistical techniques employed are Hotelling's T2 and Kruskal-Wallis's Anova statistic for the first and second hypotheses, and simple chi-square analysis for the third and fourth set of hypotheses .

RESULTS

Sex-Role Orientation and Husband-Wife Influence

Table 1 illustrates the mean ratings by households for each housing subdecision. The influence means as presented represent a measure of the normative belief held by husbands and wives regarding housing subdecision influence responsibility. The level of influence indicated represents a combined rating consisting of the amount of influence that husbands and wives should have in relation to how much influence the spouse's counterpart should have for any particular housing subdecision. An examination of the proposition that household sex-role orientation affects husbands' and wives' perceptions of decision influence indicates that there are significant differences between the group means of SRM and SRT couples. The T2 statistic was 172.5, and a computed F value of 3.68 was found to be significant when evaluated as an F ratio with 14 and 25 degrees of freedom.

Hypothesis la focused upon the comparison of sex-role modern husbands' and wives' perceived influence across all housing subdecisions. The underlying belief is that SRM households will always perceive equal levels of influence between husbands and wives, as illustrated in Table 1. The analysis failed to produce any significant differences. The group means for SRM households were compared to the group means for all husbands and all wives. Group means are listed for the housing subdecisions of price (P), master suite (MS), floor plan (FLPL), style (STY), optional exterior (OPTX), optional built-ins (OPTB), location (LOC), and optional energy savers (OPTE). Visual examination of the respective group means reveal very little difference between SRM perceptions of influence and those of husbands and wives in general. The hypothesis test of means failed to uncover significant differences and we were unable to reject the null hypothesis. Such findings appear to confirm the basic hypothesis that SRM households believe that influence regarding housing subdecisions should be distributed equally between husbands and wives. In fact, in an examination of the influence beliefs for specific housing subdecisions, seven of the eight subdecisions were perceived to be joint decisions.

Conversely, when the influence scores for SRT households are examined, significant differences between SRT wives and husbands in general are uncovered. The hypothesis test of means for comparing SRT households and husbands in general produced a calculated F of 29.6 and a critical F of 3.48, leading to rejection of the null hypothesis. Alternatively, very few differences appear to exist between SRT husbands and wives in general. These findings are by no means conclusive. At a minimum, they should suggest that the relationship between sex-role orientation and husband-wife decision influence deserves further attention. In the present study it was found that household sex-role orientation generally does have an impact upon husbands' and wives' perceptions of spousal influence for selected housing subdecisions.

Sex-Role Orientation and Spousal Preference Agreement

Investigation of husband and wife preference agreement/ disagreement is the second component of the F>l process upon which a household's SRO is hypothesized to have an impact. Basically, it is suggested that SRT traditionals will exhibit a greater degree of preference agreement and a corresponding lower level of preference disagreement than SRM households. The Kruskal-wallis analysis of variance with ranks is the statistical technique employed to analyze the relationship between spousal sex-role orientation and husband-wife level of preference agreement/disagreement. The null hypothesis tested was:

H2: Sex-role modern and sex-role traditional households will exhibit similar distributions of preference agreement regarding housing subdecisions.

TABLE 1

HYPOTHESIS TEST OF MEANS

The null hypothesis was rejected on the basis of calculated H value of 24.15 which is significant at the .01 probability level (X201, 1= 6.64). The results of this test would indicate that the median levels of preference agreement/disagreement for SRM and SRT households are not equal, and thus the underlying preference distributions are different. In order to determine the direction of the differences between SRM and SRT households, a multiple comparison test was conducted. To compare SRM and SRT households the following inequality was evaluated:

EQUATION   (1)

If the left-hand side of the inequality is greater than the right-hand side, the comparison is considered significant. Given an SRT mean ranking of 61.95, an SRM mean ranking of 30.13, and a predetermined % value of 1.96, the resulting solution to the above inequality is | 61.95 30.13|< 11.27. Since 31 82 is greater than 11.27, the comparison is proven to be significant. Thus, it can be concluded that SRT households exhibit higher levels of preference agreement across housing subdecisions that SRT households.

Whether or not spousal SRO affects a family member's preference configuration or merely determines the degree of household interaction remains unclear. R.x the basis of the findings presented here, it can only be suggested that SRO is just one factor which affects the level of household preference agreement disagreement.

Sex-Role Orientation and the Resolution of Household Conflict

Several paradigms that attempt to classify the method in which husbands and wives try to resolve conflicts currently exist. Belch et al. (1980) examined four forms of conflict that Sheth had conceptualized in his theory of family decision making. They found that problem solving was employed by family members more often than the alternative modes of persuasion, bargaining, and politics. Given the way in which these four modes of conflict resolution were conceptualized, each one appears to be a form of negotiation based on exchanges between husbands' and wives' individual preferences. Thus, for the current study, only two major forms of conflict resolution were examined: husband-wife concessions and negotiative modes, This study examined specifically the hypothesis that SRT households will utilize concession modes to a greater extent and SRM households will employ negotiative means of resolving conflict to a greater extent.

Concession is a form of conflict resolution in which one spouse gives in to the preference desires of the other spouse wit" very Little resistance. It is essentially a You Win-I Lose situation. Concessions can be made by the husband or wife without any promise of future consideration. Alternatively, negotiative modes of conflict resolution are characterized by the mutual satisfaction of both the husband's and the wife's individual preferences. Negotiative modes include bargaining, problem solving, compromise, and sequential concessions. Regardless of which means is utilized, negotiation requires a wive-and-take attitude with the objective being that both spouses win.

Table 2 illustrates the frequency and distribution of wide of conflict resolution by sex-role orientation. A X- analysis reveals that there is some degree of association between household SRO and the use of concession or negotiation to resolve conflict. A visual examination lends support for the third set of hypotheses. SRM households do in fact exhibit a greater frequency of negotiation and SRT households a greater frequency of husband/wife concessions. An implication of these findings is that because SRT households have more clearly defined decision roles than SRM households, the use of concession is acceptable. The precise nature of the relationship between SRO and conflict resolution mode, and the significance of this relationship, are questions that muse be answered in future research.

TABLE 2

MODE OF CONFLICT RESOLUTION BY HOUSEHOLD SEX-ROLE ORIENTATION

Sex-Role Orientation and Decision Outcomes

The fourth set of hypotheses was designed to examine the relationship between spousal sex-role orientation and the final joint home purchase decision. Each couple was asked to jointly select a house from among eight housing description profiles typical of those found in today's real estate offices. Housing profiles were developed so that half were dominated by traditionally male-dominated features and the other half were dominated by female-dominated features. Examination of the distribution of housing choice and SRO revealed no discernible difference. It is believed that the final outcome of a decision process is the result of variables that are related and interact throughout the process. Alone, any of the family decision variables explored here would have very little impact or would provide only minimal explanatory and predictive value, but together they may be a basis for explaining variation in family decision behavior.

CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS

In this paper a sex-role-oriented model of family decision making has been presented. Four decision variables (influence, preference agreement, conflict resolution, and decision outcome) are hypothesized to be directly affected by the couples' sex-role orientation. In general, three of the four major hypotheses were supported by the study's findings.

Although husbands and wives exhibited some variation in the perception of influence that should be held by each spouse, it was found that household SRO affects the perception of the degree and directionality of decision influence. In general, it was found that SRT and SRM households differ in their perception of influence for selected housing subdecisions.

Similarly, support was found for the second set of hypotheses, which investigated the relationship between spousal SRO and the level of preference agreement/disagreement. A significant relationship was found to exist between a household's sex-role orientation and the level of preference agreement. Although the relationship between the two variables is a little ambiguous, it is believed that a household's SRO affects the degree and manner in which husbands and wives interact over preferences, but has minimal effect upon preference positions. When preference disagreement did occur, it was found that spousal SRO significantly affected the method used to resolve that disagreement. The results suggest that SRT households tend to favor concession as the resolution mode, while SRM-oriented households tend to favor negotiative methods of conflict resolution. Finally, it was found that spousal SRO is not significantly related to hone purchase decision outcome .

Although the findings presented here are encouraging, conclusions should at best be only suggestive of future research questions. It appears that a household's SRO is most likely to affect the family decision variables that deal most directly with the establishment or family member role responsibility, identification, and position, and has less impact on decision acts, household activities, and decision outcomes.

A number of questions have yet to be answered, and numerous research issues remain to be resolved and empirically examined and tested. The expansion of future research should be directed toward:

* Investigation of additional family decision variables and behaviors: sex-role norms, sex-role antecedents, role conflict, attitude-behavior links, etc.

* Examination of the impact of sex roles on different types of products (non-durable, durable, services), different decisions (autonomous vs. joint, rent vs. buy), and different household types (family, singles, cooperatives, cohabitors).

* Future research should also attempt to utilize multivariate statistical techniques (LISREL, PLS, LSA), but this is somewhat dependent on how successful researchers are in satisfying the above research needs.

This study has dealt directly with the decision behavior involved in a joint home purchase decision as affected by sex-role orientation. The gaps in our understanding and explanation of family decision behavior are still wide. Consumer researchers must continually recognize the relevance of the household as a proper unit of analysis.

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