Financial Decision Making of Babyboomer Couples

Amardeep Assar, State University of New York at Binghamton
George S. Bobinski, Jr., State University of New York at Binghamton
ABSTRACT - Financial management practices of babyboomer couples are examined based on a mail survey, with wives and husbands responding separately. The prevalence of budgeting, individual ownership of checking accounts, savings accounts, and credit cards and joint ownership of investments were found to be related to family income, individual income, presence of children, sex role attitudes, and locus of control. The patterns of relative influence for these types of financial services were also related to many of these factors as well as to ages of children and perceived role overload.
[ to cite ]:
Amardeep Assar and George S. Bobinski (1991) ,"Financial Decision Making of Babyboomer Couples", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, eds. Rebecca H. Holman and Michael R. Solomon, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 657-665.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, 1991      Pages 657-665

FINANCIAL DECISION MAKING OF BABYBOOMER COUPLES

Amardeep Assar, State University of New York at Binghamton

George S. Bobinski, Jr., State University of New York at Binghamton

ABSTRACT -

Financial management practices of babyboomer couples are examined based on a mail survey, with wives and husbands responding separately. The prevalence of budgeting, individual ownership of checking accounts, savings accounts, and credit cards and joint ownership of investments were found to be related to family income, individual income, presence of children, sex role attitudes, and locus of control. The patterns of relative influence for these types of financial services were also related to many of these factors as well as to ages of children and perceived role overload.

INTRODUCTION

Family financial management practices have received an increasing amount of attention from consumer researchers in recent years. These practices are significant because they affect decisions about savings and investments as well as the purchases of products and services. As a result, an improved understanding of the underlying factors can benefit both consumers and marketers.

Although recent studies have examined the relationships between sociodemographic and attitudinal factors, and family financial management practices, there are many unresolved issues (Moore Shay and Wilkie 1988). These include identifying the factors related to the use and ownership of particular financial services, the prevalence of budgeting, and the patterns of relative influence in financial decisions. We chose to study married babyboomers, that is, those people born between 1946 and 1964. This group is important because it makes up a very large percentage of all married couples. Approximately 24 million married couples are in the 25-44 year age group, accounting for 47% of all married couples. They have a spending power in excess of $850 billion annually (Their median family incomes can be estimated at approximately $37,000 for 1987, based on Waldrop 1989). In addition, these couples are at the stage where major financial decisions are typically being made, such as buying homes, deciding on family size, and investing for the future. This makes them an important segment for marketers of financial services and other products.

The conceptual framework for the study was a general model of family decision making (Buss and Schaninger 1983). This study relates financial management practices to such factors as household and individual incomes, family life cycle, sex role attitudes, locus of control, and perceptions of role overload. As suggested by those authors and others (Scanzoni 1977, Rosen and Granbois 1983), the relationships were tested using both spouses as respondents in an exploratory survey.

The next section presents the conceptual model. After that, the literature is reviewed to identify factors that have been found to be important in earlier studies of family decision-making. These factors are then related to individual ownership of some types of financial services, and also to patterns of relative influence for other decisions where a greater degree of joint decision-making is expected. Hypotheses for empirical study are then developed.

LITERATURE REVIEW

One of the goals of this paper is to examine whether different demographic and attitudinal factors are related to wives and husbands decisions about a variety of financial services. Buss and Schaninger (1983) presented a general model of family decision making, to serve as a "mid-range theoretical structure" in studying the husband-wife dyad. Their model consists of antecedent conditions, individual 0 attitudes, situational factors, and process factors that t affect process outcomes. Examples of antecedent conditions provided by the authors include demographic characteristics of respondents and the allocation of tasks by the spouses. Individual attitudes include sex-role norms and life style values. Decisions may also be influenced by situational factors such as the number of alternatives and the risk of the decision. Finally, their model includes aspects of the decision making process such as the P strategies used by spouses in managing conflict. Examples of process outcomes included in the model ; are patterns of consumption, decision behavior, and marital satisfaction.

In relation to the Buss and Schaninger model, the antecedent conditions in this study included a set of demographic variables--family and individual incomes, presence or absence of children, and family life cycle. The attitudinal variables included sex role attitudes and locus of control. Perceived role overload was used as a situational factor, while the process aspect of conflict was not examined. This study examined process outcomes relating to financial decisions.

One important outcome of family decision-making is the decision to own or purchase a particular product or service. Certain financial services can be purchased and owned by one spouse, independent of the other, or else by both of them jointly. These include checking accounts, savings accounts, major credit cards (e.g., VISA, MasterCard, American Express), and retail store cards. The paper examines individual ownership of these financial products separately for wives and husbands.

In addition to ownership, numerous studies have examined the relative influence of wives and husbands. The extent of influence may vary by (1) type of product, (2) stage in the decision process, (3) type of decision (e.g., budgeting, purchase or brand choice) and (4) family characteristics. According to Davis and Rigaux (1974), family decisions may be wife-dominated (e.g., for food, kitchenware and children's clothing), husband-dominated (e.g., life insurance, cars) or syncratic (e.g., housing, vacations). Finally, autonomic decisions are made by the individual (e.g., husband's clothing). The paper examines relative influence patterns for financial decisions, including budgeting, investments, and jointly held checking and savings accounts.

Variables in Family Decision Making

A large number of variables have been studied in the context of family decision making. One of these variables is sex role attitude which can be thought of as ranging from the traditional to the modern. For example, this variable has been used to study home-buying (Qualls 1987) and also relative influence in making financial decisions and implementing them via day to day responsibilities (Rosen and Granbois 1983). The decision-making of traditional wives and husbands is expected to be consistent with distinct areas of responsibility and expertise, while more modern individuals will tend to be more joint in their decisions (Cunningham and Green 1974). Sex role moderns may be expected to act in a manner that runs counter to the traditional mold. For products and services that are traditionally jointly owned, they may assert their independence and also want to purchase services for themselves.

Another important variable that has been studied in the context of joint decision making is family life cycle stage. As a family moves through the life cycle, there may be less joint decision making (Wolgast 1958; Ferber and Lee 1974). Over time, wives and husbands may specialize in some areas. If this occurs, they may make fewer joint decisions and more specialized ones (Kenkel 1961).

An individual's view of the world may also have a bearing on family decisions. Locus of control has been defined as the extent to which people perceive rewards and reinforcements as being contingent on their own behavior or independent of it (Rotter 1966). Persons with an internal locus of control will perceive that events are contingent on their own behavior. Consistent with this, internals are expected to attribute more importance to decisions, and thus be more likely to make decisions jointly. In contrast, those with an external locus of control may be perfunctory in doing these tasks (Rosen and Granbois 1983).

The concept of wife's role overload was introduced in consumer research by Reilly (1982). Role overload arises when a person faces excessive demands on available time and effort. A spouse who is not overloaded is expected to take up tasks that the overloaded spouse is unable to handle. In that study, wives' role overload had only a weak positive relationship with family ownership of durables and use of convenience foods. Foxman and Burns (1987) extended this idea and proposed that husbands may also be overloaded. This was empirically supported and perceived husband role load and perceived wife role load were found to be independent dimensions.

HYPOTHESES

Budgeting Decisions

A family's pattern of budgeting can intuitively be expected to play a major role in its purchase and investment decisions. A number of researchers have studied whether families make budgets. This is studied here under ownership in the sense that couples "buy" the idea of making budgets. About two-thirds of families have been found to do some advance planning for spending their income (Beutler and Sahlberg 1980) or prepare written or non-written budgets (Granbois, Rosen, and Acito 1986).

Families are more likely to budget when they face extra demands on their resources, such as at early stages of the family life cycle or because of the presence of children (Beutler and Sahlberg 1980; Granbois, Rosen, and Acito 19863. Education has been found to be positively related to budgeting and planning (Beutler and Sahlberg 1980), but household income has not been found to predict formal planning, or at most as been only weakly related (Granbois, Rosen, and Acito 1986). Considering those families that do budget, husbands with higher incomes may have more relative influence in the budgeting decision. Sex role attitudes have been found to be related to how families budget and to relative influence in this process. When wives are traditional, they are more likely to plan the use of surplus funds, but the sex roles of husbands are not related to this practice (Granbois, Rosen, and Acito 1986). In making savings decisions and handling expenses, more modern sex roles are associated with sharing of responsibility (Kim and Lee 1989; Schaninger, Buss, and Grover 1982).

Deacon and Firebaugh (1975) proposed that people with a more positive outlook on life may be more likely to plan in order to have more control over the future. Based on this, Beutler and Sahlberg (1980) tested how outlook on life might relate to formal planning and budgeting by families. They found that optimists were more likely to do formal financial planning. In addition, locus of control has been found to be related to the incidence of budgeting, even though results were conflicting. In families that used special accounts for budgeting, wives were more external while husbands were more internal (Granbois, Rosen, and Acito 1986; Rosen and Granbois 1983). Since sex role has already been extensively studied, we chose to examine whether locus of control is related to the likelihood that a family budgets, and to the relative influence in this decision. Based on this, we propose the following conceptual hypotheses:

- Families that have children are more likely to use budgets compared to those that do not have children.

- Families are more likely to budget when wives have a more external locus of controL or when husbands have a more internal locus of control

- In families that budget, relative influence will be greater for wives with a more external locus of control, and for husbands with s mare internal locus of control.

- In families that budget, relative influence will be greater for husbands with higher individual income, and for wives whose husbands have lower individual income.

Checking and Savings Accounts

A wife's decision to open her own checking or savings account may be related to her own attitudes and to family characteristics like household income, i.e. her decision is largely autonomic. But for accounts that are jointly held, the wife may report her husband has more relative influence, because he typically earns the bulk of the family income. Thus, different factors may underlie decisions about individual versus jointly-owned accounts.

In the absence of any reports in the literature, we propose that individual ownership of these types of financial services by a spouse will be more likely when that person is sex role modern. Further, wives will be more likely to have these accounts in their own names when they have higher individual incomes. Husbands or wives that work for pay will likely have a checking account for day to day transactions, or use a savings account as a place for extra funds.

Turning to joint accounts, the factors affecting choice of institution may be somewhat different. Since participation in the paid work-force for men in the 2544 year age group is very widespread, they are likely to be earning an income that provides for a major part of family earnings in many families. Thus, the husband's individual income may give him more relative influence in decisions involving joint accounts. Also, the husband's sex role attitude may be an important variable. When the husband is more traditional he will be more likely to retain influence, but when he is more modem the couple's pattern of influence will be more joint.

The choice of institution for checking and savings accounts is a one-time decision, analogous to brand choice. Since these services are comparable across institutions, this choice does not involve particularly large consequences. Foxman and Bums (1987) propose that overloaded spouses may be more involved in major decisions (e.g., budget allocation) but less involved in the less important choices like generic product choice and least of all in specific brand or variant selection. Based on this, if the wife is overloaded, she may leave the decision about choice of institution to the husband. When she is not facing any role overload, she may have more relative influence. The following conceptual hypotheses are proposed:

- Individual ownership of checking and savings accounts by wives will be more likely when they have more modern sex role attitudes, higher family incomes, and higher individual incomes. It will be more likely for husbands when the latter have more modem sex role attitudes and higher household incomes.

- In the choice of financial institution for joint accounts, wives will have more relative influence when they do not feel high role overload or when their husbands have lower incomes. Husbands will have more relative influence when they have higher incomes or have more traditional sex role attitudes.

Investments

A family can be expected to own joint investments provided it has surplus household income. Turning to decisions about when to invest, the type of investment, and how much to invest, the extent of relative influence of each spouse may be driven by different factors. The traditional husband may dominate in these decisions, which have typically been the responsibility of the husband, or because he happens to earn a major part of the family income. For sex-role modern couples, the detailed decisions may be made jointly. The wife may not want much involvement, perhaps because she is preoccupied with the demands of child-raising. But life-cycle aspects must also be considered. There is likely to be role specialization as couples move into-later years of the family life cycle (FLC).

- The ownership of joint investments will be positively related to total family income.

- For details of investment decisions, such as when to invest, type of investment, and how much to invest, relative influence for wives will be negatively related to presence and ages of children. For the husband, his relative influence will be greater when his sex role attitude is more traditional, and also when he has higher individual income.

Credit Cards

Credit card ownership and usage has been studied from economic and behavioral perspectives. Previous research includes relating demand to finance charges (Garcia 1980), attitudes towards credit (Awh and Waters 1974), and impact on spending (Feinberg 1986; Hirschman 1979). In comparing credit card owners to non-owners, the former are more likely to be older and have higher levels of income, education, and socioeconomic status (Kinsey 1981, Mandell 1973).

An early study found that men were more likely to own travel and entertainment cards (e.g., American Express) and bank cards (e.g., VISA), while women were more likely to own retail store cards (Adcock et al 1977). Hirschman (1979) proposed that credit card ownership may be partially explained by traditional sex role attitudes. She attributed differences by sex to the traditional family roles of the man as "provider" and the woman as homemaker and "purchasing agent." The author further suggested that the increased "blurring" of sex role differences could be expected to alter these patterns.

This paper examines the extent to which wives and husbands own credit cards in their own names. The factors relating to individual ownership may differ from those affecting joint ownership. Further, the distinction needs to be made between major credit cards and retail store cards. Marketers of major credit cards require substantial incomes, while the income standards used by retailers are not as strict. For wives, individual ownership of major credit cards can be expected to depend on their sex role attitudes and their own incomes, in addition to family income. For husbands, we would expect sex role moderns to be more likely to have their own retail cards. Based on this, the following conceptual hypotheses are proposed:

- Individual ownership of major credit cards by wives will be more likely when they have more modern sex role attitudes, higher family incomes, and higher individual incomes. Turning to husbands, individual ownership of major credit cards will be more likely when they have more modern sex role attitudes and higher household incomes.

- Individual ownership of retail credit cards by wives will not vary by sex role attitude. For husbands, individual ownership of retail credit cards will be more likely for sex role moderns.

METHODOLOGY

The data used in this study were obtained through a mail survey conducted in a medium-sized northeastern city. To obtain participants, a judgement sample of civic organizations and churches was contacted. These organizations were asked to provide the names of couples where at least one member of the couple might be between the ages of 25 and 44. Approximately 30 percent of the contacted organizations agreed to cooperate. The couples were asked if they would be willing to participate in a study of financial decision making. They were also screened to ensure that at least one member of the couple was a babyboomer. To encourage participation, the couples were informed that a cash donation would be made to a charity of their choice once the completed questionnaires were received. In addition the couples were given a chance to win one of four prizes consisting of U.S. savings bonds.

A packet which included a cover letter, two surveys, and two return envelopes was mailed to the couples. The instructions explicitly stated that each member of the couple was to work independently. Approximately three-quarters of those volunteering actually participated. One hundred and sixty-eight completed questionnaires were received. In two cases, the spouse did not respond resulting in responses from 83 couples. The mean age for the wives was 35 years and that for the husbands was 36.3 years. The median family income for the participants was $46,500 in 1989. As stated earlier we estimated that the median family income estimated for the entire 2544 year age group was $37,000 in 1987.

There were five parts to the questionnaire. The first section asked about ownership of financial services and the relative influence of the two spouses in financial decisions. A five-point scale was used to measure relative influence (1-l,,e, 2=me more than my spouse, 3=shared equally, 4=my spouse more than me, and 5=my spouse). Before doing the analysis, husbands' answers were recoded so that for all respondents--a high number indicated high husband influence and a low number indicated high wife influence.

In the second section, the participants' locus of control was measured using a scale developed by Rotter (1966). The sex role attitudes of the participants were measured in the third section using Osmond and Martin's (1975) Sex Role Attitude Scale. This scale was modified by dropping some items. The first group consisted of stereotypes of male/female nature and behaviors, e.g. women are as capable as men of enjoying a full sex life. We also dropped four items that dealt with social change as related to sex roles, e.g. men's clubs and lodges should be required to admit women. It was felt that the items omitted would have little relationship to family financial decision making. Reilly's (1982) scale was used to measure role overload in the fourth section. The final section measured various demographic characteristics including income, and number and ages of children.

ANALYSIS AND RESULTS

For the prevalence of budgeting and the ownership of specific financial services, separate discriminant analyses were performed using the hypothesized independent variables. These results are summarized in Table 1. The hypotheses about the relative influence of the spouses in joint decision making were tested by performing analyses of variance separately for the wife and husband. These findings are summarized in Table 2.

Budgeting

As hypothesized, wives' responses indicated that the family was more likely to budget if it included children (p < .004). However, the wife's locus of control did not differentiate between families that budget and those that did not. The husbands' responses also indicated that families that included children were more likely to budget (p<.03). In addition, as hypothesized those families that budgeted were more likely to have husbands with a more internal locus of control (p <-.04).

FIGURE 1

WIVES' RESPONSES ON DECISION TO BUDGET

FIGURE 2

HUSBANDS' RESPONSES ON DECISION TO BUDGET

For the wife's rating of her relative influence in the decision to make a budget, there was an interaction of husband's income and her locus of control (see Figure 1). The wife dominated the process when her husband had a high income and she had an internal locus of control. The husband dominated when he had a low income and she had an internal locus of control, and also when he had a high income and she had an external locus of control. When the husband had a low income and she had an external locus of control, the process was Joint.

For the husband's rating of his relative influence in the decision to make a budget, there was an interaction of husband's income and his locus of control (see Figure 2). When the husband had a high income the task was joint. In contrast, when he had a low income, the task was husband dominated if he had an external locus of control and wife dominated if he had an internal locus of control.

Checking and Savings Accounts

As hypothesized, women with more modem sex role attitudes were more likely to have their own checking account (p < .05) and their own savings account (p < .04). Women with higher household incomes were more likely to have individual savings accounts (p < .03), but no more likely to have their own checking accounts. In addition. wife's income was not related to individual ownership of either type of account.

Husbands' ownership of individual checking accounts was more likely when family income was higher as hypothesized (p <.004), but this was not the case for individual savings accounts. Turning to sex role attitudes, traditional husbands were more likely to have individual checking accounts (p < .006) and those with more modern sex role attitudes were more likely to have individual savings accounts. The latter relationship was only marginally significant (p < .09). In hindsight, if we consider that traditional husbands may have more control over their families' finances, it is reasonable to expect them to express this control through individual ownership of checking accounts.

Wives' rated their relative influence to be higher in the selection of joint checking (p < .005) and joint savings accounts (p < .05) when their husbands had low incomes. However, note that there was also a significant interaction between wife's role overload and husband's income for both joint checking accounts (p < .02) and joint saving accounts (p < .008). These interactions are shown in Figures 3 and 4. When the wife had high role overload the decisions were somewhat husband dominated and relatively unaffected by husband's income. There was a different pattern if the wife had low role overload. In this case, if the husband had a high income, he dominated the decision and if he had a low income, the decisions were somewhat wife dominated.

FIGURE 3

WIFE'S REL. INFLUENCE IN SELECTION-CHECKING

FIGURE 4

WIFE'S REL. INFLUENCE IN SELECTION-SAVINGS

As hypothesized, husbands perceived they had more relative influence on selecting joint checking (p <.003) and savings institutions (p <.005) when they had high incomes. Traditional husbands rated their influence as higher in selection of the joint checking account (p =.05) although the same was not true for joint savings.

Investments

Couples with higher incomes were more likely to have joint investments as indicated by the responses of the wives (p < .002) and husbands (p <.09). For husbands, this relationship was only marginally significant. The wife's estimate of her influence on when to invest, what type of investment to make, and how much to invest were all related to the family life cycle (p < .02, p < .02, p < .005). For all three decisions the wife's influence was greatest for couples that had no children, intermediate for those couples with at least one child under six years old, and lower for those couples with older children.

As hypothesized, husbands with traditional sex role attitudes estimated they had more influence on the joint investment activities. This effect was significant for when to invest (p < .02), type of investment (p < .05), and how much to invest (p < .05). In addition, husbands with high individual incomes had more influence over when to invest (p < .04).

Credit Cards

As hypothesized, women who had major credit cards in their own name had more modern sex role attitudes (p < .02), higher household incomes (p < .01), and higher individual incomes (p < .02). Wife's sex role attitude was not related to ownership of retail credit cards as predicted.

Husbands with higher incomes were more likely to have a major credit card in their own name as expected (p < .000). Sex role attitude was not related to ownership of major credit cards, however husbands with more modern sex role attitudes were found to be more likely to own their own retail credit cards (p = .05).

Discussion and Future Research

Before discussing the findings of the study we would like to provide some caveats. While we contacted a wide variety of civic and church organizations to elicit respondents, certain types of respondents may be under or over represented. There is also the potential for nonresponse biases. For example, respondents in previous studies of family decision making have typically had high levels of income and education. Since a mail survey was used, it is difficult to rule out the possibility that spouses may have influenced each other's responses. However, there is little indication of this. First, as instructed, all spouses used separate envelopes to return their surveys. In many cases these envelopes had different postmarks. Finally, the spouses answers to both factual and attitudinal items were different in many cases.

This study provides strong support for using the general model of family decision making proposed by Buss and Schaninger (1983). Many of the conceptual hypotheses were in terms of antecedent demographic factors (e.g., family and individual income and family life cycle), and attitudinal variables such as sex role attitudes and locus of control. Wife's perceived role overload, a situational variable, had an interesting interaction with husband's income for relative influence in choosing the institution for checking and savings accounts.

TABLE 1

DISCRIMINANT ANALYSIS DIFFERENTIATING OWNERS AND NON-OWNERS FOR THE FOLLOWING FINANCIAL DECISIONS

The study looked at patterns of ownership and relative influence across a range of financial decisions, including budgeting. It covered checking and savings accounts, investments, and credit cards. Many of the specific predictions were borne out. In addition to income, family life cycle, the presence/absence of children, and sex role attitude entered many of the relationships examined, for wives and husbands. Interestingly, husbands' individual income was often related to wives' perceptions of relative influence.

A variety of financial services were examined here, e.g., major vs. retail credit cards, checking and savings accounts, and investments. Further, the study focused on babyboomers, a very important group from a managerial perspective. While the findings should be interpreted with caution, the use of a mid-range theoretical structure can help managers better understand how demographic as well as attitudinal variables relate to consumer behavior for financial services. This can help in designing marketing strategy (e.g., segmentation and positioning decisions), as well as designing service attributes and promotion appeals (message content). The sample was small, but compares with those in other studies of family decision-making where both spouses have been surveyed. Subsequent studies should examine these and related issues with larger samples.

TABLE 2

ANALYSIS OF VARIANCE FOR RELATIVE INFLUENCE IN FINANCIAL DECISION MAKING

An important methodological issue in family and group studies is whether to use one or more respondent. This study suggests that both spouses should be studied in order to capture the differences between the factors that may influence their behaviors, even if there is agreement on the outcomes.

Three areas for future research appear promising. First, it will be useful to examine the extent of agreement between wives and husbands on relative influence for financial decisions. It is possible that groups may be identified that differ on this dimension. Future research can address what factors underlie the extent of agreement. Second, there were interesting interactions of income with locus of control for budgeting decisions, and with role overload for choice of checking and savings institutions. These interactions can be examined in greater detail to identify whether there are any other contextual factors (e.g., sex of respondent, for locus of control) that will add to our understanding. Finally, sex roles and the other attitudinal variables can be studied in the context of other aspects of financial decisions not reported here, such as jointly-owned credit cards and insurance decisions. Some of these aspects form part of our continuing research program.

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