The Influence of Information Source on Brand Loyalty and Consumer Sex Roles of the Elderly

Ruth Belk Smith, University of Baltimore
[ to cite ]:
Ruth Belk Smith (1991) ,"The Influence of Information Source on Brand Loyalty and Consumer Sex Roles of the Elderly", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, eds. Rebecca H. Holman and Michael R. Solomon, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 673-680.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, 1991      Pages 673-680


Ruth Belk Smith, University of Baltimore

Although experience is important in the marketplace, elderly consumers continue to be socialized by different agents and states of being such as advertising and social class. This study investigates the influence of some antecendent states and socialization agents on brand loyalty and the extent of traditional consumer sex roles among the elderly. Findings suggest that reliance on family and salespeople for information and social class are related to both brand loyalty and traditional consumer sex role perceptions.

It has long been noted by marketers that certain behavior patterns change over the life cycle (Engel, Blackwell, and Miniard 1986; Wells and Gubar 1966).- Retirement and old age are dramatized by the relinquishment of certain consumption categories (consumer durables, children's education expenses, etc.) and the assumption of others (health care, securities and investments, travel), within the context of the role shift. Retirees who are financially independent are expected to have self-gratification consumption goals; those who are not are expected to be frugal; and both groups are expected to be independent (Ahammer 1969). In order to keep pace with the changing marketplace, the elderly consumer must continuously learn, forming new attitudes and skills and changing old ones (Mauldin 1976). Therefore, in much of the same way socialization applies to adult learning in a general context, it should also apply to the development and change of elderly consumers' cognition, attitudes, and behavior toward marketing stimuli (e.g., Smith and Moschis 1985). For example, as people grow older they tend to interact differently with various sources of consumer information, particularly in their increased exposure to the mass media (Real, Anderson, and Harrington 1980). The criteria for media use preference also seems to change with age (Bernhardt and Kinnear 1976, Hendricks and Hendricks 1977, Phillips and Sternthal 1977).

Individuals proceeding through the middle and later years must continually learn to play new or altered roles and to relinquish old ones. Moreover, with the secular trend toward increased longevity, more mature people will be called upon to play a variety of roles in the social structure (Riley et al 1969). Thus, there is a continuous need for socialization through adulthood and old age (Albrecht and Gift 1975, Smith and Moschis 1983 and 1990).

Although some studies have focused on specific information sources used by elderly consumers (e.g., Klippel and Sweeny 1974, Schiffman 1971), research has not considered the influence of the various sources on elderly consumer behavior. Given the growing interest in the areas of the elderly consumer and of consumer socialization as well the lack of systematic research on both topics (e.g., Meadow, Cosmas and Plotkin 1980, Ward 1974), this study (1) offers a general conceptual framework that is useful in organizing and conceptualizing variables for the study of the influence of various information sources on the elderly consumer, (2) applies the general theoretical and conceptual notions of socialization to the specific context of elderly consumer socialization, and (3) provides empirical data which may be useful in future research in the area. The findings should prove useful in answering some questions relating to mass media and interpersonal influence on elderly consumer behavior.


Consumer socialization research is based primarily on two models of human learning. The cognitive development model essentially views learning as a cognitive psychological process of adjustment to one's environment. Socialization is viewed as a function of qualitative changes (stages) in cognitive structures the individual can use in perceiving and dealing with the environment. As a person "moves" from one stage to another, he or she is assumed to be developing various learning properties. The social learning model, on the other had, seeks explanations for the formation of various cognitions and behaviors from environmental forces acting upon the individual--commonly known as "socialization agents" with which the individual interacts in various social settings. Socialization agents are directly involved in socialization because of their frequency of contact with the individual, primacy over the individual, and control over rewards and punishments given to the individual (Brim 1966).

Previous consumer socialization studies have used a conceptual framework of consumer socialization based upon the two main socialization theories (Moschis and Moore 1978 and 1979, Moschis and Churchill 1978, Churchill and Moschis 1979, Smith and Moschis 1985). The conceptual model incorporates five different types of variables: learning properties (criterion variables); age or life cycle and social structural variables (antecedents); and agents and learning processes, both combined to form specific socialization processes (Moschis and Churchill 1978). Socialization theory and research also suggest linkages between specific types of variables. Generally, socialization processes are conceived as having direct influence on criterion variables, while the influence of antecedent variables can both direct and indirect by impact upon socialization processes (see Figure 1). "Socialization takes place through interaction of the person and various agents in specific social settings" (McLeod and O'Keefe 1972, p. 135).



These agents may change as new ones are added when older ones are displaced, but they continue to influence the individual through a series of "self-other" interaction systems. The result of these interactions is that the individual is oriented to the evaluations and prescriptions of significant others (Cooley 1912). The specific socialization agents examined in this study are mass media advertising, family, peers, and salespeople, while antecedents variables used are age, sex, and social class. The outcomes of consumer socialization are neither specific nor invariant (Ward 1974). This study considers brand loyalty and consumer sex role perceptions, in line with previous consumer socialization research (e.g., Moschis and Moore 1979). The selection of these properties was guided by 1) relevance to issues of interest to marketers and consumer researchers 2) lack of (or inadequate) previous investigation.

Brand Loyalty

According to a review of the literature by Phillips and Sternthal (1977), the elderly process information less efficiently than younger people in that they require more time for decision making, slower pacing of stimuli, and fewer distracting influences. One means of alleviating stress related to choice making is simply to routinize responses to the decision situation, consistently adhering to the same decision criteria and preference rankings (Howard and Sheth 1968). Consumers have been reported to evidence more brand loyalty as they age (Guest 1942, 1955, 1964; Miller 1955). Thus brand loyalty may be one way in which the elderly compensate for information integration deficits, using experience and personally important sources of information.

Consumer Sex Role Perceptions

Both social psychological literature (e.g., Hess 1975, Lipman 1961, Neugarten 1968) and biological literature (e.g., Bouliere 1963, Finch and Hayflick 1977) suggest that sex differences decrease with age. Neugarten (1968) notes that aging men become more affiliative and aging women more aggressive, so that there is more egalitarianism in decision making. This may be based partly on social reasons, such as the loss of the male's employment role upon retirement, and the relatively unchanged role status of the traditionally unemployed elderly woman. It may also be based partly on physiological changes (Finch and Hayflick 1977). Hormonal changes associated with aging include less production of male testosterone and female estrogen so that the small amounts of androgens ("other sex" hormones) normally found in humans have noticeable effects on the individual. Thus sex roles, including consumer sex roles, may change as a result of both interpersonal (sociopsychological) and intrapersonal (developmental) variables. (Smith, Moschis, and Moore 1987).

Mass Media

Several researchers have found the elderly to be heavy users of mass media (e.g., Real. Anderson, and Harrington 1980; Samli 1967, Smith et al 1987). Samli and Palunbiskas (1972) reported that the elderly rely heavily on mass media sources of information, while others indicate that the elderly learn appropriate behavior for the later years through observation of the mass media (e.g., as a "retiree'). Schramm (1969) suggested that the elderly use the mass media to combat social disengagement. It has been noted that increased use of mass media influences perceptions and attitudes (e.g., Gerbner et al 1980) and, since nationally advertised brands are typically the recipients of brand preference and loyalty, greater use of the mass media by the elderly consumer is expected to be related to a greater level of brand loyalty.

Personal Source of Consumer Information

Peers and family have been identified as important sources of primary relationships in later life and are thought to be major agents of elderly socialization (Rosow 1974; Riley et al 1969; Reisman, Glazer and Denny 1950; Smith and Moschis 1985) while friends, relatives, and salespeople are reported to be important sources of consumer information for the elderly (Schiffman 1971, Klippel and Sweeny 1974). Some research (e.g., Gelb 1978, Lambert 1979) has found dissatisfaction with treatment given older shoppers by salespeople, although little is known about the influence of interaction with various sources of information, or socialization agents, on the elderly's consumer behavior. Some previous research has shown that social interaction affects the behavior of the elderly in general (e.g., Lemmon et al. 1972) and that social interaction may affect brand loyalty of consumer (Engel, Blackwell and Miniard 1986).

Antecedent Variables

Age, sex, and social class have been identified as important antecedent variables concerning the elderly in general (e.g., Rosow 1974, Neugarten 1968, Hess 1972, Dowd 1980), and consumers in particular (e.g., Moschis and Churchill 1978, Moschis and Moore 1979, Churchill and Moschis 1979). Empirical studies suggest that as consumers age they interact with fewer personal sources of consumer information and more mass media (e.g., Phillips and Sternthal 1977; LaForge, French and Crask 1981, Smith and Moschis 1985, Smith et al 1987). The elderly are reported to utilize fewer information cues than younger consumers (Schaninger and Sciglimpaglia 1981), to evidence less deliberation in purchase decision (Katona and Mueller 1955), to rely more upon personal experience (Schiffman 1971), and to be more brand loyal (Guest 1942; LaForge, French and Crask 1981).

A positive relationship has been noted between social class and social interaction among consumers in general (Engle, Blackwell and Miniard 1986), and among the elderly (Rosow 1974). Clark (1956) notes a negative relationship between social class and mass media exposure among the elderly, as do Schreiber and Boyd (1980). Although many researchers agree that socioeconomic status of the aged is a powerful predictor of knowledge, attitudes and behavior (e.g., Rosow 1974, Dowd 1980), little empirical research is found on the effects of social class on elderly consumer socialization processes, (specifically, the extent to which those of differing SES use particular consumer information sources.)

In previous consumer socialization studies, sex has been used as an antecedent to socialization processes (e.g., Churchill and Moschis 1978, Smith and Moschis 1985). Sex differences have been noted by several researchers to decrease with age due both to developmental (biological) factors (Finch and Hayflick 1975) and interpersonal factors (e.g., retirement) (Neugarten, 1968). Thus the influence of gender is explored to reveal whether any difference is observed. The previous discussion suggests the following set of hypotheses:

1. Age is positively associated with

a. brand loyalty

b. reliance on mass media advertising

2. Age is negatively associated with

a. "traditional" consumer sex role perceptions

b. reliance on friends, family, and salespeople (personal information sources)

3. Social class is

a. positively related to reliance on personal sources of consumer information

b. negatively related to reliance on mass media advertising

4. Greater reliance on mass media advertising is positively related to brand loyalty.

5. There will be no difference due to gender on intervening or outcome variables.



Self-administered questionnaires were completed by 286 elderly respondents representing diverse social classes, races, and ethnicity and ranging in age from 55 to 89 years. The questionnaires were personally administered, and the nonresponse rate was less than 10%. The instrument had been pretested on thirty-eight elderly respondents in order to resolve any problems with length, ambiguous wording, and clarity of questions. The self-administration technique may cause some bias toward those respondents who are not perceptually or educationally impaired. This problem is naturally more prevalent in gerontological research than in studies of other age groups because of the perceptual declines accompanying advancing age and the lower overall educational level of the elderly as a group (Botwinick 1978). The sample is compared to U.S. Census data in Table 1.

As the table shows, the sample is fairly representative of both local and national elderly demographic characteristics. Approximately sixty percent of the sample was obtained at senior citizen centers and forty percent from other senior groups, such as the Retired Teachers Association and the Retired Business Persons Association, thus possible bias exists in that elderly who belong to these centers or groups have different social characteristics from those who do not. Burton and Hennon (1980), however, did not find different consumer concerns expressed by members of senior citizen centers vs other elderly groups.

Definition and Measurement of the Variables

Brand Loyalty is operationally defined as whether or not the respondent indicates loyalty to a specific brand. It was measured by summing responses to items indicating whether the respondent would, if s/he found his/her store to "be out of your favorite brand, wait until it was stocked, buy another brand, or go to another store for my brand". Cronbach's a for the brand loyalty scale was .96. Twelve products/services from each of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' major expenditure categories were used. To avoid low product salience, products/service in each category were selected which had greater than average use among people over 65.





Consumer Sex Role Perception refers to cognitive orientations related to the appropriateness of one-spouse domination of certain consuming decisions (Herbst 1952). It was measured in line with previous studies (e.g., Moschis and Moore 1979) by a 0-to-12 point index of degree of egalitarianism, using the same twelve product/services in items such as "who should decide what car to buy." Responses were "husband", "wife", or "both". The Cronbach a was .95.

Reliance on mass media advertising was measured by asking respondents to indicate whether, before buying a new brand of each of the twelve items, they would "rely upon television, radio, newspaper, and magazine advertisements for information and advice" (e.g., Smith, Moschis and Moore 1981). The reliability coefficient was .90.

Reliance on family members for information on consumption matters was measured by asking respondents to indicate whether they rely upon relatives for consumption-related advice before buying a new brand of each of the twelve products. The a coefficient was .93.

Reliance on peers for consumer information was measured by respondents' indicating whether they rely on their friends for consumption-related advice before buying a new brand of each of the twelve products (e.g., Smith, Moschis and Moore 1981). The Cronbach a was .91. Reliance upon salespeople was similarly measured with an a coefficient of .90. Socioeconomic status was measured using Duncan's (1976) SES index, and sew was a dichotomous variable (1=male, 2=female).


Table 2 shows the correlation matrix of variables. Hypothesized relationships are shown in brackets. As the matrix shows, age is associated with lower levels of reliance upon all consumer information sources, while social class is related to higher overall levels of reliance. Females appear to rely more on personal sources than males. Both brand loyalty and consumer sex role perceptions are shown to be positively associated with reliance on all sources and with social class. Age is negatively associated with brand loyalty and traditional consumer sex role perceptions.



Relative Influence of Independent Variables

In order to assess the relative influence of the explanatory variables on each dependent variable, multiple regression was performed. This allowed separation of influences of antecedent and intervening variables on the outcomes. Such investigation also seems useful in providing answers to empirical questions regarding the processes by which the elderly receive and evaluate commercial information and in accumulating research findings that could be useful in advancing theory in the area. Two dominant features of social phenomena are 1) the lack of agreement as to what variables are important, and 2) the large number of subtle and interrelated causal relationships that influence most events (Duncan 1975). An approach which combines the theoretical derivation of hypotheses and the search for modifications necessary for theory building is called "a more efficient overall procedure [which] simultaneously provide [s] a more accurate representation of the process that actually occurs in building scientific knowledge" (Duncan 1975, p. 154). Thus it was expected that an assessment of the relative effects of the explanatory variables on the outcome variables would be fruitful.

The major limitation in using multiple regression to assess the relative effects of the explanatory variables is the possibility of intercorrelations among them which would result in arbitrary allocation of variance among variables in the equation. As Table 2 shows, the relationships among information sources are fairly high, thus caution is advised in interpreting the results, although the purpose is to show the effects of each agent. Table 3 shows relationships between explanatory variables and each dependent variable.

Brand Loyalty

The strongest predicator of brand loyalty was family communication about consumption (b=.33,p< .000). Thus, greater brand loyalty is found to be one result of family communication about consumption. This may be partly explained by the nature of family decision making where the individual who determines brand choice also establishes the most important evaluative criteria and influences other family members' evaluations by choosing brands most closely adhering to the family's needs. It may also be partly due to the cohesiveness of small groups which Stafford (1966) found exerts influence toward conformity on member brand preferences. Another strong predictor of brand loyalty is social class (b=.18, p<.01). This relationship suggests that the elderly consumer is more apt to remain brand loyal to the extent allowed by disposal income, not because of age itself. Reliance on salespeople was positively related, but reliance on mass media advertising was not associated with greater levels of brand loyalty. There was no sex difference in degree of brand loyalty, as expected.

Consumer Sex Role Perceptions. Social class and reliance on family for consumer information were the strongest predictors of traditional sex role perceptions. The social classes represented were lower and middle, thus the relationship between social class and traditional sex role perceptions is in line with previous research findings (e.g., Davis and Rigaux 1974) for this sample of elderly consumers. Reliance on salespeople was also significantly related to traditional consumer sex role perceptions (b=.09, p<.05).

The correlation matrix shows that reliance on mass media advertising is associated with both brand loyalty and consumer sex role perceptions, however in the analysis of relative effects these relationships lost significance. The relationships between reliance on both family members and salespeople with the two outcome variables remain significantly positive. Given the fairly high zero-order correlation coefficients between reliance on mass media and the various personal sources of consumer information, a possible explanation is that interaction with personal sources intervenes between interaction with mass media advertising and the outcome. This is consistent with the agenda-setting hypothesis (Katz and Lazarsfield 1955), and has been reported in previous consumer socialization studies (e.g., Churchill and Moschis 1978). Thus, although mass media advertising may appear to have a socializing effect on certain types of elderly consumer behavior. these effects may be mitigated by interaction with personal sources of consumer information. The implication is that personal sources are stronger socialization agents for the elderly than mass media. Therefore mass media advertising directed toward the elderly should stimulate positive word of mouth among the target audience and their family members, and friends as these are found to be important sources of consumer information and perhaps influence other elderly consumer behavior, as well as brand loyalty. The moderating effect of both intervening variables on the outcomes studied supports the conceptual framework of consumer socialization used here. It also suggests that researchers consider how many times age may have simply served as a proxy variable for any number of other explanatory variables upon the dependent variables under study, be they sociological, psychological, biological, even spiritual.

It may also be that social class is a more powerful predicator of elderly consumer behavior than age. Middle class elderly consumers may rely more on all sources of information than those in the lower class. They may also be more brand loyal and hold more traditional consumer sex role perceptions, thus different marketing efforts may be required for the lower and middle class elderly consumer. Females may rely more upon personal sources than males; (a well-known sociological concept) however, there seem to be no other differences due to gender.

These findings show that age itself is not related to greater levels of brand loyalty as previous studies have indicated (e.g., Guest 1955). Increasing age does appear to be associated with more egalitarian consumer sex role perceptions, thus the older a marketer's target market, the less appropriate traditional sex role prescriptions may be. Future research should seek to further separate the different socialization influences on elderly consumers, with causal modeling approaches and with longitudinal analyses.


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