Consumer Socialization Associated With Relocation to a New Community: a Framework and Pilot Study

Cathy Goodwin, University of Manitoba
Murphy Sewall, University of Connecticut
ABSTRACT - Studies of consumer socialization have emphasized socialization of children and adolescents. However, people experience socialization throughout adulthood. This paper develops a framework for studying consumer socialization associated with geographic relocation and reports a pilot study of consumers who moved to a remote arctic location.
[ to cite ]:
Cathy Goodwin and Murphy Sewall (1992) ,"Consumer Socialization Associated With Relocation to a New Community: a Framework and Pilot Study", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, eds. John F. Sherry, Jr. and Brian Sternthal, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 532-540.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, 1992      Pages 532-540


Cathy Goodwin, University of Manitoba

Murphy Sewall, University of Connecticut


Studies of consumer socialization have emphasized socialization of children and adolescents. However, people experience socialization throughout adulthood. This paper develops a framework for studying consumer socialization associated with geographic relocation and reports a pilot study of consumers who moved to a remote arctic location.

Parallels between organizational and relocation forms of socialization are identified. The study suggests that people who are highly motivated to move will find ways to socialize themselves and cope with the new environment. Two forms of commitment are identified, suggesting alternate forms of identification with the new community. The study also suggests implications for other aspects of adult socialization.

"Since you're a cheechako, you'll need to winterize the car. Get some Sorels and bunny boots at the recycle sale and some Carmex at Foodland. You'll probably be going outside before runoff."

Understanding these sentences represents an outcome of consumer socialization to a particular region of the U.S. Consumer researchers have addressed the way consumers acquire skills and behaviors at various stages in the life cycle. Researchers have explored the way children learn to become effective consumers (e.g., Carlson and Grossbart 1988; Moschis 1985; Moschis and Moore 1979), media influences (e.g., Churchill and Moschis 1979; Ward and Wackman 1971) and the way adolescents are influenced with respect to shoplifting (Cox et al. 1990). However, throughout adulthood, people undergo life changes which alter effectiveness and desirability of previous consumption patterns. For example, people who relocate to a new geographic region also experience consumer socialization. The topic deserves study for at least two reasons. First, a large number of people undergo this experience: approximately 3 % of the US population moves to a new state each year (US Bureau of the Census 1990). Second, insights into adult consumer socialization associated with relocation may have implications for other instances of adult consumer socialization. This paper develops a framework for studying consumer socialization associated with geographic relocation and reports a pilot study of consumers who moved to a remote arctic location.

Fairbanks, Alaska, is a natural laboratory to study adult socialization associated with relocation. It is far enough from the contiguous Lower 48 to preclude quick trips to a previous residence: travel to Seattle takes at least four hours by air, while trips to other parts of the US take at least 10 hours. The culture is distinctly different from other parts of the U.S. with respect to norms, values, even vocabulary, yet the language and money remain constant. The severe climate and daylight conditions require lifestyle changes even for people from the mountain states. Riesman and Roseborough (1955) note that people often relocate easily by maintaining a "standard package" of goods which can be purchased and used anywhere. However, the physical isolation of Fairbanks means that many products and services are either not available or are very expensive; therefore, people must learn new consumption patterns even when products and brands on the shelves are familiar.


Socialization can be studied from several perspectives. Psychologists tend to focus on individual learning processes. Anthropologists focus on becoming part of a culture. Sociologists, on the other hand, often view socialization in terms of role acquisition. Thus, much sociological research has taken place within the context of organizations and professions. This form of socialization will be especially relevant to the study here.

Adult Socialization

When compared to research on childhood and adolescent socialization, adult socialization has been relatively neglected. Brim (1966, 1968) identifies a number of differences between childhood adult socialization.

First, Brim suggests that socialization consists of learning the role demands of society. For children, the reference group which prescribes role demands is composed of parents and peers; in contrast, adults refer to "earlier friends, great figures in history, spirits, men yet to be born" (p. 17), or even Mead's (1930) generalized other.

Second, adult socialization necessarily builds on the foundations of childhood socialization. Berger and Luckmann (1966) suggest that this "secondary" socialization occurs on a shallower level. People may experience an inability to take on values and behavior which contradict earlier learning (Brim 1966), also described as "resocialization" (Campbell 1975).

Finally, as people move through the life cycle, "the emphasis in socialization moves from motivation to ability and knowledge, and from a concern with values to a concern with behavior" (Brim 1966, p. 26). Childhood socialization develops primary motives, while adult socialization focuses on secondary motivations. The motivation adults bring to a new environment will influence their socialization because, unlike children, adults select their socialization experiences (Brim 1968).

A great deal of research on adult socialization has focused on career-related socialization. This focus includes socialization to professional subcultures, such as those associated with medicine, nursing or the military as well as socialization to specific organizations following job changes. Each instance involves adjustment to a community which exists as part of a larger culture. People relate to work settings on a number of levels:

"...from the time individuals first enter a workplace to the time they leave their membership behind, they experience and often commit themselves to a distinct way of life complete with its own rhythms, rewards, relationships, demands and potentials" (Van Maanen and Schein 1979, p. 210).

This type of involvement resembles involvement with a residential community. Theory, models and variables associated with the occupational socialization literature may also have applications in other areas of adult socialization, such as socialization as a service consumer (Goodwin 1988) or socialization associated with relocation discussed here.

Consumer Socialization

Ward (1974) notes that consumer socialization may focus on developing knowledge, skills and attitudes either (a) directly relevant to behaviors associated with the consumer role, such as choice and purchase; or (b) "social motivation" arising from non-consumer roles which influence consumer behaviors. The latter focuses on the content of what is purchased, such as the need to buy a suit for an interview or a warm parka for a cold climate, while the former focuses on how to purchase, such as knowing of brands and consumer rights.

Moschis (1987), summarizing a large body of consumer research, identifies five types of variables as essential to any type of consumer socialization model:

1. age or life cycle position of the influencee;

2. social structural constraints, such as race, ethnic group or class;

3. socialization agent, including (but not limited to) mass media, family, peers;

4. learning processes, which may be behavioral, interactional, or cognitive; and

5. content or criterion behavior, i.e., "cognitions and behaviors...necessary for the performance of a given social role."

Consumer socialization research has focused on norms and orientations of children and adolescents (Moschis and Moore 1984). Therefore, relevance of variables studied in the context of childhood and adolescent socialization must be reexamined in applications of adult socialization. However, the literature on consumer adaptation has not examined adult adaptations to altered consumption environments brought about by geographic location. Variables from adult and consumer socialization literatures will be considered in addressing this topic.

Criterion Variables

While empirical studies of socialization often include a discussion of outcome variables, few writers have considered the question, "What does it mean to be successfully socialized?" Moschis (1987) suggests that, "an individual can be said to be socialized when he or she has learned to think and feel according to society's expectations" (p. 23) or "wise or unwise" decisions (Moschis and Moore 1984). Norms prescribed by contemporary Western society for purchase and use of products include energy conservation, budgeting and comparison shopping.

However, people who adjust successfully to a new community may use a diversity of tactics to achieve a desired consumption level. For example, in the remote community studied here, several people said they had difficulty finding the kind of bread they wanted. Adaptive strategies included learning to bake one's own bread, finding a nearby mail-order source, and searching until a small store was found which carried an acceptable substitute. Similarly, many people resolved their dissatisfaction with local medical and dental services by systematically "going outside" to receive care. Adjustment tactics are idiosyncratic and it may not be possible to identify the best or most correct behaviors.

This ambiguity can be described in terms of the role orientations identified by Van Maanen and Schein (1979). The custodial orientation involves learning customary strategies and prevailing norms associated with job requirements. In contrast, an innovative orientation involves "an effort to locate new knowledge on which to base the organizationally defined role or improved means to perform it" (p. 229). .

Moving to a new region requires learning the "local resident" role--in this case, the role of Alaskan resident. A custodial orientation may be possible if one moved to a tightly-knit community where one's neighbors were demographically and psychographically similar. More commonly, individual households will be idiosyncratic in many consumption decisions. Van Maanen and Schein (1979) also note that an innovative role orientation is most likely to result when socialization is one-on-one rather than collective, informal rather than formal, and random rather than sequentially defined. As few if any communities offer group socialization as structured as a company training program, the type of socialization available is likely to result in an innovative role orientation.

Therefore, people can be expected to develop their own consumption heuristics and learning of specific knowledge will not be uniform. Other models of organizational socialization identify outcomes relating to job satisfaction and willingness to remain in the organization, operationalized as self-report measures (Jones 1986). Similarly, successful socialization will be measurable in terms of self-reported feelings of adjustment, satisfaction, and reluctance to move.

Anticipatory Socialization

Consumer researchers have studied the way children learn attitudes and values about adult roles and behavior, such as career and product ownership expectations, as well as how these expectations shape consumer behaviors (Moschis and Moore 1984). More generally, anticipatory socialization allows people to learn about roles they expect to enact in future (Heiss 1981; Thornton and Nardi 1975 ); for example, graduate schools often allow students to practice role behaviors relevant to their future professions.

When relocating to a new community, anticipatory socialization will often be voluntary: people will read about the new community and seek out information from people they know. A house-hunting trip or packet of information from the employer or Chamber of Commerce may supplement this activity.

Agents of Socialization

Parents, peers and school often serve as socialization agents for children and adolescents. The mass media also socialize consumers to a variety of roles. Within an organization, people have an opportunity to observe fellow workers and supervisors. When relocating to a community, agents of socialization will include neighbors, coworkers, new friends, members of groups--even strangers one encounters in the supermarket. Most communities, including the one studied here, have some equivalent of Welcome Wagon, a merchant-sponsored source of local shopping information.

To a large extent, people moving to a community will have some control over their interactions with others, and even more control over the decision to seek them out for advice and information. Participation in Welcome Wagon is voluntary, requiring newcomers to allocate time to meet with a representative.


While children learn consumer roles for the first time, adults bring a pre-existing identity to each life event. Because moving to a new community involves learning a new role, this pre-existing identity may be challenged or reinforced. Van Maanen and Schein (1979) contrast the investiture process, which reinforces the previous self, with divestiture, whereby people must give up a previous identity in order to acquire a new one. Divestiture has been discussed extensively in connection with total institutions (Goffman 1961) and training academies (Dornbush 1955). When people feel they have to give up part of their previous identities to join a new community, they can be expected to feel alienated. On the other hand, feelings of self-esteem and self-efficacy, associated with investiture, can facilitate socialization (Jones 1986).


By joining a new organization or community, people realize they will be identified with a new label. Commitment has been expressed in terms of identification (cf. Ashforth and Mael 1989) with organizational goals and values as well as pride in announcing that one belongs to the organization. A widely used commitment scale (Porter et al. 1974) incorporates both of these dimensions.

When moving, people can internalize the values of the community and also enjoy talking about their new citizenship. This identity will be especially salient when people live in places that seem unusually interesting, dangerous or mysterious, such as Hawaii, New York City, or Alaska. Cuba (1987) noted that people often didn't realize how much they identified with Alaska till they found themselves bragging to people they met outside the state.


As noted above, socialization of children may involve shaping motivation, while adults tend to learn behaviors corresponding to this existing motivation. Schein (1968) suggests that successful organizational socialization will depend upon an individual's motivation to join; he cites the strong example of the fraternity pledge who is motivated to tolerate a variety of "uncomfortable socialization experiences."

The discussion of specific topics reinforces the importance of motivation, because the person experiencing socialization as part of a relocation controls many aspects of the process. The decision to seek out information, interact with potential agents, and develop innovative approaches to problem-solving will depend on the individual's motivation to adapt to the community.

Consumer Socialization Criteria

This paper suggests that consumer socialization to a new place of residence will be considered successful if the relocated individuals

1. demonstrate knowledge of local brands and products;

2. indicate agreement with prevailing norms and heuristics associated with consumption; and

3. have developed their own mechanisms/heuristics for coping with consumption issues unique to the location.


1. Motivation, expressed as voluntariness of the move, will be positively associated with commitment to the place of residence.

2. Commitment to the place of residence will be positively associated with

a. anticipatory socialization

b. investiture, i.e., reinforcement of previous identity

c. seeking out agents of socialization in the new community

d. successful socialization, expressed as

i) objective knowledge of products and brands and

ii) self-reported feelings of satisfaction and adjustment.



Results of Pilot Test

A questionnaire was administered to a convenience sample of members of the university community and other residents of Fairbanks, Alaska (n = 94). Respondents (47% male) ranged in age from 18 to 56, with an average of 32.7 years. An occupational distribution is shown in Exhibit 1. Only people who had moved directly to Fairbanks at the age of 18 or older were eligible to complete the form. People who lived here during high school years could not be expected to experience consumer socialization directly, as they would be living with parents. People who first moved to "the bush," remote areas of Alaska, would have developed coping strategies unique to those quasi-wilderness areas.

Cuba (1987) studied adjustment to Anchorage, Alaska, in the 1980=s as an instance of adjustment to life on a frontier. She found that many people considered Anchorage to be different from the rest of Alaska, but that people all over the state tended to identify themselves with the state rather than a particular city or part of the state. Therefore this study focuses on Fairbanks but most questions have been phrased in terms of "Alaska? rather than "Fairbanks.? As Cuba (1987) observed, it is hard to forget that one is in Alaska: street and business names have Alaskan connotations and Fairbanks still retains the appearance of a frontier town.

Commitment was operationalized as an 8-item scale . Items on this scale are based on those used in the Porter et al. (1978) scale of organizational commitment. Two dimensions emerged from a factor analysis (Table 1). The first, "belonging," represents an internal sense of belonging to the area, the second an impression management aspect of "showing." The "belong" group sought out opportunities for anticipatory socialization and feel at home in the new community. The "show" group displays souvenirs and signs of membership in the community.

The four items which loaded on each commitment factor were summed. Based on median splits of scores from each scale, four categories of respondents were identified: a "booster" group, those who scored high on both scales; a "belong" group, which scored high only on the first dimension; a "show" group which scored high only on the second dimension; and a "reluctant" group which fell below the median on both dimensions. These groups did not differ significantly with respect to age or gender.

Motivation was measured by summing scale items relating to voluntariness of decision to come, Alaska first choice location, looked forward to coming, anticipated an adventure, and expected to hate it (reverse scored). These items loaded on a single factor which accounted for 62% of the variance (Table 2). Booster, belong and show groups were not differentiated, based on a Scheffe test of multiple comparisons; the reluctant and show groups were also not differentiated. Thus, Proposition 1 appears to be supported, suggesting that motivation to come will be associated with commitment.

Anticipatory socialization was measured by two items: "Before moving to Alaska, I read about Alaska" and "avoided learning about Alaska" (reverse-scored). These items were significantly correlated (Pearson r = .41, p < .0001). While the univariate anova was significant (F(3,90)=3.82, p < .01), the four groups were not significantly different based on a Scheffe test of multiple comparisons (Table 3).

Investiture and divestiture were measured by seven items. Two scales emerging from a factor analysis (Table 4) represent investiture and divestiture, respectively. Investiture represents positive change which builds on previous strengths, such as "changed in positive ways" and "developed new interests and hobbies." Divestiture, which involves giving up essential aspects of the self, refers to personality changes and "resisted adapting my lifestyle to fit in." The booster group experienced lowest divestiture, significantly different from the others. The booster and belong group were not significantly different with respect to investiture, while the show group did not differ significantly from the reluctant group. Proposition 2b was supported with respect to "belonging" aspects of commitment.

Agents of socialization were identified by asking people to agree with statements about possible sources of information. Table 5 suggests that booster, belong and show categories learned from impersonal sources, such as newspaper ads, TV and Welcome Wagon. These sources require less interaction that other sources identified in pre-tests: learning from old-timers, observing other newcomers, offering advice, and asking friends for information. Interestingly, the "booster" and "show" groups reported learning more from personal sources than the "belong" and "reluctant" groups. Proposition 2c was supported.













Successful Socialization was measured by self-evaluation of adjustment and likelihood of moving. Table 6 indicates that boosters and belongers indicate greater adjustment than do show and reluctant groups, and they also plan to stay longer. Thus, the "belong" group feels more at home in Alaska and plans to stay. While a causal relationship cannot be inferred from this data, Table 2 suggests that these groups differ in motivation to come to Alaska. Therefore, people who liked Fairbanks and wanted to stay are highly motivated to seek out ways to satisfy their consumption needs. Proposition 2d was supported.

Local brand and product knowledge were assessed by a short vocabulary quiz, with a correct answer scored as 1 and incorrect answers scored as 0. Items were chosen to test respondents' knowledge based on one author's experience in moving to Alaska. During pretests, both newcomers and people who'd lived in Alaska since chilldhood were asked to suggest additional items. Table 7 indicates that booster and reluctant groups differ significantly with respect to product knowledge, with belong and show groups intermediate in knowledge. The reluctant group also obtained less general knowledge about Alaska than the others.

Agreement with norms and heuristics was evaluated based on a list of items generated by discussion with long-term Alaskans and by soliciting input from earlier pre-tests. Two norms that emerged related to acceptance of used ("recycled") clothing and furniture as well as beliefs relating to availability of goods in Alaska. Surprisingly, there were no significant differences among the four groups. When only the most extreme groups--boosters and reluctants--were compared with respect to beliefs about availability of goods, the differences were significant (7.5 v. 6.1, p < .04, using a 3-item scale). Thus, while these norms do seem to reflect some correspondence with commitment, people seem to learn them to a similar degree. It is possible that these norms are so widely known that people learn them very quickly after moving to Alaska; a correlation between time in Alaska and the variable representing the sum of the scaled items was not significant.


In summary, the "show" group appears to be proud of their identity as Alaskans; however, they don't really enjoy living here and resist the cold weather. Their vocal praise of Alaska may reflect cognitive dissonance or a desire to wear the uniform without joining the service. They are more like long-term tourists than residents. The "belong" group have made a new home in Alaska; they were highly motivated to come and genuinely enjoy Alaska without seeking external validation from others. They are actually less familiar with some terms and brands, possibly because they are living the local culture rather than examining it. The pattern of differences among these groups is consistent throughout the socialization variables studied here.




Some limitations of this study suggest directions for further research. First, the cross-sectional nature of the study requires reliance on self-report data. A longitudinal study would allow better examination of causal relationships suggested here. Second, this pilot study used rather small numbers and simple data analysis. A larger study is planned, using members from diverse parts of the community, to gain deeper understanding into socialization behaviors.


First, the research could be extended to other parts of the U.S. Stereotypes are associated with many regions of the US--tough Alaskans, laid-back Californians, old-fashioned southerners, and conservative or dull midwesterners. Because Alaska's image is more uniformly positive than many other regions, differences between "show" and "belong" groups may be easier to spot, but these differences will probably exist elsewhere. For instance, a person may enjoy identifying with the "sophisticated New Yorker" or "laid-back California" images yet dislike significant aspects of actually living in those places.

More generally, this study reflects findings from other research on adult socialization (Brim 1966; Campbell 1975; Schein 1968), As noted above, this literature suggests that adults will control much of their own socialization and will build on earlier socialization experiences. Thus, people who wanted to move to Alaska and who proudly accepted the Alaskan identity found ways to adjust and consume effectively. They sought out socialization agents and created their own anticipatory socialization experiences. Motivation may also be important for other forms of adult socialization. For example, various authors have emphasized the importance of socialization to service encounters (Goodwin 1987; Mills and Morris 1986; Solomon et al. 1985). In a given service or retail setting, people who are motivated and who welcome the identity associated with being a customer may be more likely to teach themselves to be effective consumers. For example, in a health club setting, one segment of customers may resemble the "show" group described above: they wear fashionable fitness outfits and enjoy telling others about their exercise program. Another segment may genuinely enjoy participation in club activities and make a long-term commitment to a program.

Marketing managers can focus on enhancing the perceived value of the service and the attractiveness of identity associated with consumption. Different strategies may be required to motivate each segment.


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