Parents' Perception Regarding Children's Use of Clothing Evaluative Criteria: an Exploratory Study From the Consumer Socialization Process Perspective

Soyeon Shim, University of Arizona
Lisa Snyder, University of Arizona
Kenneth C. Gehrt, University of Arizona
ABSTRACT - This exploratory study found that parental socialization variables were significantly related to children's social-structural and developmental variables (e.g., child's age, birth order, and parent's marital status). However, a limited number of social-structural and developmental variables (age and social class only) were found to be directly linked with parents' perception of children's use of clothing evaluative criteria.
[ to cite ]:
Soyeon Shim, Lisa Snyder, and Kenneth C. Gehrt (1995) ,"Parents' Perception Regarding Children's Use of Clothing Evaluative Criteria: an Exploratory Study From the Consumer Socialization Process Perspective", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, eds. Frank R. Kardes and Mita Sujan, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 628-632.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, 1995      Pages 628-632


Soyeon Shim, University of Arizona

Lisa Snyder, University of Arizona

Kenneth C. Gehrt, University of Arizona


This exploratory study found that parental socialization variables were significantly related to children's social-structural and developmental variables (e.g., child's age, birth order, and parent's marital status). However, a limited number of social-structural and developmental variables (age and social class only) were found to be directly linked with parents' perception of children's use of clothing evaluative criteria.

This exploratory research was interested in learning about parents' perception of the process by which children become conscious of clothing evaluation. Clothing products were of interest because of the increasing value of the children's clothing market as well as clothing's important role in children's socialization process as evident in many previous studies (e.g., Kaiser 1990). According to Moschis (1987), antecedent variables such as social-structural and developmental variables affect socialization processes via socialization agents. Along with antecedent variables, socialization processes, in turn, influence consumer learning properties, which are termed socialization outcomes. Based on these three elements of the consumer socialization model, the objective of this study was to examine relationships among parents' perception regarding children's use of clothing evaluative criteria, antecedent variables, and parental socialization variables.

Children observe parents judging products using evaluative criteria and may store and use those evaluative criteria later for product choices of their own, such as toys, snacks and clothing (Davis 1976). Because children develop simple consumer orientation first before developing complex orientation (Moschis, 1987), it was assumed in this study that basic criteria such as price, brand name, peer influence, style, and color were used by children in judging clothing.

While price is a theoretically important matter to children, research showed, however, that they may not be very knowledgeable about price of products (Stephens and Moore 1975). Brand name has a high significance to children in that they hold a large number of brands in their mind, termed the brand repertoire (McNeal, McDaniel and Smart 1983). Another important factor is peer influence in clothing selection among children and adolescents because of conformity and acceptance to groups (e.g., Davis 1984; Kaiser 1990). Both style and color are also important aspects to children in clothing selection, respectively, because children not only are concerned with the physical attributes of the products, but also are highly visual-oriented in choosing products (e.g., McNeal 1987). Using parents' perception regarding children's use of those five evaluative criteria as an outcome of the consumer socialization, three hypotheses were developed in the following manner.

Development of Hypothesis 1

Considerable evidence exists that parents are the most significant agent in young children's consumer socialization processes and are instrumental in influencing young children about consumer decisions such as evaluative criteria (e.g., Haynes, Burts, Dukes and Cloud 1993). Previous research indicated that parental influence on children's understanding of money (e.g., money education, allowance) was one of the most important aspects of the children's learning process in becoming consumers (Furth 1980; Moschis 1987). Parental restriction and children's television product requests have also been important in children's socialization processes because television viewing was associated with the acquisition of a wide variety of both desirable and undesirable consumer orientations (Moshis 1987). Ward and Wackman (1972) found that the more restrictions parents place on a child's television viewing, the less parents yield to the child's purchase requests.

Moschis, Moore and Stephens (1977) indicated that parent-child interactions within the retail setting help children and adolescents learn shopping attitudes and behavior, especially for consumer goods such as clothing. Francis and Burns (1992) also found that mothers were effective long-term consumer socialization agents for adolescent girls' clothing shopping behavior and attitudes, imparting especially the means of clothing acquisition and overall clothing satisfaction. In terms of children's actual shopping participation, it is the parents who first introduce their children to the retail store and buying procedure. Therefore, parental socialization variables were hypothesized to be important in children's use of clothing criteria.

[H1] Parents' perception regarding children's use of clothing evaluative criteria is associated with the following parental socialization variables: (a) money education; (b) shopping participation; (c) television restriction; (d) television products requested by children; (e) total amount of allowance; (f) parents' emphasis on brand name; (g) parents' emphasis on price; (h) parents' emphasis on color; (i) parents' emphasis on peer influence; and (j) parents' emphasis on style.

Development of Hypotheses 2 and 3

In the consumption of clothing, girls, as compared to boys, become more aware of and interested in clothing (e.g., Haynes et al. 1993); are more brand conscious but less price conscious (e.g., Moschis and Moore 1979); and rely more on parents for product information (Moschis 1987). Social class also significantly influences children's socialization (e.g., Moschis and Moore 1978). Focusing on preschoolers, Haynes et al. (1993) found that mothers with a lower income, as compared to those with a higher income, were more likely to report that their children were brand conscious.

Ethnic differences in consumer awareness seem evident early in life. For instance, white children had a higher interaction with parents about consumption and greater knowledge of economic concepts and the consumer role than did black children (Moschis and Moore 1985). Family characteristics such as parent's marital status and the number of siblings were also deemed influential in children's socialization process. For instance, single-parent households tend to be headed by single mothers who may have lower family incomes than do both-parent households (Lino 1991). Consequently, single parents might have limited money and time resources available for their children, a situation which may reduce their level of interaction with children. Finally, while a greater number of siblings may provide more interaction among siblings, it may limit the degree of a parent's interaction with each child.

As compared to younger children, older children tended to express greater interest in clothing purchases; to become more independent of parents in consumer decision-making; to use more mass media; and to request products seen on television less frequently but to receive mothers' yielding on their purchase request (e.g. Haynes et al. 1993). This tendency may reflect a perceived increase in the competence of older children in their decision-making process.

The birth order of a child plays a significant role in how a child acquires consumer skills. As compared to later-borns, first-borns were more likely to acquire consumer skills earlier, have positive orientations toward commercial stimuli, and interact with their parents in consumption decisions (Moschis 1987). Therefore, the following hypotheses were developed.

[H2] Parents' perception regarding children's use of clothing evaluative criteria and [H3] parental socialization variables are associated with the following antecedents: (a) gender; (b) social class; (c) ethnicity; (d) parent's marital status; (e) the number of other siblings; (f) age and (g) birth order.


Instrument Development

Prior to the development of the instrument, eight children were interviewed for better understanding of their clothing consumption behavior. Brand, price, peer influence, style, and color were most frequently mentioned as criteria to look for or talk about with their parents when buying clothes.

A total of 21 Likert-type statements (1=strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree) were developed by researchers measuring parents' perception regarding children's use of price, color, brand name, peer influence, and style when buying clothes. A principal factor analysis with varimax rotation, using the minimum eigenvalue of one as the criterion, revealed five factors. Only items loading more than .50 on a single factor were included, retaining 20 statements. Factors were labeled (a) Brand Conscious (e.g., My child often asks me for certain brand names); (b) Price Conscious (e.g., My child considers price an important factor when purchasing clothing); (c) Color Conscious (e.g., Color is the most important factor to my child when purchasing clothing); (d) Peer Conscious (e.g., My child makes his/her own clothing purchase decisions, independent of his/her friends); and (e) Style Conscious (e.g., My child buys strictly for the style of the outfit). The total variance explained was 64.8%, and factor loadings ranged from .54 to .89, with standardized alpha coefficients ranging from .67 to .88.

A total of 18 statements were developed by researchers to measure part of the parental socialization variables (e.g., parents' belief about their money education). Factor analysis revealed four factors, retaining 11 statements: (a) Money Education (e.g., I make a concerted effort to teach my child how to budget money); (b) Shopping Participation (e.g., Whenever possible, I try to take my child shopping); (c) Television Restriction (e.g., I often place restrictions on my child's television viewing); and (d) Television Products Requested (e.g., My child often asks me for products that he/she sees on TV). The total percent of variance explained was 60.4%, with factor loading ranging from .50 to .87. Standardized alpha coefficients ranged from .64 to .75.

The total amount of allowance given to the child was determined by asking how much was provided for each month. The parent's own emphasis on clothing evaluative criteria (e.g., price, color) was measured by asking respondents to indicate how important each criterion was to them in shopping for their own clothes (1=very unimportant to 5=very important). To minimize a priming effect (Fiske and Taylor 1984, p. 231), the questions and scales measuring the parent's own emphasis were differently formatted than those measuring the parent's perception regarding children's usage of evaluative criteria. Social-structural (e.g., social class) and developmental (e.g., age) variables were requested by using a categorical format.

Sampling and Data Collection

A pretested questionnaire was sent to a total of 500 parents of children in the first through sixth grade who were selected from the Directory of a school district located in a southwestern city. Parents were instructed to identify one child in the family who is in the first through sixth grade and keep that child in mind while responding to the questionnaire. Of those delivered (n=468), a total of 196 questionnaires were returned, resulting in a 39% response rate. One hundred eighty-nine usable questionnaires were included in the analysis.


Respondents' Characteristics

Parents of almost an equal number of boys and girls were represented, with an approximately normal distribution of age between 6 and 12. About 61.3% were first-borns, while 11% were the only child. The majority of the parents who responded to the survey were mothers (83.5%), married (88.4%), white (92.1%), and in an income category of $50,000 and above (81.1%). More than 46% of the respondents and 70% of their spouses were in the upper level of professional occupation categories. A high percentage of respondents (71%) and their spouses (81%) reported having earned a Bachelor's degree and above. While representing similar socioeconomic characteristics to the profile of the school district in this study, respondents represented a more affluent and highly educated group of people than the U.S. demographic profile (U.S. Bureau of Census, 1989), Therefore, these characteristics should be kept in mind in interpreting the results of the study.

Testing Hypothesis 1

To overcome the limitation regarding high correlations among the independent variables, a possible multicollinearity problem was first detected by examining the correlation matrix among the predictor variables. None of the correlation coefficients was very large.

As a result of a series of stepwise multiple regression analyses,Brand Conscious was predicted by five predictors (R2=.22, F=6.81, p <.001). Included were Shopping Participation (b=.27, p <.001), Television Restriction (b=-.23, p<.001), parent's own emphasis on brand (b=.22, p<.01), total allowance (b=.19, p<.05), and Television Products Requested (b=.17, p <.01). Four predictors were entered in explaining Price Conscious (R2=.23, F=9.16, p <.001): Shopping Participation (b=.26, p <.01), Television Products Requested (b=-.19, p<.05), total allowance (b=.19, p<.01), and parent's own emphasis on price (b=.18, p<.01). Predictors of Color Conscious had an R2 value of .15 (F=7.17, p <.001) and included three predictors: Shopping Participation (b=.27, p<.5), parent's own emphasis on color (b=.21, p<.0), and Television Products Requested (b=.18, p <.05). Peer Conscious had an R2 value of .17 (F=8.81, p <.001) and was influenced by Television Products Requested (b=.35, p <.001), the parent's own emphasis on brand (b=.17, p<.05), and Shopping Participation (b=.23, p <.01). Finally, Style Conscious had an R2 value of .17 (F=6.48, p <.001) and included parent's own emphasis on style of clothing (b=.29, p<.001), Television Restrictions (b=-.22, p<.01), Television Products Requested (b=.21, p<.01), and Shopping Participation (b=.18, p<.05). Overall, most predictors were significant in explaining parents' perception of children's consciousness of evaluative criteria, except for Money Education. Therefore, Hypothesis 1 was accepted, with the exception H1-a (Money Education).

Testing Hypotheses 2 and 3

As a result of stepwise regression analyses, Brand Conscious was predicted by two variables and had an R2 value of .18 (F=10.01, p<.001). Included were the child's age (b =.38, p<.001) and social class (b=-.14, p <.01). Price Conscious (R2=.16, F=9.76, p<.001) was predicted by one variable, the child's age (b=.40, p <.001). Therefore, only Hypotheses 2-b (age) and 2-f (social class) were accepted. Money Education was predicted by two variables and had an R2 value of .05 (F=4.88, p<.001). Included were the number of other children in the family (b=-.21, p<.05) and the birth order of the child (b=-.27, p<.05). Shopping Participation had an R2value of .07 (F=6.91, p <.001) and was influenced by age of the child (b=.19, p<.001) and the number of other children who were in the family (b=-.18, p<.01). Television Restrictions had an R2value of .11 (F=11.18, p <.001) and was influenced by the parent's marital status (b=-.24, p<.001) and child's age (b=-.22, p<.001). Age (b=-.31, p <.001) was also entered in explaining Television Products Requested (R2=.10, F=19.59, p <.001). Total allowance had an R2 value of .08 and was influenced by the child's age (b=.25, p<.01) and by ethnicity (b=-.20, p<.01). The child's gender and social class did not explain any of the parental socialization variables. Therefore, only Hypotheses 3-c through 3-g (ethnicity, marital status, number of other siblings, age, and birth order) were accepted.


Several antecedent variables appeared to have direct relationships with parental socialization variables. Many of the parental socialization variables, in turn, demonstrated a significant relationship with parents' perception regarding children's use of clothing evaluative criteria. Theoretically, these results are consistent with Moschis' consumer socialization model (1987). However, antecedent variables had little connection with parents' perception regarding children's use of evaluative criteria. This finding is somewhat consistent with the results of Haynes et al. (1993) in that family demographics were not highly significant in explaining children's clothing consumption behavior. One reason for the lack of association of antecedent variables with consumer outcome in this study may lie in the children's age group investigated. It may be that, for the age group of 6 to 12 years, parental socialization variables play more significant roles in parents' perception of children's consumer socialization than do children's social-structural or developmental variables, except for age itself.

It should be noted, however, that children's social-structural and developmental variables appeared to have significant relationships with parental socialization variables, implying the importance of children's antecedent variables as an indirect factor for the socialization outcome. As children get older, entering an early adolescent period, their other background then may have a more direct link with their socialization outcome. Further research is warranted including a wide range of age groups to determine the direct effects of other antecedent variables on the socialization process.

Relationships of Parental Socialization Variables with Parents' Perception regarding Children's Use of Clothing Evaluative Criteria

Parents' involving the children in shopping and parents' own emphasis of evaluative criteria were of significant value in predicting parents' perception of their children becoming highly conscious of several clothing evaluative criteria. For instance, the more frequently the parents took the children shopping, the more conscious the children were reported being of brand, price, color, peers, and style in buying clothes.

Parents' own emphasis on a particular evaluative criterion had a positive relationship with parents' perception of children's consciousness of that criterion. It may be that children often observe the way in which parents discuss making a consumption decision and learn to do the same thing. If this interpretation is indeed true, this finding supports many previous studies regarding the impact of parents' direct interaction with children in a retail setting (e.g., Francis and Burns 1992). Relationships between parents' evaluative criteria and parents' perception regarding children's criteria, however, should be interpreted with caution because of a possible priming effect.

Children's television product requests and parents' restriction on television viewing were significantly related to parents' perception regarding children's use of evaluative criteria. For instance, the more frequently children asked for products that they saw on television, the more conscious children were reported being of brand, color, peers, and style. However, those who frequently requested television products were reported as being less conscious of price; this finding may be because prices are hardly mentioned in advertising to children (McNeal 1987), or they may not realize price of the product as a limiting factor for much consumption. Children who received more parental restriction regarding television viewing tended to be less conscious of brand name and style of clothing than did their counterparts with little restriction. This finding supports previous researchers (e.g., Moschis 1987) in that television viewing is associated with both desirable (e.g., knowledge of brand or style) and undesirable (e.g., lack of awareness of price) consumer orientation in this study.

The total amount of allowance given to children was a significant factor for parents' perception regarding children's being brand and price conscious, while parents' money education at home was not significant for any of the evaluative criteria. One reason for the lack of the money education relationship may be explained by a problem derived from "social desirability," i.e., the tendency of people to select the "nicer" or more flattering answers (Crowne and Marlow 1960). The examination of descriptive analysis of this scale indeed revealed that the majority of the parents responded favorably to the questions measuring their concerted efforts of educating their children about money. On the other hand, the outcome about the actual allowance practice reinforces importance of allowance as part of consumer education, and is consistent with previous findings that the more opportunities children have to manage money, the more skills they acquire in consumer behavior (McNeal 1987). An implication here is that parents need actually to give some money to children for them to manage, if they wish to educate their children about how to become conscious consumers.

Parents can teach their children to become conscious consumers by allowing them to manage their own money and take part in shopping activities, and by paying attention to what their children watch on television and how to react to their purchase requests. Also, parents need to be made aware of their own consumption behavior because children learn from observing their parents. Knowing that children's consumer behavior is a learned behavior from parents, retailers may benefit by targeting parents first so that parent consumers first develop loyalty to the brand name or store, an allegiance which, in turn, may be transmitted to children consumers later in their lives.

Relationships of Antecedent Variables with Parental Socialization Variables and with Parents' Perception Regarding Children's Use of Evaluative Criteria

Children's age was a significant variable in explaining many of the parental socialization variables. The older the children were, the greater shopping participation with parents took place, supporting a previous research finding that as children's ages increased, so did the purchasing decisions the children became involved in (McNeal 1987). Older children were reported as receiving less television restriction from their parents and as less frequently requesting products that they saw on television than were younger children. One reason for this finding may be that older children are more self-disciplined about watching television than are younger children, and have outgrown the "I want" stage of their lives. Also, older children may be able to distinguish between actually needing the product and wanting the product.

Children's age had a positive relationship with parents' perception regarding children's brand and price consciousness, meaning that older children were more brand and price conscious than were younger children. However, social class had a negative relationship with parents' perception regarding children's brand consciousness, meaning that the higher the social class, the less conscious of brand name children were reported as being. This finding supports those of the Haynes et al. (1993) study in that children from lower-income families showed more preference for brand-name clothing than did children from higher income families. Parents from a high social class may not necessarily emphasize brand name as much as do parents from lower classes, supporting literature that portrays upper-class consumers as placing less importance on brand name or prestige than do lower classes (Engel, Blackwell and Miniard 1993).

Ethnicity, parent's marital status, number of other siblings, and the child's birth order had relationships with various parental socialization variables. For instance, whites tended to give more allowance to children than did other ethnic groups; this finding might explain why white children were more knowledgeable about economics and their role as a consumer, as was found in a previous study (Moschis and Moore 1979). Single parents tended to place less restriction on children's television viewing than did married parents. Single parents might have limited time resources or attention available for their children, as compared to married parents. Not surprisingly, the greater number of children in the family, the less shopping participation occurred. Of course, it is much easier for parents to shop accompanied by no children or a smaller number of children than a larger number of children.

Parents' belief about money education at home appeared to depend on two variablesCthe number of children in the family and the birth order of the child. The more children the parents had, the less money education occurred. The greater number of siblings in a family may mean that less time is available for the parents to spend interacting with children about money. First-borns tended to receive more money education than did later-borns, an outcome supporting Moschis' (1987) statement that first-born children acquire better consumer skills than later-born children.

It seems surprising that children's gender was a significant predictor of neither any parental socialization variables nor parents' perception regarding children's use of evaluative criteria. This finding does not support many previous studies, indicating that boys and girls develop a different orientation toward clothing and consumption in general (e.g., Haynes et al. 1993; Moschis and Moore 1978, 1979) and that they are treated differently by parents (McNeal 1969; Moschis 1987). Perhaps parents believe that boys today, at least among the age group of 6 to 12, may be as conscious of clothing as girls are. Further research is warranted, however, regarding gender effects on younger children's clothing consumption in general.


In this study parents were assumed to be knowledgeable about their children's consumer behavior and were asked to respond to the questionnaire. While self-reporting, a technique depending on the subject's memory, is a problem with all survey research (Kraut and Lewis 1982), our rationale was that parents' responses about their children may be more accurate than children's own reports, especially among young children. For future study, a dyadic approach is recommended by developing a simple questionnaire or an interview schedule for children and having their parents respond to questions pertaining to parental interaction and social-structural variables.

Another limitation was the fact that five criterion variables (e.g., Brand Conscious)Cidentified by principal component factor analysisCwere assumed to be independent of one another. For future studies, the use of the LISREL program, which takes relationships among the dependent variables into consideration in estimating parameters, would be desirable.

The respondents in the study were selected from only one school district, an area which represented fairly affluent families. The sample size was also relatively small for running the stepwise regression analysis in estimating several parameters. Therefore, a larger size of sample, including a wide range of socio-economic groups, should be investigated to learn more about effects of social-structural variables on children's consumer socialization processes.

Finally, the current study focused on parents as socialization agents for children, and the majority of respondents were mothers. Therefore, other socialization agents need to be examined, including fathers, teachers and school, businesses, friends, and other, especially younger, siblings in the family.


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