Special Session Summary the Changing American Family: Causes, Consequences, and Considerations For Consumer Research

Aric Rindfleisch, University of Wisconsin-Madison
James E. Burroughs, University of Wisconsin-Madison
[ to cite ]:
Aric Rindfleisch and James E. Burroughs (1996) ,"Special Session Summary the Changing American Family: Causes, Consequences, and Considerations For Consumer Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, eds. Kim P. Corfman and John G. Lynch Jr., Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 81-82.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, 1996      Pages 81-82

SPECIAL SESSION SUMMARY

THE CHANGING AMERICAN FAMILY: CAUSES, CONSEQUENCES, AND CONSIDERATIONS FOR CONSUMER RESEARCH

Aric Rindfleisch, University of Wisconsin-Madison

James E. Burroughs, University of Wisconsin-Madison

SESSION OVERVIEW

This session explored the causes, consequences, and consumer implications of the changing structure of the American family. The main objective of this session was to highlight and draw research attention to the consumer behavior implications of the changing family. The session contained three presentations and a question and answer session moderated by the discussion leader. The papers presented in the session represented a breadth of theoretical and methodological domains. Despite this considerable amount of theoretical and methodological diversity, the three papers are tied together by their examination of one or more of three central themes: (1) an outline of these changes and their causal influences; (2) methods for measuring and modeling these changes, and (3) the implications of these changes for consumer research. A brief summary of each of the three presentations as well as key comments from the discussion period is contained in the following section.

 

SUMMARY OF INDIVIDUAL PAPERS

 

"THE CHANGING AMERICAN FAMILY: CHARACTERISTICS AND RESEARCH CHALLENGES"

Robert E. Wilkes, Texas Tech University

Wilkes led off this session by documenting many of the recent changes in American family life, including the growth of single-parent households, delayed marriage and parenthood, and the rise in cohabitating partners. He noted that this movement away from the traditional nuclear family has rendered much of the extant research on the American family either outdated or of restricted generalizability. Wilkes also suggested that because of these changes, consumer researchers should consider using the term "close relationships" in place of the term "family" when describing and explaining household living arrangements. Wilkes observed that the changing American family poses particular challenges to consumer researchers interested in such topics as family decision making. The complexity of contemporary family life has made family decision making much more problematic to explain. In order to get a better grasp of the impact of family diversity on decision making, Wilkes suggested that consumer researchers adopt grounded theoretical and qualitative methodological approaches.

 

"THE LIFE CYCLE REVISITED: AN EMPIRICAL TEST OF A NEW MODERNIZED HOUSEHOLD LIFE CYCLE MODEL"

Charles M. Schaninger, SUNY-Albany

Dong H. Lee, SUNY-Albany

This paper conceptually and empirically developed three versions of a modernized household life cycle model following the recommendations of Schaninger and Danko (1993). Schaninger and Lee provide a comparative test of full nest and childless couple submodels, as well as overall tests of each model's ability to capture attitudinal and consumption differences. The reduced form of their new model outperformed the Gilly-Enis model in capturing attitudinal and consumption patterns of non-traditional full nest categories. The full form of their model results in an improved explanation of the attitudinal and consumption differences among newlyweds, delayed marriage/childless couples, empty nest, and older couples. In terms of consumption differences, Schaninger and Lee found that couples who forego or delay progression through traditional life cycle stages tended to display more modern sex roles and less traditional values, consume healthier and more gourmet-oriented foods and beverages, and (except for delayed empty nest couples) acquire a greater number of durable assets more suited to their nontraditional lifestyles.

 

"FAMILY DISRUPTION AND CONSUMER ATTITUDES AND BEHAVIOR"

Aric Rindfleisch, University of Wisconsin-Madison

James E. Burroughs, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Frank Denton, University of Wisconsin-Madison

In this final paper, Rindfleisch, Burroughs, and Denton presented the results of a survey which examines the relationship between family disruption and the presence of materialistic attitudes and compulsive consumption among two hundred young adults raised in intact versus disrupted family structures. In addition to examining the direct effects of family disruption, they also explored the degree to which the relationships between family disruption and materialism and compulsive consumption is mediated by both the amount of resources available in the family and the degree of family stress. Considering the documented reduction in financial well being experienced by disrupted families, they also examined the degree to which the impact of family disruption on family resources and stressors is moderated by socioeconomic status. Their findings indicated that: (1) compared to persons raised in intact families, young adults from disrupted families exhibit higher levels of materialism and compulsive consumption; (2) the impact of family disruption on compulsive consumption is mediated by family resources and stressors, and (3) the impact of family disruption on family resources is moderated by socioeconomic status.

 

"DISCUSSION LEADER COMMENTS"

Donald H. Granbois, Indiana University

Granbois commented on the importance of this area of research and noted that all three papers offer valuable and interesting perspectives on the changing American family, and represent the growth of research interest in this topic. He also commented that this research area is implicitly based on the normative assumption that the changing American family produces undesirable effects. Granbois suggested that this normative assumption should be brought more explicitly to the surface and needs to be carefully considered. For example, he noted that parental divorce often leads to stronger ties among siblings. Granbois also recommended that researchers in this area should consider the question of "what difference do these changes make?" and focus their research efforts on the impact that the changing American family has on individual consumers themselves.

The session was chaired by Aric Rindfleisch and Jim Burroughs.

REFERENCES

Schaninger, Charles M. and William D. Danko (1993), "A Conceptual and Empirical Comparison of Alternative Household Life Cycle Models," Journal of Consumer Research, 19 (March), 580-594.

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