Family Disruption and Consumer Attitudes and Behavior: an Exploratory Investigation

Aric Rindfleisch, Univesity of Wisconsin-Madison
James E. Burroughs, Univesity of Wisconsin-Madison
Frank Denton, Univesity of Wisconsin-Madison
ABSTRACT - Despite the rapid and dramatic changes in the structure of the American family over the past 25 years, consumer researchers have largely neglected how these alternative family forms influence consumer behavior. As a preliminary inquiry into this area, we present an exploratory study which examines the relationship between family disruption and the presence of materialistic attitudes and compulsive consumption behavior among young adults reared in intact versus disrupted family forms. The specific family measures used to investigate these relationships include: (1) whether a family disruption had occurred, (2) respondent's age at initial disruption, and (3) the number of total disruptions. Considering the well documented reduction in financial resources experienced by disrupted families, we also controlled for differences in household income. Although we found no evidence of a relationship between family structure and materialism or compulsive consumption, we did discover significant relationships between these dependent measures and both age at initial disruption and the number of total disruptions. No statistical support was found for the attenuating effects of household income.
[ to cite ]:
Aric Rindfleisch, James E. Burroughs, and Frank Denton (1996) ,"Family Disruption and Consumer Attitudes and Behavior: an Exploratory Investigation", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, eds. Kim P. Corfman and John G. Lynch Jr., Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 83-90.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, 1996      Pages 83-90

FAMILY DISRUPTION AND CONSUMER ATTITUDES AND BEHAVIOR: AN EXPLORATORY INVESTIGATION

Aric Rindfleisch, Univesity of Wisconsin-Madison

James E. Burroughs, Univesity of Wisconsin-Madison

Frank Denton, Univesity of Wisconsin-Madison

ABSTRACT -

Despite the rapid and dramatic changes in the structure of the American family over the past 25 years, consumer researchers have largely neglected how these alternative family forms influence consumer behavior. As a preliminary inquiry into this area, we present an exploratory study which examines the relationship between family disruption and the presence of materialistic attitudes and compulsive consumption behavior among young adults reared in intact versus disrupted family forms. The specific family measures used to investigate these relationships include: (1) whether a family disruption had occurred, (2) respondent's age at initial disruption, and (3) the number of total disruptions. Considering the well documented reduction in financial resources experienced by disrupted families, we also controlled for differences in household income. Although we found no evidence of a relationship between family structure and materialism or compulsive consumption, we did discover significant relationships between these dependent measures and both age at initial disruption and the number of total disruptions. No statistical support was found for the attenuating effects of household income.

INTRODUCTION

The consumption activities of the American family has long been of interest to consumer researchers. Family-related issues have been a major topic of investigation in such diverse areas of research as consumer socialization (e.g., Carlson and Grossbart 1988; Churchill and Moschis 1979), the family life cycle (e.g., Murphy and Staples 1979; Schaninger and Danko 1993) and family decision making (e.g., Corfman and Lehmann 1987; Rubin, Riney, and Molina 1990). The findings from these research streams, while enhancing our knowledge of family influences on consumer decision making, are limited by their use of the intact two-parent family household as the unit of analysis. Over the past 25 years, this traditional family structure has become increasingly less representative of the types of families and households in which most Americans live. Currently, married couples with children represent only 37% of all families and 26% of all households in the United States (Ahlburg and De Vita 1992). Moreover, demographic estimates indicate that fewer than half of all children will spend their entire childhood in a two-parent family (Bumpass 1984; Cherlin 1992).

Since most of the extant family-related research focuses almost exclusively on the traditional two-parent family (Ahuja and Stinson 1993), we know very little about consumption among members of non-traditional family structures. This study represents an initial effort to explore this gap in our knowledge about the consumption patterns of alternative family structures by investigating the relationship between family disruption and the presence of materialistic attitudes and compulsive consumption behavior among a young adults. Considering recent criticism of the rather static and superficial family structure measures typically used by family researchers (Martinson and Wu 1992; Wu and Martinson 1993), we examine the consumption-related effects of multiple facets of family disruption, including family structure (intact vs. disrupted), age at initial family disruption, and number of total disruptions. In addition, since family disruption is often associated with decreases in financial resources (McLanahan 1985; McLanahan and Booth 1989), we examine the influence of household income on the relationship between family disruption and materialism and compulsive consumption.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Research in Consumer Behavior

Although both Nicosia and Mayer (1976) and Kerkhoff (1976) called for consumer researchers to study the consumption-related implications of the changing American family 20 years ago, very little research has been done on this topic over the past two decades. As noted in a recent literature review by Ahuja and Stinson (1993), only a handful of studies have examined the marketing or consumer research implications of alternative family structures. Two studies which merit special attention are Kourilsky and Murray's (1981) examination of the use of economic reasoning models in family budget decisions and Wilkes' (1995) recent study of expenditures among single-parent families. Kourilsky and Murray (1981) find that, compared to children living in intact two-parent families, children who live in single-parent families are more likely to assume adult-like purchasing responsibilities. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Expenditure Survey, Wilkes (1995) observes that "two-parent families outspent one-parent families in absolute dollars in virtually every reported product category" (p. 272). After adjusting for income differences, Wilkes notes that the proportion of one-parent families' income spent on health care, reading, and education is substantially less than the spending on these categories in two-parent families.

Research in Family Sociology

In contrast to the scant attention paid to the changing American family by consumer researchers, a wealth of insightful research on this topic can be found in the family sociology literature. Family sociology researchers have conducted a number of empirical studies demonstrating that the well-being and attainment of children who have experienced one or more family disruptions (e.g., divorce, separation, remarriage) is, on average, lower than that of children raised exclusively in two-parent households. Over the past decade, family sociologists have compiled an impressive array of research suggesting that family disruption is associated with a wide variety of undesirable behaviors and outcomes for children in disrupted families. Compared to children living in intact two-parent families, children from single-parent families are more likely to drop out of school, to have lower incomes, to engage in delinquent behavior, to be involved in a teenage pregnancy, and to suffer from drug and alcohol abuse (Amato 1993; Cherlin 1992; Flewelling and Bauman 1990; McLanahan and Booth 1989; Wu and Martinson 1993).

Unfortunately, much of the family sociology literature suffers from a lack of adequate theory development and is controversial in regards to its concepts and methods (Amato 1993; Demo 1993; Flewelling and Bauman 1990; McLanahan and Booth 1989; Wu and Martinson 1993). One source of incisive criticism is the way in which most of these researchers attempt to measure family structure (Wu and Martinson 1993). In specific, family sociologists typically assess family structure by asking subjects to identify the type of family (i.e., intact two parent, single mother, etc.) they lived in at age 14. Under this approach, any deviation from a intact, two-biological-parent unit is generally classified as a disrupted family (Flewelling and Bauman 1990). Although this measurement technique has some advantages (e.g., easy recall for the subject and a quick assessment for the researcher), it suffers from a number of limitations (Martinson and Wu 1992; Wu and Martinson 1993). Perhaps its most significant shortcoming is the fact that, by focusing on family structure at a given point in time, it confounds both the age at which a disruption occurs as well as the number of total disruptions experienced by a subject. As noted in the following sections, there is reason to believe that both age at initial disruption and number of total disruptions may be more refined indicators of the dynamics being played out within a disrupted family setting.

Age at Initial Disruption: In addition to the significant loss of economic resources which is normally associated with single-parent families (Cherlin 1992), children in disrupted families often experience the loss of other forms of parental support, including adult supervision, practical help, emotional support, and guidance (Amato 1993; Cherlin 1992; Thompson, Hanson, and McLanahan 1992). Family sociologists suggests that a family breakup is particularly harmful to individuals who experience disruption as young children since, on average, they will spend a longer period of time under conditions of diminished resources.

Although the association between age at time of disruption and child well-being has received mixed support from family researchers (Amato 1993), there is a substantial amount of developmental research which suggests that it is particularly difficult for young children to adjust to the reduction in family resources associated with traumatic life changes (Craig 1993). For example, in their study of the impact of the Great Depression on the lives of children, Elder (1974) found that boys who were younger during this era were more adversely impacted by the social changes it created in their family patterns. According to Erickson's (1982) theory of psychosocial development, the family unit represents the most significant set of relations for young children between the ages of one and six (i.e., Erickson's early childhood and play age stages). Finally, as Moschis (1987) notes, the frequency of children's consumption-oriented interactions with and economic dependence on their parents declines with age.

Number of Family Disruptions: Family researchers have widely observed that children who are subject to one or more family disruptions experience a number of particularly stressful events, including parental conflict, movement to a new home, loss of friends and relatives, and changes of adult caregivers (Amato 1993; McLanahan and Booth 1989; Martinson and Wu 1992; Wu and Martinson 1993). According to Amato (1993), the instability and change associated with family disruption often results in emotional and behavioral problems that are sometimes severe and long-lasting. Furthermore, family researchers have found that each successive parental transition places a child at an increased risk to encounter such stressors (Kurdek and Fine 1993). In support of this contention, Rutter (1983) discovered that children who experience chronic stress react more adversely to a stressful event than children who experience only a single stressful event. More recently, Wu and Martinson (1993) found that the number of family disruptions was positively related to the risk of teenage pregnancy.

HYPOTHESIZED RELATIONSHIPS

This study empirically examines the relationship between family disruption and young adults' consumption attitudes and behaviors. In specific, we selected materialistic attitudes and compulsive consumption behavior as appropriate constructs for investigation since both are generally regarded as undesirable by-products of our consumer culture (Belk 1985; Faber and O'Guinn 1992; Hirschman 1992; O'Guinn and Faber 1989; Richins and Dawson 1992). We examine both of these constructs across three conceptually distinct measures of family disruption: (1) family structure (intact vs. disrupted), (2) age since initial disruption, and (3) number of family disruptions.

Materialism

Materialism is defined as a "set of centrally held beliefs about the importance of possessions in one's life" (Richins and Dawson 1992, p. 308). These beliefs are manifested by the extent to which material possessions represent a primary source of an individual's satisfaction or dissatisfaction with his or her life. Though not inherently negative, a strongly held materialistic attitude is generally regarded to be harmful to an individual's well-being.

Belk (1985) identifies three ways in which excessive levels of materialism can result in harm to the individual: possessiveness, nongenerosity, and envy. Possessiveness refers to a condition in which an individual becomes obsessed with the ownership or control of material objects. Nongenerosity, defined as an unwillingness to give or share possessions with others, may result in difficulties in interpersonal exchanges and relationships. Envy refers to a general displeasure or ill will towards the good fortune of another. Envy has been shown to lead to highly aggressive and socially dysfunctional behavior toward others. Relatedly, Richins and Dawson (1992) find that material values are associated with low self-esteem, dissatisfaction with one's life, and a desire for higher income.

The antecedents of materialism may be traced, at least in part, to an individual's childhood. Material objects constitute an integral part of our culture's reward system and underlie some of our earliest experiences with interpersonal relationships, e.g., buying a child a new toy as a reward for getting good grades (Belk 1985). As noted by Isaacs (1935), the use of material rewards as behavioral modifiers may inadvertently lead children to associate them with parental love or as surrogates for more developed social exchanges. Furthermore, it seems reasonable to conclude that materialistic tendencies may be most acute in those situations where other, more positive reinforcers such as parental guidance and adequate material support are lacking.

The characterization of persons with strong materialistic orientations (e.g., low self esteem, unsatisfying personal relationships, and dissatisfaction with financial resources) bears a strong resemblance to the characteristics that family researchers have discovered among children growing up in disrupted families. For example, as An, Haveman and Wolfe (1993) observe, young adults who face stressful life changes during childhood or early youth often experience feelings of insecurity which they try to assuage by claiming "possession" of persons or objects they can control. Moreover, the breakdowns in communication that accompany divorce appear to have an impact on children's consumer socialization. Children from households characterized by infrequent communication with parents are less likely to perform socially desirable consumption activities and are more materialistic than children raised in families characterized by frequent and open consumption oriented communication (Moore and Moschis 1981). Finally, as noted earlier, children of disrupted families typically have less parental contact and communication. Due in part to this decreased parental contact and supervision, young adults raised in broken families are likely to be exposed to a higher amount of unmediated materialistic advertising messages (Churchill and Moschis 1979). In sum, we offer the following hypotheses regarding materialistic attitudes among children of disrupted families:

H1a: Young adults from disrupted families will be more materialistic than young adults from intact families.

H1b: The materialistic attitudes of young adults from disrupted families will be inversely related to their age at the time of initial disruption.

H1c: The materialistic attitudes of young adults will be positively related to the number of family disruptions they have experienced.

Compulsive Consumption

Compulsive consumption is defined as "a response to an uncontrollable drive or desire to obtain, use, or experience a feeling, substance or activity that leads the individual to repetitively engage in behavior that will ultimately cause harm to the individual and/or others" (O'Guinn and Faber 1989, p. 147). As noted by Hirschman (1992), compulsive consumption appears to be intimately related to family composition, as many consumers with compulsive personalities appear to have been raised in families characterized by the emotional conflict associated with parental divorce or separation. Hirschman concludes her general theoretical treatise on compulsive consumption by pointing out that "Addicted consumers appear to have in common an emotional vacancy that they are compelled to fill with something" (p. 178). Likewise, O'Guinn and Faber (1989) observe that compulsive buyers often appear to be more interested in attaining positive interpersonal interactions and increased self-esteem from their purchases rather than economic or utilitarian value. Psychologists have found that children's capacity to delay gratification is positively correlated with the presence of a father in the home (Rook 1987).

Thus, it appears that the development of compulsive consumption may also be rooted in childhood experiences. Children who grow up in an environment characterized by uncertainty and frequent disruption may develop a behavioral predisposition to "take what they can while they can" (Walls and Smith 1970). Moreover, children of disrupted families may often lack the requisite parental guidance needed to teach them the benefits of deferred gratification (Bandura and Mischel (1965). Considering the pain and turmoil typically associated with the disruption of a family, it is difficult to ignore the possible relationship between family disruption and compulsive consumption. Family researchers have collected a sizable and impressive amount of empirical evidence that demonstrates that children from single-parent households have a higher propensity to engage in other compulsive activities, such as drug and alcohol abuse, compared to children raised in two-parent households (Cherlin 1992; Flewelling and Bauman 1990; Fuchs 1983; McLanahan and Booth 1989). Thus, we offer the following hypotheses regarding compulsive consumption behaviors among children of disrupted families:

H2a: Young adults from disrupted families will exhibit greater compulsive consumption tendencies than young adults from intact families.

H2b: The compulsive consumption behaviors of young adults from disrupted families will be inversely related to their age at the time of initial disruption.

H2c: The compulsive consumption behaviors of young adults will be positively related to the number of family disruptions they have experienced.

The Attenuating Effects of Household Income

Many of the adverse effects of disrupted family structures upon children and young adults appear to be at least partially attributable to the tremendous gap in parental resources (especially financial support) that exists between intact two-parent families and alternative family forms (Cherlin 1992; McLanahan 1985; McLanahan and Booth 1989; Thompson, Hanson, and McLanahan 1992). Family researchers have estimated that the vast difference in average household income between intact and disrupted families explains, on average, about half the relationship between family disruption and decreased child well-being (Cherlin 1992; McLanahan 1985). However, individual studies which have controlled for this difference in economic resources have produced a wide variety of empirical results, with some studies finding no effects due to income (Cherian 1989) and others concluding that many of the adverse consequences associated with disrupted family structures essentially disappear when family income and other measures of parental resources are statistically controlled (Crockett, Eggebeen, and Hawkins 1993; Thompson, Hanson, and McLanahan 1992). However, most empirical studies have found that household income has the potential to alleviate at least some of the problems associated with family disruption (e.g., helping to assure adequate physical resources, providing an opportunity to hire professional counseling, etc; see Amato 1993 for a review). This leads to our study's final hypothesis:

H3: The relationships between family disruption and materialism and compulsive consumption suggested in both H1 and H2 will be attenuated when differences in household income are statistically controlled.

METHOD

Pretesting

Based on our hypothesized relationships, measures were adopted from previous research or generated for this study. A pretest was administered to 71 undergraduate students in introductory marketing courses at a large midwestern university to purify the measures and refine the survey instrument. Since all measures demonstrated adequate reliability and validity, the final questionnaire reflected only minor format changes.

Subjects and Procedures

The subjects for this study consisted of undergraduate students enrolled in marketing courses at a large midwestern university. In order to avoid possible confounds due to differences in cultural backgrounds or generational influences, all subjects had to be both born within the U.S. and 22 years old or younger. To help ensure maximum confidentiality and encourage candid and honest responses, subjects were given approximately one week to complete the survey at home and then submit it in a centrally-located collection box. This technique was considered preferable to a classroom-administered survey considering the highly sensitive and personal nature of the family-background questions. As an incentive to participate, each student received a nominal amount of extra credit from his or her instructor. On average, the survey took about 15 minutes to complete. Of 170 distributed questionnaires, 143 usable surveys were collected (an 84% response rate). Of our 143 subjects, 84 (59%) were female and 132 (92%) were white; the mean age of our subjects was 21.

Measurement

The survey instrument contained multi-item measures of materialism, compulsive consumption, three single-item measures of family disruption and a standard set of demographic variables including gender, race and annual household income. Materialism was measured using Richins and Dawson's (1992) Material Values scale (with its three dimensions of centrality, happiness and success), while compulsive consumption was assessed via Faber and O'Guinn's (1992) Clinical Screener for Compulsive Buying. Both measures were assessed via five-point scales and demonstrated adequate levels of reliability; the Material Values scale had an overall coefficient alpha of .86 (with alphas of .77, .82 and .79 for the centrality, happiness and success dimensions, respectively), while the Clinical Screener for Compulsive Buying had an alpha of .69.

TABLE 1

T-TESTS OF MEAN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN INTACT VS. DISRUPTED FAMILIES

As noted earlier, we employed multiple measures of family disruption. Specifically, we assessed family disruption by asking respondents: (1) whether they have always lived with their biological mother and father, (2) their age when their initial family disruption occurred, and (3) the number of total family disruptions they had experienced before their 18th birthday. These measures demonstrated moderate but significant intercorrelations (see Appendix), indicating that the three measures tap conceptually distinct yet related aspects of respondents' family life experience. For coding purposes, subjects from intact families were coded as a "1" while those from disrupted families were coded as a "0." Therefore, since all 111 subjects from intact families have (by definition) never experienced a family disruption, we find a highly negative correlation (-.74) between family structure and number of disruptions. Household income was assessed by asking subjects to estimate their average annual household income over the past five years.

RESULTS

To evaluate these three sets of hypotheses, we conducted t-tests of the differences in sample means, and full and partial correlation analysis. These multiple methods helped assess the relationship between the three measures of family disruption and material values (both overall and across its three dimensions of centrality, happiness and success) and compulsive consumption. Since all of our hypotheses are directional in nature, we employ one-tailed significance test criterion and designate p<.05 as our level of statistical significance.

Both the intact and disrupted groups are large enough to permit statistical inferences. Of our total sample, 32 respondents (22%) had experienced a family disruption. In other words, 78% of our sample have spent their entire lives living with both of their biological parents. This percentage is above the national average of 61% of children living with both biological parents (Kurdek and Fine 1993), as well as the standard demographic estimate that half of all today's children will experience parental disruption (Bumpass 1984; Cherlin 1992). It appears that this is primarily a by-product of the selective nature of our sampling frame (i.e., college students at a major residential university). In general, most sample characteristics are fairly equally distributed among individuals from both family structures. The most glaring distinction between these two groups is the large difference in average household income levels between intact (mean=$56,700) and disrupted families (mean=$38, 900). This large income differential is consistent with the well-documented relationship between family structure and household income described in the marriage and family literature (Amato 1993; Cherlin 1992; McLanahan and Booth 1989). The only other notable difference between the two groups is the large percentage (75%) of subjects from disrupted families who were female. This female bias is in line with family research findings which suggest that boys who live in female-headed households generally have more academic-related difficulties than girls (McLanahan and Booth 1989). Consequently, the large number of females in our disrupted family sample may simply be an indicant of their superior academic adjustment compared to their male counterparts.

H1a and H2a were first evaluated via t-tests of the mean differences in material values and compulsive buying between young adults of intact and disrupted families. As reported in Table 1, although respondents from disrupted families demonstrate slightly higher levels of both material values and compulsive buying tendencies, the differences are not statistically significant (mean differences of .16 and .08; and p-values of .09 and .27, respectively). Therefore, both H1a and H2a are not supported. Since family structure (intact vs. disrupted) does not appear to be statistically related to our constructs of interest, the remaining analyses focus on our two remaining measures of family disruption (number of total disruptions and age at initial disruption).

TABLE 2

FULL AND PARTIAL CORRELATION ANALYSIS OF AGE AT INITIAL DISRUPTION AND NUMBER OF TOTAL DISRUPTIONS

To test the remaining hypotheses, we calculated a set of full and partial correlation coefficients between both material values and compulsive buying, and our two remaining measures of family disruption. These correlations are reported in Table 2. The full correlations examined H1b, H1c, H2b, and H2c, while the partial correlations tested the attenuating effect of household income as expressed in H3, by extracting the common effects of income from these relationships (Kachigan 1991). As hypothesized in H1b and H2b, the age at initial family disruption is significantly and negatively correlated with both material values (overall, r=-.32; centrality, r=-.43) and compulsive buying (r=-.35). Likewise, as suggested in H1c and H2c, the number of total family disruptions is also significantly correlated with both material values (overall, r=.17; centrality, r=.16; happiness, r=.20) and compulsive buying (r=.15). In sum, these findings are consistent with our hypothesized relationships, and thus H1b, H1c, H2b and H2c are supported.

As seen by the partial correlation coefficients reported in Table 2, household income did not appear to attenuate the relationship between family disruption and either materialism or compulsive consumption. Overall, compared to the full correlation coefficients, the partial correlation analysis actually revealed a slight increase in the correlation between overall material values and number of total disruptions (produced by a small decrease in the correlation for the happiness dimension, offset by a slightly larger increase in correlation for the centrality dimension). Acknowledging the relatively high levels of household income among our respondents from disrupted family backgrounds, we believed that the attenuating effects of household income deserved closer inspection. In specific, we examined the differences in average material values and compulsive buying tendencies among respondents with annual household incomes near or below the U.S. poverty level ($16,000) compared to subjects with incomes above this cut point. These tests revealed no significant differences in either compulsive buying (p=.19 with means of 4.04 and 3.91 for the higher and lower income groups, respectively) or material values (p=.49 with an identical mean score of 2.84 for both groups). These tests of mean differences further support the contention that income does not attenuate the relationship between family disruption and either materialism or compulsive consumption. Therefore, H3 is not supported.

DISCUSSION

These initial findings provide exploratory evidence that family disruption is related to the presence of undesirable consumer attitudes and behaviors among young adults. A key finding is the large amount of variation in explanatory ability among our three measures of family disruption. Our dichotomous measure of family structure (intact vs. disrupted) was unable to detect significant differences, while both of the more dynamic measures of age at initial disruption and total number of disruptions performed fairly well. This suggests that since divorce is a complex and messy event, such dichotomous measures should be used in conjunction with more specific measures of family disruption. This measurement issue is currently being debated by family researchers, who have made the call for more refined measurement techniques in this area of research (Martinson and Wu 1992; Wu and Martinson 1993).

The relationships uncovered between family disruption (age at initial disruption and number of total disruptions) and materialism and compulsive consumption appear to be consistent with the prior work of both consumer and family researchers. For example, Richins and Dawson (1992) suggest that people with high material values desire higher levels of income and financial security and place lower emphasis on personal relations. As noted earlier, our disrupted sample had substantially lower average household incomes, which may encourage them to place a higher degree of importance on financial concerns. Family researchers have noted that persons in disrupted families often have much greater difficulty forming emotional attachments (Cherlin 1992; McLanahan and Booth 1989). The high correlation between the centrality dimension of the Material Values scale and age at initial disruption is particularly noteworthy, as it indicates that these young adults may have used material objects as surrogates for absentee parents.

At first glance, the lack of support for the attenuating effects of household income appears to contradict the bulk of family research, which usually finds that socioeconomic status explains a substantial portion of the relationship between family structure and children's behavior and outcomes (Amato 1993; McLanahan 1985). However, most of these studies have investigated behavioral phenomena that are known to be highly influenced by income and social status, such as high school completion, teenage pregnancy and criminal behavior. This raises the issue of whether there is truly an inherent connection between household income and materialistic attitudes and compulsive buying. Consumer research has not established any strong linkages between financial resources and materialism or compulsive consumption. Both Belk (1985) and Wernimont and Fitzpatrick (1972) find no relationship between socioeconomic status and materialism. Likewise, research by both Hirschman (1992) and Faber and O'Guinn (1992) suggests that compulsive consumption is a phenomenon which afflicts persons of all socioeconomic strata.

APPENDIX

CORRELATION MATRIX OF KEY MEASURES

Overall, our results are generally in line with the findings of family researchers, who typically note small but significant effects of the negative impact of family disruption upon children and young adults (Amato 1993; Flewelling and Bauman 1990). This study provides preliminary evidence of the effects of family disruption upon the consumption attitudes and behaviors of young adults. Given the importance of the consumption-related aspects of family life, this exploratory investigation offers a contribution to both consumer behavior research by introducing this area, and to family research by extending this stream to include consumption phenomena.

Study Limitations and Future Research Issues

While these findings suggest the presence of such a relationship, they do not indicate the mechanism by which this relationship arises. For example, was this relationship present prior to the family disruption itself? Furthermore, if these relationships are truly the products of disruption, is family breakup the causal force, or are the effects of disruption mediated by concomitant factors? While these empirical questions can be resolved only by future research, we believe that our initial results provide a number of interesting findings about the nature of the relationship between family disruption and both materialism and compulsive consumption among the young adults in our sample.

Since this study represents an exploratory investigation into an area of research largely unexplored in our field, it naturally entails a number of limitations, many of which point to important and interesting issues for future research. First, as noted earlier, our respondents represent a very homogeneous, relatively affluent and highly educated sample. In specific, our sampling frame effectively screens out many of those who likely demonstrate the most severe effects of family disruption. Therefore, we believe that our study represents a conservative test of these hypotheses and that the differences between young adults of intact vs. disrupted families may be much greater in a more heterogeneous population. Considering these limitations, we recommend that future research attempt to replicate this study with a more heterogeneous sample.

A second sample-related issue is the relatively small number (n=32) of individuals from disrupted families. This small sample limits both the measurement of family disruption and the analysis of the sample itself. Collection of a larger sample would allow for finer distinctions between individuals from various family backgrounds. For example, family researchers have commented on the distinction between single-parent families due to divorce and single-parent families created by the death of a parent. In particular, widowed mothers typically have greater access to both financial and emotional support than their divorced counterparts (Cherlin 1992). Moreover, both family and consumer researchers have noted that socialization dynamics differ among boys and girls (Cherlin 1992; Moschis 1987). Thus, a larger sample would permit examination of differences in behaviors and attitudes among these different subgroups and would provide greater confidence in our findings.

We also acknowledge the shortcomings of our attempts to measure family disruption. In specific, our assessments of age at initial disruption and total number of family disruptions represent only indirect measures of differences in family processes that affect children's development (Kurdek and Fine 1993). As noted by Amato (1993), family disruption often leads to an increase in family stressors and a decrease in family resources. In order to properly assess the importance of these mediating processes, future research should attempt to directly measure both the key resources and stressors that characterize disrupted families (see Amato 1993 and Cherlin 1992 for more information about resources and stressors in disrupted families).

A final limitation centers on our attempt to control for differences in economic resources. While we found a significant income gap between these two groups, household income did not mediate any of the relationships between our measures of family disruption and materialism and compulsive consumption. Perhaps the effect of economic resources may be non-linear, so a difference of $10,000 may have greater impact on family making $15,000, than on a family earning $50,000. Since most of our respondents from disrupted families were financially privileged, our sample may not provide a fair assessment of the effects of household income by excluding those persons most likely to be adversely impacted by a reduction in financial resources. The household income measure also does not distinguish between the socioeconomic determinants and the consequences of the events leading to family disruption (Thompson, Hanson and McLanahan 1992). Consequently, if this clear income difference was a cause of family disruption, rather than a consequence, it may be quite important, while not readily apparent in this study. Therefore, although we found no direct relation between income and materialism and compulsive consumption, there may be important indirect effects between income and these attitudes and behaviors. Future research could help clarify the relationship between financial resources and consumption attitudes and behaviors by employing longitudinal studies which track a family's financial resources over time.

CONCLUSION

This initial research effort represents an exploratory investigation of the potential impacts of family disruption on consumption attitudes and behaviors, and has empirically uncovered a linkage between family disruption and the presence of a higher degree of socially undesirable attitudes and behavior among young adults. In addition to the relevance of these findings for the research community, this area of research presents consumer researchers with an opportunity to enhance the lives of the individuals most severely impacted by family disruption, namely the children of disruption. For example, a better understanding of the development of undesirable consumption attitudes and behaviors within various family structures would allow researchers to help businesses and government agencies develop public policy to assist children in learning more socially conscious consumption patterns. However, these findings must remain cautionary since a causal relationship is not fully apparent. Clearly, much work needs to be done in order to sort out the specific factors related to family disruption which underlie this relationship, as well as the processes by which they operate.

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