Special Session Summary All in the Family: Intergenerational Influences on Consumer Behavior

Elizabeth S. Moore-Shay, University of Illinois
[ to cite ]:
Elizabeth S. Moore-Shay (1997) ,"Special Session Summary All in the Family: Intergenerational Influences on Consumer Behavior", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, eds. Merrie Brucks and Deborah J. MacInnis, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 19-21.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, 1997      Pages 19-21



Elizabeth S. Moore-Shay, University of Illinois


The generational transmission of knowledge, resources and orientations within the family is a fundamental mechanism through which a culture both maintains and reproduces itself. Through communication, both explicit and unspoken, cultural precepts and understandings are made available to, and internalized by, the individual. Questions that focus on how this process occurs and what aspects are reproduced are central to intergenerational inquiry. The objectives of this special session were to: (1) examine how intergenerational influence is manifested at various stages of the life course, (2) explore the processes of intergenerational transmission, and (3) highlight the synergies obtained through the use of multiple perspectives and methods in intergenerational study. The session addressed these issues both conceptually and on the basis of empirical evidence drawn from textual analysis, life-histories, depth interviews and survey methods.

Derived from traditional socialization theory, intergenerational research has emphasized childhood learning in recognition of the significant impact these early experiences may have in shaping patterns of thought and behavior later in life. As an emerging research area, empirical efforts have tended to focus on the documentation of the phenomenon rather than its explanation. Although there is evidence suggesting that intergenerational patterns may take a variety of forms ranging from the sharing of specific preferences to more overarching attitudes about the marketplace (e.g., Arndt 1972; Carlson et al. 1994; Childers and Rao 1992; Moore-Shay and Lutz 1988), relatively little is known about the processes by which influence occurs or the forces that generate solidarity beyond childhood.

To understand the rol of heritage in the acquisition and maintenance of consumer preferences and decision making requires a broader perspective than has typified research in this area. Intergenerational processes are at work across the life course, taking on new forms as a function of the developmental or ontogenetic status of each generation. Relationships are renegotiated as parents, children and grandparents take on new roles and relinquish others. Attention to the evolutionary dimensions of family influence, how generational processes are influenced by the historical context in which family members are embedded, as well as the fundamental processes by which intergenerational influence occurs are significant issues, and the collective focus of the three papers that were presented in this session.




Barbara Olsen, SUNY Old Westbury

Over the course of the last 60 to 100 years, certain product categories and brands have become firmly woven into our family histories and the tapestry of everyday life. In this paper, Olsen brings a broader perspective to the investigation of intergenerational transfer of favored brands through the inclusion of grandparent, as well as parent and child generations (Olsen 1993; 1995). Interviews with three generations of family members were conducted, revealing a lasting relationship with product categories and brands (76 families). Great grandparent and grandparent generations figured significantly in the initial product adoption within these families.

According to Olsen, ancestral generations established family patterns for product preference; and advertising archival data resonate with the promotional logic that helped to forge bonds between brands and consumers. However, potential customers had to be convinced initially of the need for a new product, and persuaded to buy a particular brand. When interviewed, grandparents reported seemingly adequate solutions to daily needs without resorting to store-bought commodities. New products were often perceived as superfluous.

Drawing upon advertising archival data, Olsen suggests that early advertising strategies for seminal brands reveal the nuances of persuasion that turned earlier generations into consumers. Early promotional approaches are illustrated in advertising copy appeals that sold then revolutionary product ideas such as deodorant, rubber heels, nail polish, laundry soap, baby powder, new food forms and cosmetic preparations. Her analysis suggests that the persuasive appeals for these brands were variously based on intimidation, social ostracism and fear, as well as information for keeping up with "modern" times. Olsen suggests that many of the themes established in the early twentieth century resonate today in contemporary family values and consumption aesthetics.



Elizabeth S. Moore-Shay, University of Illinois

Richard J. Lutz, University of Florida

Reflecting the inherent difficulties involved in studying socialization, little is known about the processes by which parents influence the development of their children’s brand preferences, decision strategies and marketplace beliefs. Researchers have identified three primary learning processes: (1) observation or modeling, (2) direct communication, and (3) experiential learning (Ward, Wackman and Wartella 1977). Though researchers have identified these processes in conceptual terms, appropriate methodologies have not yet been applied to examine these learning processes empirically. Drawing upon a coorientational model of interpesonal communications, Moore-Shay and Lutz examined the relative contribution of these learning processes within mother-daughter dyads.

The coorientational model is predicated on the assumption that the influence an individual has on someone else’s point of view cannot be adequately understood through simple measures of consensus (MacLeod and Chaffee 1972). While measures of agreement provide an index of intergenerational convergence, such measures indicate little about the transmission process when considered in isolation. The measurement models posits two additional structural relations. One of these, accuracy, was incorporated in the empirical research presented. Defined as the individual’s ability to state correctly the cognitions of the other person in the dyad, accuracy is viewed as an essential indicant of communication effectiveness. From the levels of agreement and accuracy observed in mother-daughter dyads, the relative contribution of each of the primary learning processes to intergenerational transfer may be inferred.

Female college students and their mothers (n=103 dyads) completed questionnaires independently, which asked them to report their own preferences and beliefs as well as predict those of their partner. Survey findings revealed significant intergenerational agreement across brand and product preferences, shopping rules and marketplace beliefs. The level of brand preference similarity increased substantially when brands were visible within the home, thus providing opportunities for observational learning. When coupled with low levels of accuracy, learning might be attributed to modeling influences. Effective intra familial communication, on the other hand, was reflected through moderate to high levels of accuracy irrespective of the level of agreement evident within the dyad. Experiential learning, operationalized as a daughter’s involvement in household shopping had little incremental impact on the transmission of beliefs and preferences when mother-daughter communication was substantial. The bidirectionality of intergenerational influences was apparent in the relative insight or accuracy mothers and daughters had into one another’s preferences. Illustrated by this study is the potential value the coorientational approach offers in extending understanding of intergenerational phenomena beyond a straightforward description of the presence or absence of carryover effects.



Cele Otnes, University of Illinois

Tina M. Lowrey, Rider University

Mary Ann McGrath, Loyola University, Chicago

While the topic of gift giving has been vigorously investigated in consumer behavior, the way in which recipient characteristics influence the selection of gifts has not been fully explored. In this paper, Otnes, Lowery and McGrath examine this issue through the analysis of longitudinal data collected during the 1990, 1992 and 1994 Christmas seasons. They studied the ways in which five key informants shopped for their children, parents and grandparents, incorporating a total of 25 recipients. Each year, two long interviews and two shopping trips were conducted with these informants, yielding over 500 pages of text. Through use of the analytical method of pattern recognition (Lincoln and Guba 1985), themes that emerged when shopping for children, parents and grandparents were explored.

By interacting with the informants over a span of five years, the authors were able to trace the ways that gift exchange changed for the different generations of recipients, to compare the constraints that existed in giving to each generation, and subsequently to articulate the strategies used for these recipients. For example, it became apparent that givers expressed similar roles to recipients during Christmas gift giving (Otnes, Lowrey and Kim 1993). However, this study revealed that motivations for expressing these roles might differ greatly, depending upon the generation of the recipient. For example, he authors observed that when givers expressed the role of Compensator to their children, they were typically "making up" for the loss of a material good, and often merely replaced that object through their gift selection. However, when expressing the role of Compensator to a parent or grandparent, the informants apparently were attempting to make up for a more permanent loss (such as the loss of a loved one or the loss of one’s health). As such, the gifts they gave could not be direct replacements, and the giver felt compelled to explain how the products or services they selected could serve as compensatory items at all.

Moreover, the informants described different constraints when shopping for recipients at different stages of the life cycle. For example, children were often categorized as being too young to "need anything," parents were often so financially well off that they "had everything," and grandparents were often in ill health or had other physical restraints that made gift selection challenging. The paper lends insight into how roles expressed through gift exchange are influenced by such developments as entry into school, puberty and, on the other end of the spectrum, illness, widowhood and retirement.



Les Carlson, Clemson University

In his synthesis of the three papers, Les Carlson raised a number of important theoretical and methodological issues. Recognizing the challenges inherent in intergenerational research, he argued that interpretive approaches used in conjunction with more traditional methods, offer great opportunity to further understanding in this area. Disentangling the influence of one family member on another, from other outside influences, is a formidable task both conceptually and empirically. Use of interpretive approaches may be particularly useful in clarifying complexities introduced by other socialization agents, as well as in deepening understanding of the nature and structure of family communications. He also suggested that perspectives on intergenerational influence might be enriched through a merging of existing theoretical paradigms with the interpretations and coorientational findings represented in the three papers. In particular, he noted that consideration of the theoretical frameworks that have proved useful in the classification of parent-child interaction patterns as well as parents’ consumer socialization tendencies might serve to strengthen and extend conceptualization in this area. Through an illustration drawn from each of the three papers, he showed how consideration of parental communication styles might lend additional insight into the empirical findings presented, as well as frame research questions for the future.


Arndt, Johan (1972), Intrafamilial Homogeneity for Perceived Risk and Opinion Leadership, Journal of Advertising, 1 (1), 40-47.

Carlson, Les, Ann Walsh, Russell N. Laczniak and Sanford Grossbart (1994), Family Communication Patterns and Marketplace Motivations, Attitudes, and Behaviors of Children and Mothers, Journal of Consumer Affairs, 28 (1), 25-53.

Childers, Terry L. and Akshay R. Rao (1992), The Influence of Familial and Peer-based Reference Groups on Consumer Decisions, Journal of Consumer Research, 19 (2), 198-211.

Lincoln, Yvonna and Egon G. Guba (1985), Naturalistic Inquiry, Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

McLeod, Jack M. and Steven H. Chaffee (1972), "The Construction of Social Reality," in The Social Influence Process, ed. J. T. Tedeschi, Chicago: Aldine-Altherton, 50-99.

Moore-Shay, Elizabeth S. and Richard J. Lutz (1988), Intergenerational Influences in the Formation of Consumer Attitudes and Beliefs About the Marketplace: Mothers and Daughters, in Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 15, M.J. Houston (ed.), Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 461-467.

Olsen, Barbara (1993), "Brand Loyalty and Lineage: Exploring New Dimensions for Research, in Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 20, L. McAllister and M. L. Rothschild (eds.), Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 575-579.

Olsen, Barbara (1995), "Brand Loyalty and Consumption Patterns: The Lineage Factor," in Contemporary Marketing and Consumer Behavior: An Autobiographical Sourcebook, J.F. Sherry, Jr. (ed.), Sage, Newbury Park, CA: 245-281.

Otnes, Cele, Tina M. Lowrey and Young Chan Kim (1993), "Gift Selection for Easy and Difficult Recipients: A Social Roles Interpretation," Journal of Consumer Research, 20 (September), 229-244.

Ward, Scott, Daniel B. Wackman, and Ellen Wartella (1977), How Children Learn to Buy: The Development of Consumer Information Processing Skills, Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.