Consumer Ethnocentrism in Two Emerging Markets: Determinants and Predictive Validity

Terrence H. Witkowski, California State University, Long Beach
ABSTRACT - This paper investigates consumer ethnocentrism in two emerging markets: Hungary and Mexico. The Mexican respondents scored much higher on Shimp and Sharma’s (1987) Consumer Ethnocentrism Tendencies Scale (Cetscale) than did the Hungarians. The Cetscale for the Hungarians was significantly correlated only with age; while age, education, and the number of foreign languages spoken were so correlated for the Mexicans. The Hungarian Cetscale predicted foreign product purchasing in four out of nine categories, while the Mexican Cetscale did not predict any foreign product purchasing. The concluding section examines these findings and discusses some limitations of the research.
[ to cite ]:
Terrence H. Witkowski (1998) ,"Consumer Ethnocentrism in Two Emerging Markets: Determinants and Predictive Validity", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, eds. Joseph W. Alba & J. Wesley Hutchinson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 258-263.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, 1998      Pages 258-263


Terrence H. Witkowski, California State University, Long Beach

[The author thanks Laszlo Bersenyi and Jose Cervantes for their assistance in translation and data collection.]


This paper investigates consumer ethnocentrism in two emerging markets: Hungary and Mexico. The Mexican respondents scored much higher on Shimp and Sharma’s (1987) Consumer Ethnocentrism Tendencies Scale (Cetscale) than did the Hungarians. The Cetscale for the Hungarians was significantly correlated only with age; while age, education, and the number of foreign languages spoken were so correlated for the Mexicans. The Hungarian Cetscale predicted foreign product purchasing in four out of nine categories, while the Mexican Cetscale did not predict any foreign product purchasing. The concluding section examines these findings and discusses some limitations of the research.

In a world increasingly straddled by multinational corporations, advanced communication networks, and ever more efficient transportation and logistical systems, there are great pressures for consumer homogeneity (Levitt 1983). Consumers in many countries are offered the same global brands through similar retail venues, while being exposed to comparable television advertising campaigns. Many businesses try to standardize their global marketing mixes as much as possible for this leads to cost savings in product manufacturing, advertising, anddistribution (Cateora 1996). The privatization and proliferation of broadcast media willing to buy inexpensive foreign programming (Farrell 1994) and the promulgation of common regulatory standards by both regional and world trade agreements reinforce these trends toward market uniformity (Vincze and McNeil 1994).

At the same time, however, greater contact with foreign products, stores, and media images has created a backlash in many different countries. In a U.S. poll conducted by Yankelovich Clancy Shulman in 1990 and 1991, 59% of the general public said they "would support legislation which severely limits the importation of Japanese products" (White 1991, D7). More recently, Indian socialists have denounced the "cola-onialism" of Coca-Cola and Pepsi (Dahlburg 1995) and, in South Korea, an anti-consumption campaign has criticized excessive spending on imported goods (The Economist 1996b; Watanabe 1997). French and Canadian leaders have complained about the importation of American movies and television shows and have termed these incursions "cultural imperialism" (Turner 1997). Similar sentiments can be found in the Middle East, particularly in Iran where clerics have enjoined the installation of satellite dishes that infect Islam with "cheap alien culture" (Waldmar 1994), but even in Israel where ultra-Orthodox rabbis and conservative commentators have criticized U.S.-style shopping malls, American franchises, and other facets of imported consumerism (Miller 1995).

Opposition to global marketing has occured within a larger context of resurgent ethnic identity and ethnocentrism (Costa and Bamossy 1995). Migration has brought diverse groups into close contact which tends to increase ethnic articulation among both newcomers and natives (Roosens 1995). Growing anti-immigrant sentiments have been cultivated by right-wing politicians in the United States, France, and other countries. In central and eastern Europe, where the downfall of communism has lifted government controls over ethnic expression, ethnocentrism has become especially virulent. In general, nascent ethnocentrism may be encouraged by internal factors such as economic recession, high unemployment, and rapid technological and organizational change. In some developing nations, all of these factors seem to be especially powerful.

Drawing from the sociological concept of ethnocentrism introduced by Sumner (1906), Shimp and Sharma (1987) have proposed the term "consumer ethnocentrism" to represent the beliefs held by consumers about the appropriateness of purchasing foreign-made products. Ethnocentric consumers believe that purchasing imported products is wrong because it hurts the domestic economy, causes loss of jobs, and is generally unpatriotic. This group of consumers holds foreign products in contempt. On the other hand, non-ethnocentric consumers see products from other countries as objects to be evaluated on their own merits without consideration of where they are made. In functional terms, consumer ethnocentrism gives the individual a sense of identity, feelings of belongingness, and, what seems to be most important, an understanding of why some purchase behavior is acceptable or unacceptable to the group.

This paper assesses the level of consumer ethnocentrism, some of its correlates, and its predictive validity in two emerging markets, Hungary and Mexico, that have experienced great difficulties over the past several years. The study has both comparative and explanatory objectives. Comparative data allow the researcher to explore the validity of concepts and measures across cultures, while the unanticipated similarities and differences that inevitably occur encourage fresh thinking and hypothesis generation. Descriptions of how consumers experience marketization at one point in time provide an opportunity for future studies to create longitudinal data bases. The second objective seeks to investigate relationships among consumer ethnocentrism, demographic, geographic, and behavioral variables including product purchasing. These findings will help to refine theory and provide guidance for companies operating in the Hungarian and Mexican mrkets.


Along with Poland and the Czech Republic, Hungary has been in the forefront of the difficult transformation from communism to capitalism in central and eastern Europe. The Hungarian economy began privatizing before 1989 ("goulash communism") and since then has received a relatively large share of foreign direct investment in the region. Since the government’s tough austerity package in 1995, which included an 8% surcharge on imports (Crossborder Monitor 1996), economic growth has been slow (about 1% in 1996) and the inflation rate has been close to 20% (The Economist 1997). Hungary also has the highest debt per person ($3100) of any country in the old communist bloc (The Economist 1996a). However, some industry experts believe that actual consumer spending power is 30% higher than official statistics suggest (Roe 1996).

Hungarians have a reputation for being among the most pessimistic of all Europeans. In the 1991 "Pulse of Europe" survey, Hungarians scored lower on their approval of political and economic transformations than most other central Europeans (Kellermann, Kohut and Bowman 1991). Hungarian women were even less supportive of these changes than Hungarian men, a gender gap found in other marketizing economies in the region (Kellermann et al. 1991). Another indicator of national gloominess is that Hungary continues to have Europe’s highest suicide rate (The Economist 1996a).

These negative social and economic opinions do not necessarily imply that Hungarian consumers will be ethnocentric in their purchasing behavior. In eastern Europe, especially in 1970s and 1980s, young people tended to identify with western lifestyles and had diminished patriotism and feelings of national belongingness. As a consequence, Hungarian youth rejected domestic products and became enamored with the commercial artifacts of the West (Bar-Haim 1987). This fascination with Western products continued into the period immediately after the fall of communism in 1989 when numerous street vendors flooded the country with imported goods. Like other central European countries, trade partners and patterns have shifted dramaticallyCaway from the eastern bloc and toward the European Union.

Mexico, like several other Latin American countries, is undergoing a transformation from a rigid political and economic system to more democratic (and less corrupt) politics and freer markets, a process abetted by the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA has opened Mexico to more foreign competition, but also to an influx of investment from Asian manufacturers seeking a low-wage platform for entering the lucrative markets to the north. In late 1994, a current account imbalance precipitated a currency crisis (over two years the peso lost half its value) and the sharpest recession in 60 years. Consumer purchasing power fell by 20 to 30% in 1995 alone (Stevenson 1996). Fast GDP growth resumed in 1996 (7.4% in Q3 and 7.6% in Q4), but has been diluted on a per capita basis because of rapid population growth. In January 1997, Mexico’s inflation rate was 26.4% (The Economist 1997).

Recent Los Angeles Times/Reforma polling data show that most Mexicans are highly dissatisfied with their political and economic situation (Fineman 1996). Fully 82% said they sometimes or hardly ever trust their government to do the right thing and 64% believed their personal economic situation is worse than it was three years ago. Mexicans agreed that unemployment and inflation are the top two problems facing their nation today. They have reached no consensus about NAFTA: "28% said NAFTA has been mainly good for Mexico, 28% said it has been mainly bad, and 33% said it has been neither good nor bad" (Fineman 1996, p. A6). However, fewer Mexicans had a favorable opinion of Americans (42%) than in a similar poll in 1991. In particular, they disliked racial discrimination in th U.S. and American cultural influence over Mexico.


Shimp and Sharma (1987) conducted the first empirical research on consumer ethnocentrism by creating and testing the Cetscale (Consumer Ethnocentrism Tendencies Scale). This scale measures a "tendency" rather than an "attitude" since it refers to the consumer’s feeling toward foreign products in general rather than toward a specific object such as a particular brand of detergent. The 17 item, Likert-type questionnaire was tested on representative samples of consumers from Detroit, Denver, Los Angeles, and the Carolinas. A confirmatory factor analysis indicated that the scale had high reliability and a unidimensional structure. Greater consumer ethnocentrism was negatively correlated with favorable opinions about foreign-made products and positively associated with ownership or intention to purchase a domestic-made automobile. Particularly interesting were the results showing strong ethnocentric tendencies in places threatened by the prospect of job loss due to both foreign competition and economic recession.

Netemeyer, Durvasula, and Lichtenstein (1991) focused on the psychometric properties of the Cetscale in a cross-national analysis of samples from the U.S., France, Japan, and West Germany. The Cetscale showed its invariant unidimensional structure across the four countries. Moreover, it correlated positively with the importance of buying domestic products, correlated negatively with measures of general attitude toward buying foreign products, and correlated negatively with measures of general beliefs about the quality of foreign products. The pattern of empirical results was similar across countries. The authors point out the importance of adapting the Cetscale for other countries, especially those that have recently eased trade restrictions such as the former Eastern Bloc countries. Identifying those demographic characteristic related to ethnocentrism will allow marketers to explain ethnocentrism levels across countries, as well as across segments within countries, and thus to devise better product positioning strategies for both foreign and domestic markets.

Herche (1992) addressed the relationship between consumer ethnocentrism and actual possession of domestic and foreign products. He found that the Cetscale scores correlated negatively with the ownership of automobiles and personal computers perceived to be foreign. Regression analysis showed that the prediction of import purchase behavior based on Cetscale scores is much better than that based on other segmentation variables such as region, age, gender, income, education, or union membership.

Based on Korean survey data, Sharma, Shimp and Shin (1995) found a negative correlation between cultural openness and consumer ethnocentrism and positive relationships between the Cetscale and patriotism, conservatism, and collectivism. The Cetscale was negatively related to education and income, but, surprisingly, had no significant correlation with age. The impact of consumer ethnocentrism on attitudes toward imports was moderated by the perceived necessity of such products and whether they threatened the economy or the respondents personally.

The above research analyzed consumer ethnocentrism mainly in terms of the demographic characteristics of the sample populations. However, Shimp and Sharma (1987) hypothesize that ethnocentric consumers are more inclined to emphasize the advantages of domestic products and to neglect the positive attributes of foreign products. Similarly, Netemeyer, Durvasula, and Lichtenstein (1991) contend that highly ethnocentric consumers believe in the low quality of foreign products. It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that consumer ethnocentrism controls the selectivity of attention in perceptual processes which, in turn, leads to the formation of both a particular cognitive structure regarding the roduct as well as affect toward the product. The cognitive representation of an overall market determines consumer product preferences and choices, thus linking ethnocentrism with the behavioral aspect of consumer decisions.

Falkowski, Roznowski, and Witkowski (1996) investigated the cognitive effects of consumer ethnocentrism on brand perceptions in the Polish market. Subjects with high Cetscale scores exhibited much different preference maps for domestic and foreign detergent brands than did subjects with low scores. In contrast to consumers in the West, the more ethnocentric respondents did not discriminate sharply between Polish and foreign brands and did not form coherent categories of domestic and foreign products. The authors also found that age and income were statistically significant correlates of ethnocentrism, while education and city size tended toward significance.

Related Research

Dunn (1976) detected a resurgence of national identity in Western Europe that had caused many multinationals to replace overstandardized promotional strategies with new campaigns emphasizing symbols reflecting that identity. Han (1988) found in his sample of American consumers that "patriotism" had a significant effect on purchase intentions for domestic televisions and, especially, automobiles. The most patriotic respondents tended to be older, white females from blue-collar occupations.

A large body of research has investigated country-of-origin effects on product purchasing. Although consumers frequently will select domestic products, this preference is not universal. Consumers who have only moderate levels of nationalistic feelings, who live in a developing economy open to imports, and who feel economically vulnerable are likely to buy foreign goods (Heslop and Papadopoulos 1993). Most studies have found youth and a majority have found higher education to be associated with greater foreign product acceptance. The findings for gender and income, on the other hand, have been quite inconsistent from one study to the next (Baughn and Yaprak 1993).


Hungarians and Mexicans have much in common. Over the past several years they have experienced political change and turmoil, painful recessions, and the often dire consequences of massive economic restructuring. The literature does not supply ample rationale for predicting differences in consumer ethnocentrism levels between the two countries. However, the reliability of the Cetscale should be replicated across the two countries.

H1: The internal consistency reliability for the Cetscale is high and equal across the two countries.

Consumer ethnocentrism has been positively associated with age (Herche 1992; Shimp and Sharma 1987) and negatively associated with education and income (Herche 1992; Sharma et al. 1995; Shimp and Sharma 1987). Around the world, many younger people are very attracted to foreign products and marketing formats, while more educated and higher income people tend to show less hostility toward imports. No evidence suggests that these relationships are attenuated in Hungary or Mexico.

H2: Consumer ethnocentric tendencies are higher among older respondents and lower among better educated and higher income respondents.

Foreign language ability and foreign travel are generally broadening experiences that, by bringing consumers int contact with different people and different brands, should create "cultural openness" (Sharma et al. 1995) and, hence, should diminish consumer ethnocentrism.

H3: Consumer ethnocentrism tendencies are lower among respondents with greater foreign language ability and foreign travel experience.

Living in an area exposed to foreign competition and perceiving a threat to one’s job (Shimp and Sharma 1987) should be associated with higher ethnocentrism levels.

H4: Consumer ethnocentrism tendencies should be higher among respondents living in border towns and who perceive a threat to their jobs.

Finally, higher levels of consumer ethnocentrism should be negatively related to purchasing foreign products (Herche 1992).

H5: Higher consumer ethnocentrism levels are negatively associated with the purchase of foreign products.

This hypothesis provides a test of the predictive validity of the Cetscale and extends prior research (Herche 1992) to emerging markets. It should be noted, however, that Shimp and Sharma (1987) believe purchasing domestic products is ethnocentric only if done to protect jobs and/or national security.


The Instrument

A four-page, self-administered questionnaire was developed in English and then translated into Hungarian and Spanish. The instrument consisted of statements about political and economic developments and personal economic circumstances since 1989, questions about product purchasing over the past three years, the Cetscale items, and standard demographic questions. The response format for the political and economic statements and for the Cetscale items was a 7-point Likert-type scale where strongly agree=7 and strongly disagree=1. Also included were questions about the number of foreign languages spoken, the number of countries visited over past three years, and the perceived threat of job loss from foreign competition.

The translation from English to Hungarian was done by a bi-lingual MBA student and a native-born Hungarian living in the United States and was then checked for appropriate usage by a third Hungarian who was visiting the United States. The translation from Spanish into English was done by a bi-lingual business student and then checked by a Mexican national visiting in the United States. In effect, "committees" did the translation. Aside from different country references on various items, the only real contrast between the two versions was in the response categories for education and income levels.

Data Collection

The Hungarian data were collected during June 1996, while the Mexican data were gathered during October and November 1996. In order to investigate the effects of place of residence (see hypothesis 4), the interviewers distributed self-administered questionnaires in big cities (Budapest, Mexico City), border towns (Komarom, Tijuana), and among ethnic Hungarians living in the Czech Republic and Mexicans living in Southern California. The interviewers knew some of the respondents personally and used their help to find additional subjects. Other potential respondents were approached at various outdoor locations. No payment was offered for filling in the questionnaire.


Sample Characteristics

Of the 200 Hungarian respondents, 80 were male and 120 female, while of the 200 Mexican respondents, 98 were male and 102 were female. Both samples were relatively young: the average Hungarian respondent was 39.6 and the average Mexican 32.5. Only 35.0% of the Hungarians were aged 45 or older and only 13.2% of the Mexicans were so aged. Both interviewers reported that they had difficulty getting older people to respond to the questionnaire. Because of differences in education and income (currency) categories, comparisons are problematic. For both variables, the Hungarian responses tended to cluster in the middle two of six categories, whereas the Mexican sample had more better and less educated and more higher and lower income respondents.

The majority of respondents in both samples were monolingual: 55.0% of the Hungarians and 52.5% of the Mexicans spoke only their native tongue. However, 17.5% of the Hungarians spoke two or more foreign languages, whereas only 1% of the Mexicans had this ability. The Hungarians also had more foreign travel experience. Of the Hungarian respondents, 53.5% had visited another country in the past three years and 36.0% had gone to two or more. In contrast, only 34.5% of the Mexicans had been abroad and just 2.5% had visited two or more countries. Of course, Hungary is a much smaller country than Mexico and many other countries are nearby. Also, the opening of the western border has enabled Hungarians to vent whatever pent-up travel urges they may have acquired under communist rule. Finally, 12.0% of the Hungarian respondents and 15.8% of the Mexicans perceived an immediate or potential threat to their jobs from foreign competition.



Consumer Ethnocentrism and Its Correlates

The internal consistency reliability of the Cetscale was very high. Coefficient alpha was .92 for the Hungarian sample and .90 for the Mexican sample and, therefore, support the first hypothesis. This compares to coefficient alphas ranging from .94 to .96 in Shimp and Sharma (1987) and ranging from .91 to .95 in Netemeyer et al. (1991).

Cetscale scores could range from 17 to 119 with the higher number representing the greatest level of consumer ethnocentrism. The Hungarian respondents had significantly lower (p<.01) Cetscale scores than did the Mexicans. Mean scores and standard deviations for the two groups were as follows: Hungarians (M=50.7, SD=20.6) and Mexicans (M=76.5, SD=20.3). This gap held for men and women and for different age, education, and income groups. The mean Cetscale item score was 2.98 for the Hungarians and 4.50 for the Mexicans. The only item on which the Hungarians scored higher was "Curbs should be put on all imports." The Hungarians mean score was 4.72 compared to 3.87 for the Mexicans.

Table 1 shows the correlations between selected demographic and behavioral variables and the Cetscale scores for the two countries. Age is the only variable significantly related to the Cetscale in both samples. Older subjects are much more ethnocentric than younger ones. Education was negatively correlated for both groups, but only for the Mexicans was it statistically significant. There was some evidence of a curvelinear relationship for the Hungarians in that both the least and the most educated groups scored highest on the Cetscale. Neither income nor visits to foreign countries were significantly correlated to the Cetscale. Foreign language ability was negatively correlated for both groups, but this relationship was only significant for the Mexicans. Together, these findings provide some support for the second and third hypotheses.

The effects of nation on respondent location and perceived job threat were examined through analysis of variance. Location was not significant for the Hungarian sample althugh Cetscale scores were highest in Dorog, the border town. Location was significant for the Mexican sample (F=4.890, p<.01) and, again, the highest Cetscale scores came from respondents in Tijuana. Perceived job threat was not significant for the Hungarians, but was (F=8.410, p<.01) for the Mexicans. Thus, the Mexican sample provided support for the fourth hypothesis.

Consumer Ethnocentrism and Product Purchasing

The respondents were questioned about their purchases over the past three years of nine types of consumer durables. For every product class, the Mexican subjects were more likely to have bought something than the Hungarians. The spread was especially great for television sets (35% of the Hungarians versus 79% of the Mexicans made acquisitions) and video cassette recorders (30% of the Hungarians versus 67% of the Mexicans). Automobiles were the most frequently purchased product category for the Hungarian respondents (41% purchased a car during the past three years), while television sets were the most frequently purchased for the Mexicans (79% purchased a TV).

The final analysis concerns the relationship between consumer ethnocentrism level and the purchase of foreign products. Hypothesis five predicts that higher consumer ethnocentrism should be negatively associated with the purchase of foreign products. To test this hypothesis, the durable good purchasing categories were recoded so that a domestic purchase, a "don’t know," and a "didn’t purchase" were given the value of zero and a foreign product purchase was assigned a value of 1. The results are presented in Table 2. For the Hungarians, statistically significant negative correlations were found between Cetscale scores and purchasing of foreign automobiles (p<.01), television sets (p<.02), video cassette recorders (p<.01), and washing machines (p<.01). The other relationships were not significant, perhaps because of low purchasing percentages, but all the correlations were negative as predicted. For the Mexicans, the findings are much different. Not only are none of the relationships significant, most show very little association whatsoever. Thus, there is some support for hypothesis five among the Hungarian sample, but none at all for the Mexicans. In comparison, Herche (1992) found much higher correlations, r=-.51 for automobiles and r=-.26 for computers, in his American sample. Apparently, the predictive validity of the Cetscale is not only product specific, but country specific as well.


Perhaps the most striking contrast between the two samples was the significantly different levels of consumer ethnocentrism as measured by Cetscale scores. Variances in the sample characteristics do not account for this discrepancy. That is, across all categoriesCmale and female, younger and older, richer and poorer, and less or better educatedCthe Mexican respondents showed more ethnocentrism than the Hungarians. Indeed, given that age was strongly associated with consumer ethnocentrism for both groups and given that the Hungarian sample was seven years older than the Mexican sample, more evenly matched samples might have produced an even greater disparity. Hungary’s communist past, when western products had been greatly desired and domestic brands belittled, might explain part of this difference. Mexico’s past and present, situated next to an affluent, sometimes imperious superpower, might also be a major factor. Whatever the reasons, foreign and especially American companies operating in Mexico need to be cognizant of these consumer ethnocentric tendencies and how they vary across market segments. Brand names, package designs, and advertising messages may need to use national symbols and stress domestic content.



Not only was the Mexican Cetscale score (76.5) higher than that of the Hungarians (50.7), it as also higher than the scores found in most other studies. For example, the mean Cetscale scores collected by Shimp and Sharma (1987) ranged from a low of 56.6 in Los Angeles to a high of 68.6 in Detroit. Netemeyer et al. (1991), who used student samples, found Cetscale scores of 33.9 in West Germany, 39.3 in France, 47.2 in Japan, and 50.5 in the U.S. The mean Polish Cetscale score of 77.6, obtained from an entirely female sample, slightly exceeds the Mexican score (Falkowski et al. 1996). Only the mean score of 85.1 from a somewhat older, Korean sample was clearly above the Mexicans (Sharma et al. 1995). As shown in Table 3, however, there was no relationship between ethnocentrism level and foreign product purchasing in Mexico. Thus, as a practical matter, Mexican consumer ethnocentrism may not be an especially difficult barrier to hurdle.

Limitations and Implications of the Research

Although the questionnaire was relatively short and straightforward, and no language problems were encountered in the field, a more sophisticated translation technique, such as back translation, parallel translation or decentering (Cateora 1996), and more thorough pretesting would have been desirable. Since respondents were solicited via convenience sampling, the findings cannot be generalized to the entire Hungarian or Mexican populations. Greater efforts should have been expended to obtain samples with more representative proportions of age, income, and educational groups. Finally, the study did not check for either response style bias or lack of access to foreign products, two factors that may account for some of the between country differences in, respectively, consumer ethnocentrism level and the Cetscale’s predictive validity.

Future research in this area needs to stress strong conceptual development. Countries to be compared should be chosen for theoretical reasons rather than because of opportunity or personal connections overseas. Exploring antecedent conditions, such as individual needs for identity and feelings of belongingness or social acceptance, will enhance understanding of consumer ethnocentrism. Equally important, new studies must explain why the predictive ability of the Cetscale varies so much from product class to product class and from country to country. There are surely additional variables, such as domestic product availability, country-of-origin of the imports, or price/quality considerations, that intervene between consumer ethnocentrism and actual purchasing behavior. Whatever the case, the tensions between global marketing and consumer ethnocentrism will continue to provide a fertile field for investigation.


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