Lighting the Torch: How Do Intergenerational Influences Develop?

Elizabeth S. Moore, University of Notre Dame
William L. Wilkie, University of Notre Dame
Julie A. Alder, Hershey Foods
ABSTRACT - Intergenerational inquiry focuses on the transmission of information, attitudes and skills between generations within families. In consumer research, primary emphasis thus far has been given to determining whether the intergenerational phenomenon exists, and the forms it may take. This paper shifts attention to the primary influences in the formation of these effects during childhood. Here, we report the findings of an interpretive study conducted with twenty-five young adult women, using three depth interviews with each informant - one at home, one while shopping in-store, and one discussing a pantry check. A rich set of insights emerged: nineteen formative factors are identified and discussed.
[ to cite ]:
Elizabeth S. Moore, William L. Wilkie, and Julie A. Alder (2001) ,"Lighting the Torch: How Do Intergenerational Influences Develop?", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, eds. Mary C. Gilly and Joan Meyers-Levy, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 287-293.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, 2001     Pages 287-293


Elizabeth S. Moore, University of Notre Dame

William L. Wilkie, University of Notre Dame

Julie A. Alder, Hershey Foods


Intergenerational inquiry focuses on the transmission of information, attitudes and skills between generations within families. In consumer research, primary emphasis thus far has been given to determining whether the intergenerational phenomenon exists, and the forms it may take. This paper shifts attention to the primary influences in the formation of these effects during childhood. Here, we report the findings of an interpretive study conducted with twenty-five young adult women, using three depth interviews with each informant - one at home, one while shopping in-store, and one discussing a pantry check. A rich set of insights emerged: nineteen formative factors are identified and discussed.


Traditional theories of socialization suggest that childhood learning is so prolonged and powerful that the beliefs and attitudes formed within the family persist well into adulthood. This premise is supported by research in psychology, political science, sociology and to a lesser extent, consumer behavior (e.g., Carlson et al. 1994; Glass, Bengston and Dunham 1986; Miller and Glass 1989). Within consumer behavior, researchers have shown that brand and product preferences as well as significant aspects of consumer buying styles may be transferred from one generation to the next within families (e.g., Arndt 1971; Hill 1970; Moore and Lutz 1988; Olsen 1995). These effects re interesting and potentially important in the marketplace. However, intergenerational research is in many ways still an underdeveloped research area. Emphasis thus far has primarily been placed on testing to determine if the phenomenon exists, and the forms it may take. Given this body of evidence, the present paper shifts focus to the formation of intergenerational effects within households, drawing on findings from an interpretive study conducted with young adult women.


Childhood Socialization

The term "intergenerational influences" (hereafter "IG") refers to the within family transmission of information, beliefs and resources from one generation to the next. [Within the social sciences, the term "generation" is employed in multiple ways (Bengston and Cutler 1976). It is often used to refer to a cohort, or a group of people born at the same time, who by virtue of having come of age under the same historical circumstances are likely to share important characteristics that mark them as a social aggregate (e.g., "Baby Boomers"). In contrast, generational research that focuses on lineage effects, as in this paper, emphasizes individuals, and the transmission of private culture within families.] Its conceptual basis rests within socialization theory, particularly childhood socialization. Socialization has been described as the process through which individuals develop specific patterns of socially relevant behavior (Ziegler and Child 1969), or the process by which individuals learn social roles and behaviors needed to participate effectively in society (Brim 1966). It helps individuals to develop their personal identities, and to assume new roles as they move through the life cycle. Although socialization is a life-long process, childhood and adolescence are particularly crucial periods. During childhood, the socialization process focuses on the present as well as roles and behaviors that will be needed in the future (McNeal 1987).

Childhood socialization is guided by such sources as relatives, peers, the educational system, religious institutions, and the mass media (see e.g., Faber and O’Guinn 1988; Moschis 1987). The family is the first and typically most powerful source. No other agent of socialization enjoys such a cumulative edge in exposure, communication, and receptivity. Parents and other family members serve as important channels of information and sources of social pressure, as well as support for one another. As a family develops, it creates a distinct lifestyle, pattern of decision making, and interaction style (Sillars 1995). Children have countless opportunities to observe, then internalize their parents’ beliefs, preferences and values, accepting these as a natural norm.

Consumer socialization represents one aspect of this broader process. It has been defined as "the processes by which young people acquire skills, knowledge and attitudes relevant to their functioning in the marketplace" (Ward 1974). A number of interesting topics have been studied within consumer socialization, including the scope of parental influence (e.g., Churchill and Moschis 1979), effects of parenting style (e.g., Carlson and Grossbart 1988), and how parents and children interact in making purchase decisions (e.g., Beatty and Talpade 1994; Foxman, Tansuhaj and Ekstrom 1989; Palan and Wilkes 1997). While parents do not typically set out to "teach" their children how to be consumers, they often are concerned that their children learn to shop for quality products, and learn to manage money (Ward, Wackman and Wartella 1977). How these goals are realized, however, is often a function of subtle interpersonal processes. [This is consistent with findings in political socialization. Research there has shown that parents do little to actively direct the development of their children=s political ideas, and often do not accurately perceive their children=s attitudes (e.g., Jennings and Niemi 1974).] Collectively, this research highlights the important role that parents play in the consumer socialization of their children. It also recognizes that children influence their parents, particularly as they mature: this effect has been labeled "reciprocal socialization."

The Broad Range of Intergenerational Influences

Prior research in other disciplines has shown that intergenerational influences are active in a wide variety of spheres, including political party affiliation, candidate preferences, achievement orientation, religious values, as well as gender and racial attitudes (Beck and Jennings 1991; Cashmore and Goodnow 1985; Jennings and Niemi 1974; Whitbeck and Gecas 1988). Strength of such influence can vary considerably, likely to be strongest within religious and political arenas, and weakest on certain lifestyle dimensions (Troll and Bengston 1979). It is also more substantial for concepts that have concrete referents and long-term visibility within the family (Acock 1984). Children are most likely to imitate, model or identify with those attributes of their parents that are most consistent and reinforced (Beck and Jennings 1991).

Socialization theory would suggest that intergenerational effects are likely to diminish over time. Proponents of developmental aging or status inheritance models argue, on the other hand, that parents and children may actually converge over time as children assume adult status, role demands and responsibilities (e.g., Glass et al. 1986). Though few studies have addressed this issue empirically, the findings are quite interesting. While there are indications that parent-child attitude similarity does decline over time, vestiges of parental influence remain even for individuals who are well into middle-age. The greatest erosion seems to occur during the first few years after the young adult leaves home, with a leveling off by the late 20s or early 30s, and then stabilization over time (see e.g., Beck and Jennings 1991; Niemi and Jennings 1991; Whitbeck and Glass 1988). Thus IG impacts can endure well into adulthood.

Intergenerational Effects in Consumer Behavior

Despite longstanding interest in this topic, consumer researchers have only begun to investigate the beliefs and attitudes that are transferred intergenerationally, and how they come to develop within households. Early research in consumer behavior tended to focus on intergenerational similarities in consumer buying styles (e.g., Arndt 1971, 1972; Hill 1970). For example, Hill’s (1970) longitudinal analysis showed that financial planning skills were transmitted across three generations (particularly among families who were poor financial managers, and who tended to spend impulsively). Other aspects of consumer buying styles have been investigated as well, sometimes with mixed results. For example, Arndt (1971) reported significant agreement between college students and their parents on opinion leadership, innovativeness, and store preferences but not on product importance, brand variation or loyalty proneness. Further, Moore and Lutz (1988) reveale some commonalities in family members’ choice rules and marketplace beliefs which have been further extended by Carlson et al. (1994).

Beyond these broader aspects of consumer buying styles, researchers have examined whether, and to what extent, specific brand preferences and loyalties are transmitted across generations. While largely exploratory, the evidence does suggest that intergenerational influences occur at the level of brand choice, but that important differences may exist across product categories, and across families. For example, Moore and Lutz (1988) compared mothers’ and daughters’ brand preferences for eight common supermarket items, and noted significant yet varying levels of agreement across categories. Support for the basic proposition was also noted by Heckler, Childers and Arunchalam (1989) who found that both middle-aged and young adults report that they prefer many of the same brands as their parents, and that this is particularly true for packaged goods (versus shopping goods). Perhaps reflecting the upward potential of intergenerational effects, Woodson, Childers and Winn (1976) indicated that 62% of men in their 20’s reported that their auto insurance carrier also supplied coverage to their fathers. Even at age 50, almost 20% of the sample met this criterion (note, however the special exchange characteristics of this product category). Most recently, Olsen (1993, 1995), introduced interpretivist research methods to this area to investigate the transfer of brand loyalty across three generations. She notes that similar brand loyalties may sometimes emerge as an expression of affection and respect, thus operating at a basic level as a reinforcer of familial bonds. However, it should also be noted that observed intergenerational impacts on consumers’ preferences for products/brands are likely reduced by factors such as age, marriage, greater distance from parents and culture (Childers and Rao 1992; Heckler et al.1989; Shah and Mittal 1997).

In summary, past research indicates that intergenerational effects are a likely source of influence in the marketplace. How these patterns develop in consumers’ lives, however, has not yet been closely examined. Given the ability of interpretivist methods to capture richer elements of phenomena, we used a discovery-oriented approach to delve more deeply into this issue.


Research Design and Sample

Multi-phased depth interviews were conducted with 25 young adult women. All informants were students living in off-campus housing, and each shopped for groceries on a regular basis. Each informant was interviewed for a total of 3-4 hours in three phases, at home, in-store, and at home again. Loosely structured, the initial interviews were designed to gather information about shopping patterns, personal shopping styles, brand preferences and family histories. Then, on a different day (typically within one week of the first interview) one of the researchers accompanied the informant on a grocery shopping trip. Informants were encouraged to "think out loud during the shopping trip: these conversations centered around the purchases made that day, as well as preference histories. Immediately following the shopping trip, the researcher and informant returned home, put the groceries away and continued the interview. During this final phase of the interview process, kitchen cabinets were opened and informants encouraged to "tell the story" behind the brands there, as well as those just purchased. Life-history information, particularly as related to mother-daughter relationships, was gathered during this closing interview.

Informants were purposively selected to maximize potential insight into intergenerational phenomena, an appropriate goal at this stage of the research (Lincoln and Guba 1985). Poised at the threshold of independence from parents, this population is a particularly interesting one to study. While the brand portfolios used at home remain salient, independent purchasing enables the trial of new brands, products and shopping approaches. The women interviewed had been independent shoppers for as little as two months and as long as two and a half years, thus providing some range of experience.


Verbatim transcripts served as the primary data from which conceptual categories and relationships were identified, using a relatively structured process following the discovery-oriented aims and procedures of grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss 1967). Each interview was read and independently coded by the first two authors. Emergent categories were compared and discussed in detail for the first few interviews. These initial categories served as a structural basis for coding the remaining interviews, with enrichments incorporated as necessitated by the data. All interviews were independently coded by the first two authors and comparisons were evaluated on a line by line basis for each interview. Discrepancies were few in number, and resolved through discussion. Data relevant to each emerging category were then sorted, compiled, and assessed for conceptual fit: a total of 19 categories were created, and are reported below.


The emergent categories constitute a broad range of interesting insights into how intergenerational influences came to develop in our informants’ lives as consumers. [These dimensions are also listed as part of the findings of a larger project on the role of intergenerational influences in the creation and maintenance of brand equity (Moore, Wilkie and Lutz 2001). They are not explored in any detail there, however. The present paper is the only outlet for discussion of these results on the formation of IG effects.] For purposes of presentation, we have arranged these into three sets of insights. First are those relating to Households as the fundamental unit within which IG beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors are developed. Included here are categories relating to the structure of the household, the lifestyle of the household, and the personal characteristics of particular family members, all serving as factors that influence the formation of specific IG influences. Second, a number of categories reflect the Substantive Development of IG influences. Focus here shifts to the children B their learning processes, family interactions, and specific activities that contribute to IG effect creation. Finally, our third set of insights explicitly accounts for IG Development Across Time. Attention here is given to the fact that these processes occur in a continuous fashion over many years, and that several structural elements are significant to understanding this progression over time.



Intergenerational Influencers Within the Household

As noted in Figure 1, six categories of formative factors reflect the fact that a child’s family household is both the location and context within which IG influences are formed. First, it was apparent that both structural and lifestyle considerations played key roles in the specific IG effects learned by children C daughters raised in households that differed on these dimensions frequently reflected these differences in the knowledge and preferences they carried forward into their adult lives (e.g., high or low income, vegetarian diet, outdoor athletics, etc.). In addition, it became quite clear that the specific family form could have striking and lasting impacts. This was particularly apparent in some cases of blended families and families in transition:

"I don’t see my real Dad that often and if I do see him we’re not in a home situation. He’s at a hotel orCyou know? So, I’m not really sure if he goes grocery shopping or if his wife does, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t. As for my Stepdad, he really isn’t at home that much and when he is he likes to relax and I think it would really annoy him if he had to go grocery shopping." (21a3) [Informants are identified by a number (1-25), the interview (a=first interview conducted in home, or b=second interview conducted in store and completed in informant=s home) and page number in the interview transcript.]

"My grandmother came to live with us (after death of mother) and my dad was working. He’s an attorney. He was working full time, really busy. So, my grandmother came to live with us and she took care of me and my brother and my sister. I suppose she raised me, but my Dad was there too. And then after he remarried, my Stepmom came in. I don’t really know if I would say that she really raised me, but I’m sure she would like to say that." (1a2)

In these instances shifts had occurred as the major sources of influence changed within the daughter’s household, and this was clearly reported as a major life event, long-remembered, and with continuing consequence.

Our second category reflects that, across the range of household forms and lifestyles, the mother generally emerged as the primary influence agent. Her particular expertise in supervising household activities was readily acknowledged and appreciated, and continuing references back to her as different products, brands, and memories were discussed was the norm for these interviews. Also, depending on the household, other family members also emerged as having exercised significant influence - this included fathers, siblings, grandparents and aunts.

"My Mom does all the shopping and cooking. Of course, my Dad likes to cook and there are special things that he makes, but typically like six days out of the week, it’s my Mom that does it." (17a1)

"That’s why he never goes grocery shopping. That’s why my Mom never really sent him, or let him go grocery shopping, because he would buy all the wrong things. I mean he doesn’t look at price at all, like my Mom does. She cuts coupons, and she compares prices." (2b7)

"My grandmother used to make me bread and swiss cheese with mustard on it. It was the best sandwich in the world. I still make that. The other thing that my grandmother used to do that everyone makes fun of me for is... and this is kind of funny, my grandmother made pasta with butter and ketchup, it’s a really strange thing." (9b8)

"For salads I like Seven SeasCbut when I make pasta salad it has to be the Kraft Zesty Italian. I don’t know why that is either. I think it’s because the first time I ever had pasta salad it was made with that and my Aunt had made it." (13a12)

When multiple influencers were at work, moreover, their multiplicity of preferences and recommendations created a sometimes confused rich information environment in which adaptations and compromises were necessary. Our informants were ell-aware of the parameters in which their households seemed to operate, and easily accommodated to them. Evidence of such adjustments were readily apparent. For example,

"When my Dad would go grocery shopping we would have the bare essentials. We would have corn flakes. When my Stepmother would go shopping we would have no essentials, but we would have Lucky Charms, and Trix, and Fruit Loops, and Captain Crunch and we would have Hostess, and we would have Doritos, and we would have some more Hostess. It just depended on who did the shopping." (1a13)

"I’ll specify the brands. My Mom knows what I use. But in case my Dad would do the shoppingCoh God...I’m sure he’d come up with something off the wall. I always try to be specific in case my Dad does the shopping for some weird reason. Cause my Mom knows me backwards and forwards and she knows exactly what I use, exactly what I likeCwhat size I want, everything. But my Dad does not." (15a8)



In numerous cases, the parents (particularly mothers in our study) were reported to have taken on multiple parental roles that helped to guide these adaptive processes within the household. Perhaps most basic and significant was the mother’s nurturing role. These young women readily described the care and concern their mothers dedicated to meeting the needs of individual family members. Sometimes this was apparent simply by her willingness to consider multiple wants, and her often unselfish and extensive efforts to accommodate all. High levels of trust were also implicit in our informants’ commentaries. Not only did these young women trust in the fact that their mothers’ were highly aware of their wants and needs but that she would do her best to fulfill them. Also, functionally, mothers often took on the role of family purchasing agent. Thus, in many ways mothers tended to bring family members together, by blending multiple wants, by fostering cooperation, and by supporting household operations. Finally, mothers also played a supervisory role, guiding their daughters’ development of consumer skills. Evidence of this included the "rule-based" nature of some IG impacts, such as mother’s "tests" that had to be passed before children were allowed to shop on their own (i.e., where participation depended on acceptance of the family norm).

"My Mom is not a very selfish person at all. She’s not a person who really wants anything for herself. She’s a person that is more concerned with what I want, or my Dad or my brother. She kind of goes along with what we want." (8b17)

"My Mom would do a lot of it (grocery shopping) and I would sort of just take whatever was in the house that I wanted to eat. And sometimes tell her what I wanted, but generallyCshe knew and she’d get it." (12a5)

"When we were younger, Mom would never take us because we’d want the sugar cereal or something like that. But when we got older she sent us shopping on our own because we knew what kind of lunch food that we could buy. We didn’t want the sugar cereals anymore, and we could shop smart." (7a8)

Finally, we would explicitly note that, while structural elements across households were common, heterogeneity was also evident: we observed many instances of a household’s characteristics providing idiosyncratic influences:

"To tell you the truth we never really went shopping like a family. It was because my little brother was really sick for the first three or four years of his life, and he would cry non-stop. So, if we ever went out as a family it was usually to church or to family gatherings. But, we never really went to the stores all together because it was really hard at first. So, I guess that’s why my father always went grocery shoppingCbecause my father didn’t work and my Mom worked." (19a2)

"My Mom quit her job to raise me. So, I mean she was always home. I always had a home cooked dinner when I came home. And, even in high school, you know I would come home from basketball practice and she’d have dinner ready. I mean, I never had to make my own dinner because she always had it ready. She’s always, she’ll cook cookies or something." (16a2)

The Substantive Formation of Intergenerational Influences

Our second set of insights shifts focus to the children themselves, and highlights the substantivedevelopment of IG influences. As noted in Figure 2, the eight formative factors here focus on what is learned, and how such learning occurs for the consumer world. The first entry in Figure 2 reflects that IG effects are a natural subset of what is learned as a child matures, and are governed by children’s broader learning processes (e.g., John 1999; Moschis 1987; Ward 1974). (We shall return to this point in the paper’s conclusion). The second entry points out that, for consumer behavior, participating in household shopping emerged as a central force in forming IG effects. Many informants recalled these shopping trips as an agreeable, ongoing feature of their everyday lives.

For some, these excursions became a pleasant mother-daughter ritual, offering repetitive opportunities for observation and directed learning. Joint shopping also offered chances to influence purchases and obtain special favorites. When life circumstances began to alter these rituals, both mothers and daughters seemed to miss them:

"It would be every Thursday. And I would go with her. We’d always go at noon. Her and me, yeah I’d always hit her with the cart at her ankles (laughs)CI remember that. On Thursdays, I don’t know why. And we’d have the same route. We’d always hit the store in a certain route.... I remember I started to get older and I stopped going with her and it was kind of a...she’d be like, "You’re not coming?" (16a6)

"It was fun. I could get what I wanted. You know, "Hey Mom, let’s get that" and my brothers weren’t there so they couldn’t get extra stuff. I did, they didn’t. That’s how you grow up, you go shopping with your mother...... They (her brothers) didn’t understand my obsession. I still like to grocery shopping with her." (3a16)

Given the packaged goods context in which this research was conducted, it is not surprising that the observation of product use and brand packaging in the home emerged as having a memorable impact on future purchases. Notably, both successes and failures in the marketplace were instructive. Also, some mothers used public family lists, rules, and purchase limitations, and these also proved to be influential factors in helping IG effects to develop.

"Especially the (bologna) with the little paper on the side, that you have to peel off. I hate it. It’s gross, I think it’s disgusting... My Mom bought it 'cause it was on sale. I learned from her mistake. Oscar Meyer on sale, you should just get that." (3a13)

"Something not on sale, more expensive kind of stuff. Like, I’d always ask for Sara Lee Butter Pecan Coffee Cake because that’s my favorite thing. It is. And she’d be like, "Unless I have a coupon for it, I’m not going to get it." (14a5)

"She makes a list, a big long detailed list. I remember when we were at home..., she’d be like, "What do you need from the store? If you don’t tell meCyou’re not going to get it" and I had to think of everything I needed, otherwise I didn’t get it." (11a10)

"In my familyCif we need to go grocery shopping for anything somebody will start a list. Any one of the four of us will start a list with things that we need, then everybody adds to the list so ... it’s got all four of our handwriting on it. And whoever does the grocery shopping, usually my Mom, will just get them." (15a7)

As opposed to simply fitting in, our interviews also provided numerous reports of children’s efforts to modify processes as they were occurring, so as to satisfy their personal tastes. In this sense, IG preferences seemed to transfer more readily when children felt that their personal desires were being represented in the household’s purchase decisions. Examples of in-store purchase influence attempts, both successful and not, also reflected this phenomenon. Clear knowledge of parental boundaries was apparent, yet children also attempted to take advantage of lax styles where possible, such that the exercise of power in these interactions flowed not only from parent to child, but also from child to parent (many informants freely acknowledged that complaints, sulking or even tantrums were ready strategies in their arsenal of influence tactics). For example,

"When I was little for the most part I can remember my mother taking us grocery shopping and on occasion if our Dad did take us grocery shopping, we got anything we wanted. Because he didn’t want a tantrum. And, in public he doesn’t want his kids to look bad. If we started crying or screaming, he didn’t want any part of it. He just wanted to go to the store, get this done, have it look like we’re fine. So, if we were like "we want chocolate, we want cake"Che’d get anything just to shut us up, so we could get out of there. But, my Mom would leave us in te aisle crying. She did not care. She’d be like "See you later I’m leaving." She would just start walking away. (18a3)

"The only kind of croutons we’ll eat in my house is Pepperidge Farm Seasoned Croutons. I think that at one point I didn’t like the brand that my Dad got and I made such a fuss over it that he never attempted to buy them again." (9a6)

"My Mom did all the shopping I would make requests, but everything I requested was always too expensive and I was the only one in the house who ate it. So, I had to eat what everybody else ate. I wasn’t real happy with that.....She would always buy Ruffles because that’s what my Dad likes. But, if my brother had his way he would want Frito-Lay or something. She would tend to buy what her and my Dad like as opposed to what we would choose. (6a5)

In this regard, daughters also spoke more broadly of themselves and other family members having to reconcile conflicting preferences: households with more coherence here also seemed to yield more robust IG product and brand preferences. For example,

"My Dad likes Jif Chunky and I can’t stand chunky peanut-butter. And every time he’d come home and buy that, I’d send my Mom out for another jar of peanut butter so that I would have something to eat. And I liked Skippy better. We always had a big fight about that. It was like, we had two things of peanut butter in our house." (9a5)

"No, we weren’t picky on brands... pretty much we’ll all eat the same, like we’re all used to the same brandCso it just was kind of the same what we bought." (13a8)

"I mean she bought the same things for like eighteen years." (3a12)

"We usually got that egg brandCyou know Eggos, Mrs. D’s Potatoes, Heinz Ketchup, Bulls-eye Barbecue Sauce, Open-Pit Barbecue Sauce, Claussen’s Pickle Relish. We get the same kind of mustard, Morton’s Salt...we always buy the same stuff." (10a8)

As a final entry, numerous daughters reported evaluating B both positively and negatively B one or both parents on many consumership dimensions, such as shopping styles, diet, choices, spending, and planning or lack thereof (when direct comparisons were made, usually it was the father who came out on the short end of the judgments). For example,

"He would buy all junk foodChe would waste our money. You should see what he would buy. Like he’d buy all crap, he’d buy like all these chips and Hostess cupcakes and Twinkies and all this ice cream. And its not even good food that I like. It’s gross, I don’t even like it. I mean he’ll buy all this fat and meat and stuff... he doesn’t buy the right stuff. And he spends too much money.... My mom gets mad 'cause he spends so much money and you don’t need all this junk food." (2a9)

"She’s not as picky about Tide.... I think I’m maybe more into brands then she is. It ticked me off because she would go get the cheaper one, even though we all liked something better, she’d still get the cheaper sometimes and it really ticked us off." (3a14)

Overall, the substantive dimensions of IG formation encapsulated much higher levels of activity, evaluation, adaptation, and negotiation than might be expected initially. Clearly, however, much of this is due to the extensive time span involved C all of childhood.



Intergenerational Influences’ Development Across Time

Our final category includes five further insights reflecting on intergenerational influences’ development across time. Here we explicitly recognize some larger dynamics of this influence process. First, it in reality operates in a continuous fashion for many years, until the child leaves the family home. It thus incorporates millions of episodes that can leave impacts, and is in this sense difficult to measure and describe. However, some useful further insights did arise from our interviews. For example, certain of children’s key experiences are embedded within a particular life stage (e.g., children’s cereals, early teen cosmetics), and that IG influences here will not persist over time (however, as noted earlier, some may reappear when these daughters raise their own children in the future). Further, it is natural that within this extended time frame, some intergenerational influences wll develop, then be replaced as the marketplace shifts or the household revises its preferences and behavior.

Further, changes in a family’s structure or lifestyle appear to have particularly powerful impacts, often to disrupt previously developed intergenerational preferences and behaviors as particular family members leave, join, or change their behavior within the child’s household. The impact of life cycle progression was also apparent in a number of ways, such as mothers returning to work outside the home as children age, shifts in the handling of older children’s influence attempts, increases in influence from peers (a clear rival to intergenerational influence effects), and teens assuming more responsibility for the family’s shopping and purchase decisions when they begin to drive. Not surprisingly, the incidence of reverse intergenerational flows also accelerates at this time (however, it was also clear that mothers remained an influential source of expertise as the daughters left home). Overall, this segment of our framework reminds us that a careful look across time is necessary to understand how intergenerational influences develop.

"When I was really little my Mom only had one job and she went every Saturday morning at seven o’ clock to the grocery. And, she bought all of our groceries for that whole week. And nowC(laughs) we don’t ever have any groceries...when we got older she started giving us money and we would just go to the store and get groceries for the family." (7a8)

"Ever since I could drive, when I turned sixteen. YeahCbecause my Dad worked these obnoxious hours. By the time I had turned sixteen she had been working, and she was obviously more busy... And she’d just give me her debit card. She would hand me the list from the counter and I would just go get it. And I would add my own stuff to it, that I wanted." (15a9)

"The last time I went shopping with my Mom before I left, she really did explain the meat a lot. She really did explain the meat more. 'Cause you know, she would always just get it. But I was like, "How do you know which stuff to get Mom?" I just never knew what kind she bought, I just knew it wasn’t the cheapest kind." (10b17)


This exploratory study was successful in presenting a rich set of 19 factors related to the formation of intergenerational effects in consumer behavior. Our assessment identifies three underlying categories for these factors: (1) the household structure and context in which family interactions take place; (2) the processes involved in the substantive development of these effects; and (3) the extended time period across which these processes are occurring on a daily basis. Our results are, of course, subject to the limitations of this study’s scope, sample, and method. Nonetheless, they are informative and should be useful for future research.

More generally, this study’s findings underscore the fact that the intergenerational transfer of marketplace learning occurs naturally, within the repetitive rhythms and rituals of everyday life. It involves much activity, negotiation and evaluation on the part of both parents and children. While there is personal adaptation, families also seem to develop their own stable and coherent patterns that help them to function as a unit with ease and comfort. Theoretically, there was ample evidence that the three major childhood learning processes previously identified in the literature were at work here (e.g., Moschis 1987; Ward et al. 1977). Many instances of observational learning about brands, packaging and parents’ shopping strategies were apparent, as noted earlier. Multiple manifestations of experiential learning were also evident, particularly via participation in household shopping, and in the trial and use of products within the home. Direct communication also clearly occurred on an ongoing basis (interestingly, many daughters also reported that, upon discovering gaps in their knowledge as they prepared to leave home, they had actively sought out their mother’s remedial advice).

Overall, this study and its findings confirm that the intergenerational research area is interesting, important in the marketplace, and a worthwhile venue for further study. Perhaps because of our shift in emphasis toward the formation of IG effects (rather than the substance of these effects in adulthood), the close linkage of this area to children’s learning, socialization, and family research were reinforced for us, indicating positive potential for future advances.


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