No Consumer Is an Islandcthe Relevance of Family Dynamics For Consumer Welfare

Ingeborg Astrid Kleppe, Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration
Kjell Gronhaug, Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration
ABSTRACT - In this paper we advocate the use of the family as a unit of analysis in marketing research. In doing so we introduce the term ALifescapes@, which is used as basis for identifying four structural properties of the family: 1) Interpersonal dependency, 2) Interdependency of multiple roles, 3) Interdependency of consumer decision domains, and 4) Decision/event load. Variations in these structural properties influence the family’s decision capacities, which subsequently determine consumer welfare. An in-depth study of the decision histories of eight couples are used to explore our model empirically.
[ to cite ]:
Ingeborg Astrid Kleppe and Kjell Gronhaug (2003) ,"No Consumer Is an Islandcthe Relevance of Family Dynamics For Consumer Welfare", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, eds. Punam Anand Keller and Dennis W. Rook, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 314-321.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, 2003     Pages 314-321


Ingeborg Astrid Kleppe, Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration

Kjell Gronhaug, Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration


"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent a part of the main"

John Donne, English poet 1572-1631  (Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 16th Edition)


In this paper we advocate the use of the family as a unit of analysis in marketing research. In doing so we introduce the term "Lifescapes", which is used as basis for identifying four structural properties of the family: 1) Interpersonal dependency, 2) Interdependency of multiple roles, 3) Interdependency of consumer decision domains, and 4) Decision/event load. Variations in these structural properties influence the family’s decision capacities, which subsequently determine consumer welfare. An in-depth study of the decision histories of eight couples are used to explore our model empirically.


The family or household is a basic unit of production, reproduction and consumption in all societies (Netting et al. 1984). The family has therefore attracted substantial interest in disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, social psychology, and economics (see Netting et al.. 1984). In spite of the obvious importance of the family as a unit of analysis in other disciplines, interest in family research in marketing has been in decline for a long time (Commuri and Gentry 2000, Bazerman 2001). However, contributions by Thompson (1996), Miller (1998), and Commuri and Gentry (2000) introduce new perspectives on the family as a unit of analysis in marketing research. They see the family and its members as embedded in a larger social and historical context and show how this is important for understanding consumer welfare.

In this paper we will put issues related to the dynamics of modern family life on the marketing research agenda. In doing so we will build and expand on the insights from Thompson’s (1996) contribution on caring consumers and follow up the recommendations for new opportunities for family research in marketing made by Commuri and Gentry (2000). According to these researchers, a major challenge is to understand the internal dynamics of family life and the relationship between the family and other social institutions. Commuri and Gentry (2000) claim that since we have asked the wrong questions, family research in marketing has so far been inconclusive and has not brought us many new insights.

Family research in marketing. Inspection of past family research in marketing reveals some particular characteristics. First the great majority of this research reflects an "individualistic approach" (Bazerman 2001). Even though the roles of family members have been examined, the focus is predominantly on individual roles rather than the interplay between multiple roles and family members. "Role" in the mother discipline, sociology, is a relational concept. A role has meaning only in the social structure in which it is embedded. It is related to norms and tasks within a social structure. In contrast, within marketing, role has been used to characterize or "profile" whom to target in the family for a particular decision domain (Davis and Rigaux 1974, Commuri and Gentry 2000, Gr°nhaug 2000). In other words, the structural properties and dynamics within the family have been overlooked. A relational perspective on family roles also represents methodological challenges, as it requires information from more than one person in the household (Phillips 1985). In addition, time series data is necessary in order to capture the dynamic interaction between family members and events over time (Kleppe 1990). To our knowledge, there is a lack of time series studies of family decision making in marketing.

Secondly, the perspective of the embeddedness of the family in a larger societal context suggests that the multiple roles of individual family members represent interdependency between family roles (the parent role) and roles outside the family (working roles). This means that family members operate in and are influenced by activities and events in spheres outside of the family. In marketing, the focus has mostly been on the family detached from its greater context (Commuri and Gentry 2000).

Thirdly, family life cycle studies typically focus on more or less locked trajectories (Murphy and Staples 1979, Wilkes 1995). More attention to transitions between family life cycle stages has been called for (Gentry 1997). In particular we need a better understanding of how major life-event transitions, e.g. marriage, the birth of a child, and divorce, change the nature of the family unit and how it works. During the course of their lives, most families are exposed to major internal and external, planned and unplanned events. For example, if a family member falls seriously ill or becomes unemployed, such events can influence decisions about commitment to work, housing, household demography and economy, which at the end of the day also determine consumer welfare in the family.

Changes in social institutions outside the family also influence family functioning. There is, for example, a vast literature in occupational psychology on the impact of changes in work norms on the functioning of the family (see for example Fouad and Tinsley1997). This literature studies the "work-family interface", which describes challenges people face in balancing their working and family roles over their lifetime and the consequences this has for family well-being. The "family life cycle" paradigm (Wilkes 1995) used in marketing reflects a linear model with more or less deterministic trajectories. Although recent revised life cycle models try to capture different family trajectories, this perspective is in our view inadequate for capturing modern families as dynamic social units and how they work as units of consumption.

Another aspect is the dominant focus on low involvement consumption in current marketing research (Bazerman 2001). From the marketers’ perspective, this focus is understandable since there is usually fierce competition in most markets for consumer goods. However, from the consumers’ perspective, it is the high involvement and high-risk consumption domains that are of most importance. Major decisions, such as residential moves, which often involve buying a new house and change of daily routines such as where to shop, where to get social services, and schools for children, have more significant impact on consumer welfare than choosing between different brands of a low-risk consumer good.

Finally, most of the current literature in marketing sees consumption as an activity that is mostly motivated by individual utilitaristic and hedonistic concerns. New perspectives on consumer behavior suggest that other motives, such as care or love for others and meaning creation in everyday life, are very important motors in family consumption (Thompson 1996, Miller 1998). This means that consumption in a family setting must be studied within the context of the multiple concerns, which are relevant for family consumption.

The family as a unit of analysis. The concepts of "family", "household", and "home" are three powerful notions in Western culture since they represent primary social institutions. Needless to say, families and households vary across cultures and time. However, the nuclear family consisting of a mother, a father, and children is, in one form or another, a basic social unit in most societies (Allart and Littunen 1970, Netting et al.. 1984) and it is the dominant form in Western societies. A household is usually defined in terms of task and residence, while family is defined in terms of kinship. The family in Western societies is described as neolocal, which implies that the family and household are in practice overlapping units (Laslett 1984).

Selecting the family as a unit of analysis for marketing research has both practical and theoretical justifications. Since most people grow up in some type of family and continue to live in such a social unit, the family is of great importance for people’s everyday lives. Family life is also of great importance at the macro level of society. The effects of family decisions emerge in aggregated patterns of behavior, which are of great interest to governments for targeted action. Given both popular and scholarly concern about the family and the accessibility of this unit to available research methods, it is remarkable that we know so little about how modern families or households work as units of buying and consumption.

This paper attempts to remedy some of the weaknesses and limitations of past family research in marketing. In doing so we will bring in the importance of the context and structural dynamics within the family. Marketing researchers have a great opportunity to increase our knowledge and understanding of family dynamics. A better understanding of the family as a consumption unit is relevant both for marketing practitioners and the consumers themselves. For example, studies of households with financial problems (Poppe and Borgeraas 1992, Borgeraas and Tufte 1998) reveal that financing institutions, such as banks and financial brokers, do not have te necessary insight and routines to help families to cope with financial stress. Even the consumers themselves were unable to communicate their problems and needs to the financial service providers. We, therefore, agree with Bazerman (2001) that there is a need for a more consumer-focused approach in marketing research. Major decisions during the early stages of family life would be such an area and are the focus of this paper.


In this section we present a model that captures relational dynamics within the family and the implications of these dynamics for family consumption behavior. The term "Lifescape" is a metaphor reflecting the "landscape" that the family as a social unit represents for its members. The Lifescape as a focal unit of analysis captures the characteristics of the family in relation to its environment, roles within the family, and links between members of the family.

The Lifescape metaphor is also used to capture a more holistic picture of the family as a social unit, since it can be studied at different levels. Roles reflect social relationships and can be seen as the "building blocks" for the family (Brown 1971, Gronhaug 2000). However, relationships and structures are more than the sum of their parts. To capture the dynamics of the family as a complex social unit, it must be studied at an aggregate level (Kleppe 1987, Lundberg et al. 1968). For this study we have identified four structural properties, which we suggest are of significant importance for the functioning of modern families. These structural properties are: 1) Interpersonal dependency, 2) Interdependency of multiple roles, 3) Interdependency of consumer decision domains, and 3) Decision/event load.

Interpersonal dependency. "The concept of social interdependence conveys the notion of an individual’s social embeddedness" (Elder 1995, p.112). Here we define interpersonal dependency as the degree to which the life trajectory and life events of one member of the family influence the life trajectory and life events of other family members (Elder 1985, Elder 1995). To illustrate interpersonal interpersonal dependency, we can see the family as a role budget system within which the members must coordinate their roles according to a joint pool of resources defined by available time, labor, and energy (Goode 1960, Moen and Erickson 1995). In the modern dual-earner family coordinating, synchronizing, and balancing work-family roles is a major challenge (Frone et al. 1997).

Entry into parenthood is a transitional event that leads to increased interpersonal dependency. One of the most difficult decision dilemmas in modern family life is whether both parents should continue their working careers undisturbed by the birth of a child. Orensten’s (2000) conversations with young unmarried career women revealed that this was a future dilemma her young female subjects had given considerable thought. Interestingly, most of the respondents said that they were prepared to adapt to motherhood by reducing their commitment to their work role even if this would increase their economic vulnerability and economic dependency on their partners.

Interdependency of multiple roles. Interdependency between multiple roles reflects the degree of conflict between the roles in the role set of the individual family member (Frone et al.. 1997). The passage from single adult to married partner and parent implies entering a complex role set, which can be experienced as a "cultural chock" (Lopata 1971) or an "awakening" when parents come to realize how much effort is needed in caring for an infant (Hall 1995). The parent role entails the roles of economic provider, caretaker, partner, and consumer (Kleppe 1981).

In consumer research, Thompson’s (1996) insightful phenomenological study shows how working mothers struggle to make sense of their "conflicting" roles. These women invested substantial effort in their everyday activities in order to manage competing expectations between their roles as workers, parents and competent consumers. A major concern was to maintain a feeling of integrity as a person and a mother. One way to maintain a role balance was to engage in compensatory shopping for their children to reaffirm their role as mothers. Another strategy was to enhance the personal rewards that came from work and the way their work roles enabled them to enrich their children’s lifestyles. Interestingly, the consumption object itself was of less interest in caring consumption (ibid.).

Interdependency of consumer decision domains. The interdependency of multiple decision domains is defined as the degree to which events and decision outcomes in one domain of life affect other decision domains. Consumption decisions may be placed in a hierarchy (Gredal 1964, Arndt 1976, Gr°nhaug, Kleppe, and Haukedal 1987) in which strategic decisions represent the highest level and are characterized by long-term commitment of resources. Typical strategic decisions are, for example, decisions about education, commitment to work, and buying a house. Strategic decisions influence consumer decisions at lower levels, such as budget allocation decisions, product category and brand decisions (Arndt 1976). Furthermore, decisions at the higher levels in the hierarchy normally occur before and less frequently than decisions at the lower levels. As such, strategic decisions can be characterized as high-risk investments, where most of the consequences will be realized in the future. In the vast literature on perceived risk, the emphasis is on negative consequences as perceived by the consumer prior to the purchase (Bauer 1960). Consequences may, however, also be realized as ex post facto surprises.



During the early stages of family life, couples normally have to make many strategic decisions of which they have little or no experience (Oppenheimer 1985), and evidence suggests that financial stress in families is often related to strategic household decisions (Gulbrandsen 1991, Borgeraas and Tufte 1998). Particularly young households tended to overconsume consumer goods, such as housing, and became indebted beyond their financial capacities. One coping strategy for the indebted household was to pay bills early in order to make sure they had money to pay (Borgeraas and Tufte 1998). Heath and Soll’s (1994) study of mental budgeting and consumer decisions also suggests that people typically overconsume goods that are easy to categorize and keep track of while more discretionary consumption (leisure, entertainment, daily consumption) is deferred. Since regular payments on loans are easy to track, this may explain why these expenses get priority.

Decision load. Decision load is defined as the number of major events and decisions that take place within a limited time frame. For instance, college graduation, career changes, marriage or entering a relationship, and parenthood are seen as major transitions in a person’s life (Elder 1985, Oppenheimer 1985, Noble and Walker 1997), and are in many cultures associated with social rites de passage to mark the change of role status. Over the last century, however, everyday ideas about what constitutes the "normal biography" have become less clear (Settersten and Meyer 1997). Roles have been prolonged, the sequencing of roles over the lifetime has become more varied and complex, and family relationships have become more varied.

Still, the first years of family life are seen as a period characterized by important events and major transitions in several life domains (Oppenheimer 1985). Andreasen (1984) and Noble and Walker (1997) both focus on how consumer behavior is related to major life transitions. Transitions imply liminal stages, and the greater the quantity of life status change, the greater the change in lifestyle, which again implies greater change in consumption patterns (Andreassen 1984). Since virtually all households experience some changes, changes in consumption patterns are to some degree predictabl. However, since all major life events can cause stress, each family’s resources to cope with stress make a difference. The distribution of coping resources may be less predictable (Lavee et al. 1997).


The above discussion supports the suggestions in our model that structural characteristics of the family affect decision-making capacities within the family. The reviewed studies also suggest that families work hard to find coping strategies to secure family welfare during difficult times. Since our perspective is new, we found it most purposeful to apply an exploratory approach. An in-depth study of the decision history of eight couples’ first ten years of marriage or cohabitance was conducted. In order to comply with limitations of space, we will only report in-depth information from one case. The summary is based on insights from an aggregated analysis of data from all eight couples.

Sample. At the time of the interview the couples lived in a middle-sized town on the west coast of Norway. They were all dual working couples with pre-school children and had been living together for approximately ten years. The age distribution at the time of the interviews was from 31 to 43 years of age. There were no dramatic age differences within the couples. Both blue-collar and white-collar couples were included in the sample. With the exception of one couple, the husbands and wives had similar levels of education. The number of children varied from one to three. The sampling of couples was driven by the research purpose of gaining insights into the early stages of the family life cycle as this period entails many decisions, transitions, and adaptations. All the couples had stable and healthy relationships, which made it possible to conduct interviews on sensitive issues such as how they had dealt with high load periods.

Data collection. To capture the structural properties in our model, we needed information on multiple roles, decision domains, and the timing of events. All interviews took place in the couples’ homes. To avoid gender bias on either side, two interviewers, one female and one male, first interviewed each couple jointly. The interviews started with the couples’ latest decision and then worked backwards to discuss major decisions retrospectively. The interviews were modestly structured to make sure that all major aspects were covered. All interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed, each resulting in 20 to 35 pages of transcription. The interview setting was informal and relaxed, and all the couples reacted very positively and openly. The couples also corrected and supplemented each other, indicating that recall and response biases were reduced.

During a second visit, an interviewer of the same gender interviewed the men and women separately. During these interviews a structured questionnaire was used covering topics such as the planning of events, division of labor, roles played with regard to economic matters, and evaluations of the couples’ relationships. Both direct and projective questions were used. The purpose of the second interview was to ensure the reliability of the timing of events and decisions, and to get an accurate picture of the chronology of the family history. Based on the data collected, a chronological event calendar was constructed for each of the couples.

Recall bias and recall distortions will always be a danger when using retrospective techniques. However, major and very salient events, such as the years the children were born and the years when they bought a house or moved to a new town, are easy to remember and date (Flagan 1954). Since we also used multiple recording techniques, we feel confident that the resulting lifescape calendars are reliable.

Lifescape calendars. The portrayal of lives as a sequence of switches back and forth in many role domains is a useful way to understand multiple interdependent social careers (Smith 1985). Each couple’s time was organized into yearly intervals. The years were ordered chronologically. The Lifescape of one couple is depicted in Figure 2.

The choice of the four life event domainsBa) household demography; b) residential moves; c) education, and d) employmentBare supported in the literature on life events (see McLanahan and Sorensen 1985). The decision and event domains constitute the rows in the table and are recorded for each year, which constitutes the ten columns in the table. The event domains for education and employment are recorded individually for both partners, since these two domains are important both for interpersonal dependency and interdependency of roles within the family. The resulting Lifescape calendar depicts the timing and sequencing of events. We made similar Lifescape calendars for all the eight couples, which also made aggregated analysis possible.

The calendars give a picture of how the family fares on multiple trajectories and make it possible to see how different event and decision domains are related, how the female and male roles are related, and how the timing and sequencing of events contribute to the pattern. We analyzed the calendars at two levels. First we will discuss the findings of one representative case. Then we will discuss findings at an aggregated level where the data is summarized across cases.


We have chosen Tarjei and Louise as an illustrative case since their event history is in many ways typical of modern dual working families. Another reason is that they were very articulate and provided us with very good insight into the phenomenon under study.

Tarjei has an MSc. in biochemistry and works in a multinational medical firm. Louise is a college lecturer for preschool teacher trainees. They got engaged when he was twenty-eight and she was thirty-two and married a year later. Since their engagement ten years previously they had both finished their university degrees, had three children, both pursued demanding working careers, sold one apartment and one house, bought and renovated two houses, and the husband had also attended continuing education.

The Lifescape calendar visualizes how loaded the first years of the family life cycle can be. Getting married (or becoming de facto partners), becoming parents, starting a working career, and making major life style choices all take place within a very limited time span. Noble and Walker (1997) studied transitions and liminal states in relation to one event domain. The event calendars for the couples in our study show that they experienced liminal states in several event domains and roles simultaneously and over an extended period of time. The depiction of Tarjei and Louise’s Lifescape illustrates the structural dynamic of interdependency between multiple roles, events, and consumer decision domains.

Interpersonal dependency. During the first five years of their relationship Tarjei and Louise became parents twice, became owners of a new home twice, and experienced several changes in their work status. With the arrival of the first child, Louise took maternity leave and reduced her work commitment to part-time employment. This resulted in greater pressure on Tarjei to sustain their material lifestyle, and consequently he had to increase his working hours, which for long periods involved commuting to another town. At the time of the interviews, this had become a decision dilemma involving many aspects of the well-being of the family. They could comply with the terms of Tarjei’s employer, sell the house and move to the location of Tarjei’s employer’s headquarters. In this case Louise would have to quit her job and enter the job market in a new town, and the children would have to change school and get new friends. Or Tarjei could quit his job and try to get a similar job in the ton where they had established themselves. Both decision alternatives involved risks in which economic concerns, job satisfaction, and the welfare of the children and parents were at stake. It could be described as a zero sum game, and at the time of the interview they had not made the final decision. However, after many discussions they managed to set their first priorities, which were "being together" and "the welfare of the children". This example demonstrates how interpersonal dependency between family members makes it necessary to set priorities according to the well-being of the family as a whole. Winning and losing according to individual interests is usually not a viable strategy in the long run for family decision making (Corfman 1987).

Interdependency of multiple roles. Louise had adapted to her family role set by reducing her commitment to work. The parent role had the highest priority, and this was never questioned in the family. However, she stated very clearly that this role set balance was only temporary. Tarjei, on the other hand, experienced severe family-work role conflicts. He took the heat away from Louise in a way. Tarjei had to be a very competent consumer or prosumer (home renovation), a high-income breadwinner (to mange high home loans), and an attentive father and partner (according to their ideals of family life). In the last few years, work and the maintenance of a desired lifestyle had become more demanding for Tarjei than he was comfortable with. This had resulted in a polarization of the couple’s family roles, which was in conflict with their parenting ideals and goals.



Interdependency between consumer decision domains. During the first ten years of marriage Tarjei and Louise had moved three times and invested heavily in their lifestyle, financially, energy wise and emotionally. They lived in their first house for only a couple of years, but it proved to be a very good investment. This enabled them to improve their housing standard by investing in a bigger house. However, they were not prepared for the renovation costs and the labor they had to put into it to make it work according to their needs and standards. This was a very hard time but they managed to look back at it with some humor.

Tarjei: "Just after we bought it (the house) I went down one day to look at what we had boughtBand I was shocked. It looked awful without the furniture. I thought that I would not be able to handle it when I saw how much work it would be. Then you (Louise) wanted to sell it. But then I started to work on it."

Louise: "I was pregnant with number two. If you really thought it was too much we would not have gotten into it. You started to work like crazy."

Tarjei: "Yes I started to work like crazy and since then we have not agreed." (laughter)

Louise: "The problem has been that Tarjei has started very big renovation projects such as the wooden floors. I would just have painted them but he had them polished to perfection. In hindsight we are glad he did it but it was too much work. I could not help him. I was tired with three small children. We are a typical family with small children and two jobs andBeverything happens at the same time."

The setting is a very good example of the interdependency of decision domains and how changes in one domain affected the other. The two driving forces here were the couple’s desire to have a house in a particular area (lifestyle) and the fact that a baby was coming soon (family). This heavy load limited their mental capacity and available time to search in the market and put pressure on them to make a decision rather fast. Just after they bought the house they realized that it would cost them a lot in several ways and they considered selling it and finding a less expensive house. However, due to the short time left before the arrival of their second child, they decided to give it a go. Renovating the house put a lot of strain on the family and Louise explains that they managed because they were relatively mature and were not afraid to discuss the conflicts.

Most of the couples in the study had similar experiences in house-buying situations. There was too little time to collect adequate information and too little time to evaluate alternatives and calculate different outcomes. The economic consequences only became apparent ex post facto. The common response to this overconsumption of housing was to work more to increase the household income. In many cases this generated conflicts with other roles and needs in the family, which can be described as a domino effect. Overconsumption in one domain led to compensatory activities in other domains and roles, which at the end of the day affected job satisfaction, life satisfaction, and consumer welfare.

Decision load. Tarjei and Louise’s event history qualifies for the description of overload or "door in the face". Even though this is a couple with an explicit desire to establish a full family, the "door in the face" situation surprised them a couple of times when major events just seemed to happen simultaneously. Analysis across the eight couples suggests two coping strategies to reduce the event load. These were having only one child and deciding not to pursue a career. In general it seemed that conscious timing of children in relation to other domains (especially work) was difficult. Since so many things happen during this stage of family life in any case, the birth of a child will always imply some "disturbance". One example is another couple, Ole and Ruth, a doctoral student and his successful journalist wife, who never found time to have a second child although they wanted one. Tarjei and Louise’s door in the face approach seem to be one way to fulfill the desire to have several children.

The three event domains having children (family), the amount of time spent on income-generating activities (work), and lifestyle choices (consumption) were often brought into the same decision context because they could not be kept apart in strategic family decisions. At other times the mere timing of events made it necessary to consider all three domains simultaneously.


High scores on all the structural dimensions put extreme pressure on the decision-making capabilities of the couples in the study. In the ideal world rational decisions require clear goals, access to and the ability to process all necessary information, the capacity to evaluate all available alternatives, and the ability to envision the exact consequences (March 1995). In our study most of the ideal world conditions were in jeopardy.

Sometimes the well-being of the family as a unit was in conflict with individual goals. Tarjei and Louise had discussed the decision dilemma regarding Tarjei’s work situation for at least two years and they still had problems sorting out their priorities. Conflicting goals, alternatives that are not obvious, competing decision domains, and consequences that have to be experienced before they can be appreciated often characterize major decisions in families. All the couples expressed the view that house buying was a very difficult consumer task, which for most of them became more expensive than assumed prior to purchase. Overconsumption of housing therefore became a driving motivation for commitment to work and consumption in other areas. This interdependency between decision domains and roles was a new experience that the couples had problems sorting out and illustrates how complex the internal dynamics of a family can be. Most of the couples had postponed investing in furniture and consumed less leisure activities than desired. The couples that experienced the least load tended to place a high priority on leisure time. The husband in a leisure priority family said that they traded reduced income for more leisure time. In the families that gave priority to career and housing, unexpected consequences and accumulation of events often stretched the families’ coping resources o the limit. It seemed harder to reduce or change career ambitions than to reduce day-to-day consumption. Against this background it was not surprising that all the couples in our study thought they would have been better off if they had received professional advice on many of the decisions they had made during the early stages of their family lives.


The focus of this study has been to capture decision making from the consumer’s point of view. The early stages of the family life cycle are so loaded with major decision tasks and transitions in people’s lives that insights into structural properties of the family as a unit of analysis should be of interest to marketing researchers, marketers, consumer agencies, and for the consumers themselves. The analysis also suggests that an interdisciplinary approach is necessary since "everything seems to happen at the same time" and because life events and their associated consequences are interdependent. Career adjustments seem to require psychological counseling, while house buying requires economic counseling. For example a professional advise in a house purchasing situation, only based on the income potential for one spouse, does not provide enough information to evaluate the outcome for the family as a whole. Such strategic decisions are not easy to reverse, and therefore people tend to stick to them even if they have to operate on the limit of the family’s time and financial margins.

If we are looking for excitement in consumer research, the family represents a rich reservoir of complex and emotional properties. Theoretical concepts from relationship research have been used as metaphors to make low-involvement products more interesting from a marketing perspective. Products or brands are seen as having personalities (Aaker 1997) and the consumers are seen as having personal relationships with brands or products (Fournier 1998). Products are ascribed almost human capacities. The relationship paradigm is useful for enhancing the importance of low-risk and low-involvement consumer behavior. However, from a consumer perspective, the important relationships in life are not to brands but to real persons. The family is a setting where the individual relates to significant others and lives out the true joys and challenges of relationships. Knowledge of families as units of consumption can be of real significance for the well-being of many consumers, as such knowledge is necessary to improve both public and private products and services on which the family depends.




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