A Transgenerational Comparison ---The Elderly Fashion Consumer

Claude R. Martin, Jr., The University of Michigan
ABSTRACT - This paper reports the characteristics of elderly women fashion consumers and then compares their shopping and buying behavior with other generations of women consumers. The conclusion is that major differences exist among generations with particular emphasis on alternatives considered, predispositions formed prior to shopping embarkation, and reliance on sales persons and newspapers.
[ to cite ]:
Claude R. Martin, Jr. (1976) ,"A Transgenerational Comparison ---The Elderly Fashion Consumer", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 03, eds. Beverlee B. Anderson, Cincinnati, OH : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 453-456.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, 1976      Pages 453-456


Claude R. Martin, Jr., The University of Michigan


This paper reports the characteristics of elderly women fashion consumers and then compares their shopping and buying behavior with other generations of women consumers. The conclusion is that major differences exist among generations with particular emphasis on alternatives considered, predispositions formed prior to shopping embarkation, and reliance on sales persons and newspapers.


"They feel slighted and ignored as consumers" (Business Week, 1971).

That assessment of the elderly consumer is particularly true in the case of women's fashion apparel based on three observations:

1. The consumer behavior literature does not contain reports on research into the buying needs or behavior of this market.

2. In-depth interviews with 75 women consumers, including 18 past the age of 60, confirmed John Howard's observance that "you have a psychological thing here, many older people don't want to be reminded that they are old, and they often tend to react against advertising and marketing programs that separate them from the masses" (Business Week, 1971).

3. A perusal of fashion advertising shows an emphasis toward the "Pepsi generation", or at best, the mothers of that generation.

This emphasis toward the youth and mid-age market continues despite an over-65 market of 20-million persons with more than $60 billion spending power. The, commonly cited statistic that women out-live the male of the species lends credence to the notion that the elderly woman is a viable market segment for the fashion apparel industry.

This article presents the results of a study designed to examine transgenerational differences and similarities in buying behavior, with emphasis on the geriatric fashion buyer.


The ultimate research instrument was a mail questionnaire, preceded by the previously cited series of in-depth interviews. These interviews with women consumers were conducted in southwestern Missouri. Each of the 75 women were approached just after completing an apparel purchase. They were asked to retrace the steps they had taken in consummating that purchase and the results of these in-depth interviews were used to structure the mail questionnaire.

Two Missouri retail trade areas, Joplin and Springfield were used for the mail survey. Among the rationale for that selection were that (1) the retailers agreed to cooperate, and (2) the two areas had substantial differences in socioeconomic characteristics (U.S. Census, 1970). Among these major differences were median and mean income levels, median housing values, population growth, and education level attainment. As a simple characterization, the Springfield market is larger, faster growing, better educated and more affluent than Joplin. Also important to the selection was the geographic closeness of the two cities; allowing for control of major regional variance.

The cross-index directories of the R.F. Polk Company were used to randomly choose 850 households, with the population proportion between the two markets as a factor in the sample selection. A telephone inquiry was conducted to obtain the name of women residents. These names were then numbered and one name in each household was randomly selected for receipt of a mail questionnaire. There were 356 completed questionnaires returned, with a reasonable proportionality between the two markets with regard to the age, population, marital status and employment distributions of the 1970 census.

The original in-depth interviews resulted in a hypothesis that there are transgenerational differences in buying behavior. Those interviews produced a series of specific variables for further exploration. In the subsequent mail survey each woman was questioned concerning her most recent personal clothing purchase. The 35 specific variables tested included those categorized as behavior, predispositions, product and information uses, buyer goals, and demographics (Figure 1). On this last dimension -- demographics -- the respondents were grouped into simple life-cycle classifications utilizing age and marital status. Of the 356 respondents, the following was the distribution:


The ultimate objective of the study was to examine the multidimensional differences among various generations in these groups.


However, before that trans-generation comparison an analysis of the simple cross-tabulation data on the elderly woman was undertaken. The objective of this initial phase was to construct a typology by emphasizing those variables which typified the majority of the older consumers. The data reveal 25 dimensions which can be so used and to make the typology more meaningful these were rank-ordered in terms of percentage of elderly fitting the category. As seen in the results (Figure 2), the major factors that describe the elderly fashion consumer are that she buys a garment to match accessories already in her wardrobe, in a store where she has previously purchased; with no lower price limit coming to the market, but with a negative color predisposition -- there is at least one color she would not buy; and she utilizes newspaper advertising as an input to her decision process, but rarely a "shopping pal" -- she is a "loner". While the results do spell out other dimensions of this typology, perhaps some emphasis can be given those that coincide with very controllable strategies a marketer could evoke to sell this elderly consumer. Apparently she relies upon the salesclerk for point-of-purchase advice on both style and fit and upon newspaper advertising otherwise; she has definite fabric and garment care predispositions; and she also comes to the marketplace with a firmly fixed upper price limit. Perhaps most important overall is her self-perception that she keeps up to date on fashion trends. This latter finding that two-thirds of the elderly women exhibit a positive degree of fashion consciousness, coupled with an almost like degree of specific pre-purchase planning seems to explode the myth that the older woman is an exploitable target for left-over styles or inventory.


MCA Analysis

The multiple classification analysis program (Andrews, et al, 1967) was used to detect those variables from among all tested, that had the highest relationship or best discriminated the life cycle variable. In its elementary form the MCA program produces measures of simple associations -- pairwise correlations -- between the dependent variable (in our case, simple life-cycle configurations) and the independent variable. This is reflected in the Eta2 score output of the program, which is the fraction of the variance in the dependent variable explained by the single variable alone. However, marketing does not function in a univariate environment and more meaningful for guidance was the Beta2 output of the MCA program. Beta2 is somewhat analogous to Eta but it is the measure of importance of the variable in a multiple regression of all variables to the dependent variable. Thirty four variables were used as independent variables with life cycle the dependent variable in the MCA analysis.

Arbitrarily, those 11 variables with a Beta2 score > .02 were selected for further study (Table 1).

Generational Dichotomies

The small percentage of respondents in some age and marital categories caused the elimination or combining into the following groups:

Post WWII adults (18 - 30 years)

Matrons (40 - 59 years)

Elderly (over 60 years)





The rational for this selection was the heavy concentration of promotion and product mix toward the 18-30 year old woman. This is the generation being depicted by the psychographists as being very different from the previous passers in the life stream. Certainly a comparison of those in the next generation down from the elderly also offers the possibility for filling out any indicators of the pros and cons of transgenerational marketing strategies. In other words, these three age groupings provide a basis for exploring whether marketers can bridge across the spectrum of women fashion consumers.



A comparison of the elderly woman to those in the other two generations was made along the eleven dimensions (Table 2). For the young woman the greatest diversity with the elderly was on the garment purchased and the smallest difference was in the shopping enjoyment experienced. Similarly the greatest difference between the elderly woman consumer and her matron counterpart is in the number of total stores shopped, while the least difference is in a predisposed upper price limit. By rank-ordering these differences and using the Spearman rank correlation analysis (Siegel, 1956), the r is +.145-leading to a conclusion that major trans-generational differences do exist.

Examination of the results for each group (Table 3) gives a definition of the differences. For example, when we contrast the elderly woman with the younger one we see the greater proportion using and finding helpful both newspaper advertising and sales clerk evaluations in the purchase decision



We also can see the greater proportion of younger women enjoying shopping and entering the market place with an upper price limit. However, examination of the data on the latter dimension shows the following proportion of each age group who adhered to an upper price limit:

Young     80.8%

Matron    92.6%

Elderly     94.5%

The elderly woman shops in fewer stores totally and on the day of purchase than does either of her younger counterparts. The elderly also self-evaluate themselves more conservatively as to fashion awareness than the 18-30 year old, but similar to the matron.


The two -thirds of elderly women who perceive themselves as being fashion conscious and the high proportion who enjoy shopping seems to indicate a potential for fashion merchandising. Certainly they are different from the young woman who is the target of so many fashion retailers. These differences and the dichotomies over all three generations certainly indicate the difficulties of mounting a transgenerational strategic effort.




Business Week, November 20, 1971, pp. 52-59.

United States, Bureau of the Census. Census of the Population, 1970, PC(1)-A27, PC(1)-B27, PC(1)-C27.

Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1971.

Frank Andrews, James Morgan, and John Sonquist, Multiple Classification Analysis (Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, 1967).

Sidney Siegel, Nonparametric Statistics for the Behavioral Science (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1956).