Marital Roles &Amp; Typologies As Predictors of Purchase Decision Making For Everyday Household Products Suggestions For Research

Lawrence H. Wortzel, Boston University
ABSTRACT - Rapid social change has been evident in changes in husband and wife roles within marriage and in an increasing variety of marriage typologies. This paper briefly recounts these changes and reports on an interesting scheme for categorizing marriages. It then discusses the potential effects of the changes on decision-making for everyday household products, focusing especially on information seeking and processing.
[ to cite ]:
Lawrence H. Wortzel (1980) ,"Marital Roles &Amp; Typologies As Predictors of Purchase Decision Making For Everyday Household Products Suggestions For Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 07, eds. Jerry C. Olson, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 212-215.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 7, 1980     Pages 212-215


Lawrence H. Wortzel, Boston University


Rapid social change has been evident in changes in husband and wife roles within marriage and in an increasing variety of marriage typologies. This paper briefly recounts these changes and reports on an interesting scheme for categorizing marriages. It then discusses the potential effects of the changes on decision-making for everyday household products, focusing especially on information seeking and processing.


Even a quick scan of journals and proceedings published over the past few years demonstrates the increasing popularity of household or family decision making as an area of research. A reading of the recent literature leads to two conclusions. The conclusions are (1) that we have certainly learned a lot about the subject, but (2) there's still a tremendous amount that we don't know. Because of the rapid social changes occurring over the past few years it is even possible that our present knowledge is becoming obsolete faster than we can update it.

There have been several trends in research on household/ family decision making. One trend has been toward cross-cultural, comparative studies and another has been toward comparing and documenting the roles of husbands and wives in the purchase decision for durable goods. A third trend has been toward analyzing the effects of social change on consumption related behavior. Studies in this trend have often focused on one family member, usually the wife. Very recently, there has been some interest in studying husbands. Typically such studies look at wives' purchase decision making as a function of whether they work or, lately, as a function of husband's involvement in tasks that have traditionally been performed by wives. An interesting facet of this work is that it concentrates on individual members of the family rather than on the interaction between husbands and wives. Since its focus is on household tasks, the consumption behavior studied relates to non-durables.

This paper is in the tradition of social change effects studies, but it adds one dimension, marital typologies, to the set of variables we have used to explain family household purchase decision-making. The paper will focus on non-durables, and on the roles of both husband and wife in the purchase decision process. Its goal is to suggest lines of research that is intellectually interesting and that might also lead to some results that would be of use to managers and policy makers.

The discussion to follow disclaims any original thought. At best it is a synthesis of ideas and research findings gleaned from reading the work of others, from discussions with colleagues, from sitting in at conference sessions and from some past work of my own. It would be very difficult to refer to every such source; therefore this paper will be relatively bare of references. That are obscure, unavoidable or necessary to follow up will be presented.

The discussion will include presentation of a simple concept of purchase decision-making, enumeration of a set of predictor variables and some suggested research methodologies.


The paper is organized around a simple concept of purchase decision-making based on identifying decision-makers and decision processes. A series of propositions will be presented and discussed for both decision makers and decision processes. The concept assumes a low-involvement or low commitment decision-making model (Krugman, 1965; Robertson, 1976) and will draw significantly from Bettman's (1979) work on consumer choice theory. It also ignores influence of children. They are a complication that cannot be handled in this paper. Decision maker and decision process identification will be discussed in turn.

Identifying Decision Makers

The major propositions about decision making are as follows:

1.  Non-durables are used to perform household tasks. In general, the person who performs the task in which the product is used is generally the decision-maker. However, there are some circumstances in which the task performer is not the decision-maker. Thus, the first steps in identifying the decision maker are identifying the task performers and the circumstances in which the performer is or is not likely to be the decision-maker.

2.  Tasks performed in a household can be classified along two dimensions, who they are performed by and who they are performed for. The possibilities are shown in Exhibit 1.



The performance of certain tasks, such as brushing teeth will be pretty consistent across households, but other tasks such as washing clothes will vary across households. One partner can do the family wash, both can do the family wash together, or each can do his/her own wash separately, for example.

3.  If the researcher knows something about the nature of the task, the attitude and structure of the household and the type of marriage that exists, the researcher can often predict the task performer. Some of the "traditional'', predictor variables, as summarized by Davis (1977) may be of some use. For example, relative resources might predict who performs the households "scut" work such as toilet bowl cleaning and sex role ideologies might predict who performed other tasks, such as taking out the garbage. There are, however, two variables that might be emerging as better predictors of task performance especially among younger couples. The first of these is premarital household management experience.

The effect of premarital household management experience is that women have managed checking accounts, taken out garbage and maintained cars while men have cooked, dusted and washed clothes prior to marriage. Consequently, each sex has developed a broader range of task competence, if not interest. A result may be two tendencies, one toward different allocations of the tasks carried out by the husband versus the wife for the household; a second tendency maybe for some traditionally household tasks to be performed by husband add wife for themselves. Each makes his/her own breakfast; each does his/her own wash.

The second variable is, I believe of even more consequence in predicting task performance and in under -standing the relationship between task performance and decision-making.

There is voluminous evidence, admittedly much of it impressionistic, that marital relationships are changing. I believe that there are changes occurring, and that the changes represent a broadening of the variety of relationships that are called marriages especially among younger people. I also believe that a systematic classification of these relationships would suggest that they would predict task performance. One potentially very useful classification has been developed by Sager and is presented in Exhibit 2. This classification labels some basic role types each partner may take on in a marriage, together with a description of some of the major dimensions of each role type. A marriage is of course composed of two role types , which may or may not be the same.



It is a possible to make some specific predictions about role performance based on these typologies. For example:

a.  in equal/equal marriages all tasks that can be performed for the household, are performed by either husband or wife.

b.  romantic/romantics will tend to perform household tasks together and may even perform for each other tasks which other types perform for themselves, such as washing each other's hair.

c.  parallel/parallel will perform as many tasks as possible by themselves for themselves. This is the pairing, for example in which each partner is most likely to do his/her own laundry.

d.  parental/child likes will divide tasks according to their perceived difficulty. The parental partner will perform the difficult tasks while the childlike partner will perform the difficult ones.

e.  other "mixed marriages", e.g. romantic/ rational will show conflict in task allocation and the allocation of tasks may be in a constant state of flux.

It would be possible to similarly hypothesize the behavior of other marital combinations. I do not mean to suggest that the Sager, or for that matter any other marital typology will turn out to be the only or even the most significant predictor of task performance. We know that situational variables are usually of considerable importance in predicting behavior, and may be better predictors of the performance of any specific task. But marital typology should represent a significant addition to our ability to predict task performance.

4.  There are circumstances in which the task-performer may not be the decision maker. (The decision is usually a brand choice decision)

a.  When the task performer does not do the shopping for the task related product, the likelihood increases that the performer will not make the purchase decision. In some households, shopping is itself treated as a task.

b.  When the husband and wife shop together, the likelihood also increases that the task performer will not make the purchase decision.

c.  Some tasks will be performed by the less interested or less competent spouse. For example, the husband may prepare dinner but under the wife's general supervision or to her instructions because he is less interested in cooking or less competent to cook than she is. In these situations, the likelihood also increases that the task performer will not make the purchase decision.

d.  Certain marriage combinations suggest a split in the use/decision functions. Parent partners may decide for their child spouses and romantic/romantics may make decisions for each other.

The situations just described can also have some conflicting effects on the processes leading to purchase decisions. These complications will be discussed next.

Identifying Decision Processes

This section of the paper presents some propositions about decision processes for non-durables in light of the discussion about decision-makers just concluded. The discussion will focus on the "how" of decision making, especially information acquisition and use. This is an area of research that Davis (1977) among others has identifies and understudied. I assume a basic low-involvement model of decision-making in which information is absorbed passively and in which decisions are made using a range of simple heuristics (which may be applied situationally). I assume also that the decision involves the recall of information from advertising or from experience, which is stimulated by the need to make the decision. Terminology about specific parts of process will follow Bettman (1979), I will list a few prototypical possibilities together with some propositions associated with each.

1.  The task performer makes the decision but does not shop for the item. In this circumstance, an in-store decision is precluded and the decision-maker must decide based on whatever information can be retrieved without the stimulus of an array of merchandise. Therefore, it is likely that the decision makers evoked set will be smaller, and heuristics will be biased towards those that are not stimulated by the store environment. But the process can proceed along alternative paths:

a.  The decision maker can remain passive with respect to information seeking and processing. In this case the evoked set would consist of the brand last used plus any that happened to be in short term storage and the heuristic might be "do I want a change". If yes, the decision maker might search his/her limited repertoire, choose from it or (occasionally) delegate the search to the shopper, "Get me one that looks interesting. I want a change.."

b.  The decision maker can become a somewhat more active information processer. The decision maker might rehearse use of a new brand when presented with an ad and/or at the time of task performance. Some decision maker/buyers do their rehearsal at the time and place of purchase.

2.  The task performer makes the decision but shops together with his/her spouse. In this circumstance, there is the possibility of a larger evoked set, since the non-deciding partner can feed in information. There is always the possibility that the non-deciding partner can become the de facto decision maker in any purchase instance simply by feeding information in... "Gee, Brand X looked like it would do the job faster.." or by proposing a different heuristic..."Remember, darling, we're broke this week..." Marital typologies could help predict the extent to which this might happen,

a.  Parallel/parallels might stay out of each other's decisions

b.  In parent/child pairs the parent might continually suggest to the child.

c.  Romantic/romantics might routinely be involved in each other's decision.

3.  Task performers who do not decide and who do not shop. These deciders operate without the information and reinforcement gained from use of the product. To the extent that the reinforcement of the use of a given brand increases the probability that that brand will be repurchased, these deciders will be prone to brand switch. There are two competing possibilities with respect to this group's use of heuristics.

a.  Non-use of the product might lead the decider to believe that differences among brands are minimal and therefore to rely on price-oriented heuristics

b.  Alternatively, non use might lead the decision maker exaggerate the differences among brands and to rely on advertising-based perception of performance across brands.

The three circumstances just described do not by any means encompass all of the possibilities. Nor are they elaborated to the extent necessary to design a piece of research. But they should provide good starting points.


The ramifications of these propositions, if they turn out to be supported are quite interesting. Identifying the decider solves only a part of the marketing problem. To the extent that deciders do not shop, the role of advertising increases in importance and the role of in-store sales promotion takes on decreased importance. Moreover, advertising emphasis should be placed on obtaining immediate rehearsal and decision. Given the stimulus of the merchandise itself, advertising could be doing its job if it merely placed images in consumer memory that would be evoked by the merchandise.

When husband and wife shop together, the amount of information available for recall increases, and as pointed out, the non-deciding partner always has the opportunity to become the de facto decision maker by either presenting some information or by suggesting a different heuristic. These possibilities suggest the potential importance of advertising directed at both spouses.

The shopper/decider who is not the task performer also represents an interesting problem. As noted, this person has the opportunity to apply his/her own heuristics to the purchase situation and to react to both advertising and point of purchase stimuli that cannot be rehearsed in light of performing the task. Advertising might address this situation by using a task observer rather than a task performer orientation. It may in some cases also have to overcome a tendency for the decision-maker to use a price-based heuristic.


Some of the research discussed in this paper can be conducted using structured questionnaires. It should be possible to develop pencil-and-paper instruments to identify the marital typologies. And it should be possible to develop an instrument to measure husbands' and wives' perceptions of task performance, shopping and decision-making. There would be questions, however, about the reliability and validity of those instruments. One reason for questions to arise has to do with the accuracy of spouses' perceptions of their actions. Also behavior under study changes from time-to-time. It is likely, then that the results will be inaccurate. But it considerably less likely that the results will be misleading.

Other topics might be studied clinically. For example, I believe we could learn a considerable amount about husbands and wives who shop together by simply video taping their shopping trios. Working with a given couple over several trips one could get some pretty fair ideas about task allocations and information processing as well as decision-making.

In short, it's going to be impossible to learn all we need to know using any methodology. But it's hard to think of any well conceived, well executed study that won't turn up something of value.


Bettman, James R, An Information Processing Theory of Consumer Choice, Reading MA, Addison Wesley, 1979

Davis, Harry, "Decision Making Within the Household" in Selected Aspects of Consumer Behavior, NSFRA 77-0013 US Govt. Printing Office, 1977

Krugman, Herbert, "The Impact of Television Advertising: learning without involvement" Public Opinion Quarterly, 29, Fall 1965: 349-356

Robertson, Thomas S., 1976 Low-Commitment Consumer Behavior. Journal of Advertising Research, 16, Apr. 1976 pp. 19-24

Sager, Clifford J. Marriage Contracts and Couple Therapy, New York. Brunner/Mazel Inc. 1976

Sager, Clifford J., "A Typology of Intimate Relationships" Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 3:2 (Summer 1977) pp. 83-112

Wortzel, Lawrence H., The Young Adult Consumer: An Introduction and Overview, Cambridge, MA . Marketing Science Institute, 1977