Social Interaction and Social Structural Determinants in Adolescent Consumer Socialization

Roy L. Moore, Georgia State University
George P. Moschis, Georgia State University
ABSTRACT - This paper explores the influence of parents and peers as socialization agents and the effects of demographic variables on adolescent consumer learning within the context of a conceptual model of consumer socialization. Consumer learning properties examined include consumer affairs knowledge, puffery filtering, management of consumer finances, attitudes toward the marketplace and materialism.
[ to cite ]:
Roy L. Moore and George P. Moschis (1980) ,"Social Interaction and Social Structural Determinants in Adolescent Consumer Socialization", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 07, eds. Jerry C. Olson, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 757-759.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 7, 1980     Pages 757-759

SOCIAL INTERACTION AND SOCIAL STRUCTURAL DETERMINANTS IN ADOLESCENT CONSUMER SOCIALIZATION

Roy L. Moore, Georgia State University

George P. Moschis, Georgia State University

[Roy L. Moore is Assistant Professor of Journalism and George P. Moschis is Assistant Professor of Marketing, both at Georgia State University.]

ABSTRACT -

This paper explores the influence of parents and peers as socialization agents and the effects of demographic variables on adolescent consumer learning within the context of a conceptual model of consumer socialization. Consumer learning properties examined include consumer affairs knowledge, puffery filtering, management of consumer finances, attitudes toward the marketplace and materialism.

INTRODUCTION

During the last few years consumer researchers have adopted socialization perspectives as vehicles to the study of consumer behavior. However, most of the research on consumer socialization has focused primarily upon generating data pertinent to answering questions of interest to public policymakers rather than the systematic examination of the development of cognitive and behavioral patterns that comprise consumer behavior. For example, while a great deal of research has focused on the effects of television advertising on children and their families, relatively little is known about the effects of other sources of consumer information on the youth's consumer behavior.

Theory and research in disciplinary areas suggest that socialization is a lifetime process (e.g. Bentson and Black 1973), with adolescence a crucial period for socialization (Campbell 1969). Research findings also suggest that a great deal of consumer learning occurs during these years (e.g. Moschis 1978; Ward and Wackman 1971). Because of the importance of this period for consumer socialization as well as the relatively limited attention this period received in consumer learning research studies, this investigation focuses on the development of selected cognitive and behavioral components that comprise consumer behavior.

CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK

Previous research has outlined a conceptual model of consumer socialization. This model consists of five different types of variables derived from general socialization theories: age or life cycle, social structural variables, socialization agents and learning processes (both combined to form socialization processes) and consumer skills [Figure 1].

When socialization is viewed as a cognitive development, the emphasis is placed upon the child's maturation (indexed by his age); content of learning (consumer skills) is expected to undergo formation and change as a result of such maturation, which brings about psychological adjustment to one's environment. The social learning model (another popular approach to socialization) views socialization as a product of environmental forces applied to the person rather than internal psychological processes. The emphasis is placed upon sources of influence, commonly known as "socialization agents" transmitting norms, values, and attitudes (content of learning) through specific learning mechanisms (social interaction, modeling and reinforcement) in various social settings.

This research examines the effects of family and peers as socialization agents found to be important sources of consumer learning in previous studies (e.g. Ward 1974). Because of the cross-sectional nature of the study, we examine how these agents transmit consumer-related cognitions and behaviors through social interaction processes. Social structural variables examined include social class, sex and race while the specific time span examined is adolescence.

Learning cognitions and behaviors examined include a variety of variables used in previous socialization re-search--consumer knowledge, puffery filtering, materialism, and consumer finance management, and attitudes toward the marketplace.

FIGURE 1

A CONCEPTUAL MODEL OF CONSUMER SOCIALIZATION

THE STUDY

Sample

The sample for this study consisted of 784 sixth through twelfth grade students from six counties in a southeastern state. Self-administered, anonymous questionnaires were first completed at school during December 1977.

Definition and Measurement of Variables

Consumer affairs knowledge refers to knowledge of economic and business concepts, consumer-related legislation and effective and safe product use. This measure consisted of summed correct responses to 12 "true-false-don't know" statements such as "Milk sold in the store must show the last day it can be sold."

Puffery filtering, the respondent's ability to discriminate "facts" from exaggeration in advertising, consisted of a 12-item accuracy index of "mostly true/neither true nor untrue/mostly untrue" puffery statements. Items were adapted from our previous research and 40 expert judges were used to determine the degree of puffery in each item. Six of the items, according to a pretest, contained high puffery; the other six contained "true" information. Examples are "State Farm is all you need to know about insurance," (Puffery) and "Honda Civic gets 45 miles per gallon on the highway" (True). Responses were measured on a 3-point scale with respondents given scores of 1, 2, and 3 for checking puffery items as "believe it is mostly true," "believe it is neither true nor untrue," or "believe it is mostly untrue," respectively; and scores of 3, 2, and 1 for similar responses to advertising claims considered to be true.

Consumer finance management refers to the ability to correctly price selected expense items in an average family's monthly budget. Respondents estimated how much the average American family with two children and a total monthly income of $1,000 spent on: food, clothes, home expenses, automobile expenses, other expenses and savings. Respondents were assigned a score of 5 for responses falling within plus or minus 10 percent of the actual estimates, a 4 for responses falling within plus or minus 20 percent of the actual figures, 3 for responses falling within plus or minus 30 percent, a 2 for responses falling within plus or minus 50 percent or more of the actual estimates. Actual estimates for the expense items were obtained from U.S. Department of Labor reports.

Attitudes toward the marketplace refers to affective and cognitive orientations toward various marketing stimuli (advertising, brands, stores, salespeople and prices) and general attitudes toward businesses. This variable was constructed by summing responses to six items such as "Salespeople help you buy those things that are best for you," measured on a 5-point "strongly agree-strongly disagree" Likert-type scale.

Materialism is operationally defined as an orientation emphasizing possession and money for personal happiness and social progress. This variable was measured by responses to six items such as "It is really true that money can buy happiness," using a 5-point "strongly agree-strongly disagree" Likert-type scale.

Family communication about consumption is operationally defined as overt interaction between parent and adolescent concerning goods and services, measured by summing responses to six items. A typical item was "My parents and I talk about buying things," with responses measured on a 5-point very often (=5) or never (=1) scale.

Peer communication about consumption is operationally defined as overt peer-adolescent interaction concerning goods and services, measured by summing responses to eight items such as "My friends and I talk about buying things," using a 5-point, very often (=5) to never (=1) scale.

All indices were tested for reliability using coefficient alpha (Nunnally 1967) and found to be above the minimum recommended level (.50). Only consumer affairs knowledge and puffery filtering had coefficients less than recommended at .44 and .48, respectively.

Social class was measured using Duncan's (1961) index. Respondents were asked to state the father's and mother's occupation and place of work.

RESULTS

Table 1 shows relationships between each of the criterion variables and the selected independent variables. Table entries are partial correlation coefficients with only statistically significant coefficients reported.

Effects of Socialization Agents

The first consideration in this research was the extent to which family and peers affect the development of consumer skills among adolescents.

Family. The data in Table 1 suggest the family may affect the adolescent's ability to filter puffery in advertising (b = .08, p <.08). Apparently, parents help their children to learn to discriminate facts from exaggerations in commercials. No other dependent variable was significantly related to the child's frequency of communication with his parents about consumption matters.

Peers. The frequency of interaction with peers also seems to lead to the development of materialistic orientations as posited (b = .08, p <.05). Thus, the expressive aspects of consumption may be acquired from peers, a finding which is consistent with previous research (Moschis 1978).

Effects of Cognitive Development

Cognitive development, indexed by the respondent's age, was expected to lead to the development of the skills examined. Table 1 shows that age was a strong predictor of consumer affairs knowledge (b = .33, p <.001), ability to manage consumer finances (b = .16, p <.001) and materialistic values (b = .14, p <.001); it was negatively related to the respondent's development of favorable attitudes toward the marketplace (b = -.09, p <.05), suggesting that adolescents may become skeptical and critical of marketing practices with age. No significant relationship was found between age and ability to filter puffery in advertising.

Influence of Social Structural Variables

The effects of three social structural variables (SES, sex, and race) were assessed. Social class was positively related to puffery filtering in advertising (b = .09, p <.05) and negatively related to the respondent's attitudes toward the marketplace (b = -.09, p<.05). The data in Table 1 suggest that male adolescents are more likely to have greater knowledge about consumer matters (b = -.09, p <.05) and stronger materialistic attitudes (b = -.14, p <.001) than females.

Finally, race was significantly related to three independent variables: consumer affairs knowledge (b = -.09, p <.05), puffery filtering (b = -.12, p <.001) and consumer finance management (b = -.08, p <.01). These relationships suggest that white adolescents may acquire these skills faster/better than black adolescents.

These data partially support the view that social structural variables may have a direct impact on consumer learning skill acquisition.

The last concern in this research was the extent to which social structural variables may indirectly affect consumer socialization. Table 2 presents results of product-moment correlations for independent variables.

With increasing age, adolescents tend to interact less with their parents about consumption matters; and females are more likely to do so than their male counterparts. Race does not appear to have an impact on overt interpersonal communication. Social class does not seem' to have a strong impact on socialization processes.

TABLE 1

RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN DEPENDENT CONSUMER SKILL MEASURES AND SELECTED INDEPENDENT VARIABLES

TABLE 2

CORRELATION MATRIX FOR SELECTED INDEPENDENT VARIABLES

DISCUSSION

Socialization as a Social Process. Family interaction appears to influence the development of the persons ability to distinguish facts from exaggerations in advertising, suggesting that such communication may be initiated by and be focused upon television commercials. On the other hand, peers seem to influence the development of "expressive" aspects of consumption, as postulated by early sociologists and supported by findings of a previous study (Moschis and Churchill 1978).

Socialization as a Cognitive Developmental Process. The adolescent's cognitive development, indexed by age, predicted the development of most consumer skills examined. This influence appears to he direct, since age was not related as strongly to the socialization processes. However, cognitive development by itself does not seem to adequately explain adolescent consumer socialization.

Social structural variables may directly and indirectly affect learning. Social class appears to be a rather weak predictor of consumer skills and socialization processes examined; its influence tends to be direct rather than indirect. Race and sex, on the other hand, seem to affect consumer learning both directly and indirectly.

REFERENCES

Bentson, V. L. and Black, D. K. (1973). Life-Span Developmental Psychology: Personality and Socialization. New York: Academic Press.

Campbell, Earnest Q. (1969). "Adolescent Socialization," in D. A. Goslin, ed., Handbook of Socialization Theory and Research. Chicago: Rand McNally.

Duncan, Otis D. (1961). "A Socioeconomic Index of All Occupations," in A. J. Reiss, Jr., ed., Occupations and Social Status. New York: Free Press.

Moschis, George P. (1978). Acquisition of the Consumer Role by Adolescents. Atlanta: Bureau of Business Research, Georgia State University.

Moschis, George P. and Churchill, Gilbert A., Jr. (1978). "Consumer Socialization: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis," in Journal of Marketing Research, 15 (November, 1978), 599-609.

Nunnally, Jim C. (1967). Psychometric Theory. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Ward, Scott L. 1974). "Consumer Socialization," Journal of Consumer Research, 1 (September, 1974b), 1-14.

Ward, Scott L. and Wackman, Daniel B. (1971). "Family and Media Influences on Adolescent Consumer Learning," American Behavioral Scientist, 14 (January-February, 1971), 415-427.

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