Determinants of Children's Influence on Mothers' Buying Behavior

Sunil Mehrotra, Needham, Harper and Steers
Sandra Torges, Needham, Harper and Steers
ABSTRACT - Children often try to influence their mothers' purchases of child-related products. In this paper we attempt to isolate those variables that determine whether a mother yields to an influence attempt or not, and to determine if these variables vary across products.
[ to cite ]:
Sunil Mehrotra and Sandra Torges (1977) ,"Determinants of Children's Influence on Mothers' Buying Behavior", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 04, eds. William D. Perreault, Jr., Atlanta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 56-60.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1977   Pages 56-60


Sunil Mehrotra, Needham, Harper and Steers

Sandra Torges, Needham, Harper and Steers


Children often try to influence their mothers' purchases of child-related products. In this paper we attempt to isolate those variables that determine whether a mother yields to an influence attempt or not, and to determine if these variables vary across products.


In 1975, advertisers spent more than $86 million to present their messages directly to children, a sizable statement of belief in the influence of children on their parents' buying behavior (BAR Network TV, 1975).

For the most part, research has been supportive of that faith. In several studies, children reported that when they asked for particular food items such as cereal, snack food, or candy, parents complied about 75% of the time (Donohue, 1975; Howard, Hulbert and Lehmann, 1973; Mark Clements Research, Inc., 1967). In another study, mothers recalled yielding to about half of such requests for food (Ward and Wackman, 1972a). And when children and their parents were observed shopping in a supermarket, children were successful in influencing their parents' purchase of cereal and candy in 61% and 52% of the times attempted, respectively (Wells and LoSciuto, 1966).

In addition to making direct requests, both at home and in the store, children may exert influence in a subtler manner, through "passive dictation" (Wells, 1965). Mothers observe what foods their children eat and don't eat, what clothes they wear and which ones are left hanging in the closet, and which toys and games they like to play with. Particularly when there is no other existing criterion for making a selection, the mother relies heavily on her observations to decide which product to purchase.

Further studies have revealed some factors which affect the mother's likelihood of being influenced. The child's age is one of these factors. Older children make fewer direct attempts to influence their parents' choice, but older children are also more successful with these attempts (McNeal, 1969; Ward, 1972; Ward and Wackman, 1972a; Wells, 1965). Furthermore, parents are more likely to seek out opinions of older children about purchases, so the opinions of older children are more likely to be considered; and with an increase in age, the suggestions of girls begin to encompass products related to family as well as personal needs, while those of boys remain personally oriented. This sex difference is seen as a result of the mother, with whom most shopping is done, imparting the traditional female role to her daughter (McNeal, 1969).

The strength with which a child voices his request would be expected to be related to his success. One study concerned with cereal purchase found that there was no significant relationship between a child's assertiveness and his mother's purchase behavior (Berey and Pollay, 1968). One explanation for this result could be that the child's assertiveness was measured by his teacher, who was probably more knowledgeable of his assertiveness in his peer relationships than in his interaction with his family (Ward and Wackman, 1972a).

The type of product requested also has a bearing on the success of the child's request. Food products, which are most often requested by children, are most often bought on request (Ward and Wackman, 1972a). For other items, such as toys, price may be the decisive element. Even so, parents rely on the desires of their children almost 75% of the time in selecting toys which cost over five dollars (Frideres, 1973).

Even the time of the year can make a difference. Parents were considerably more influenced by their children's desires for toys at Christmas time (87%) than in the summer (58%) (Frideres, 1973).

Fundamental value orientations of parents and children are yet another basis for purchase decisions. For instance, parents of upper-class children more often bought competition toys for their children than did parents of middle-class children. Complementarily, the middle-class children requested competition toys less than the upper-class children (Caron and Ward, 1975).

When parents deny their children's requests, the interaction often continues with an explanation of why the product was not purchased. Mothers usually feel they provide their children with a sufficient reason for not buying the product, though the-children sometimes feel they do not receive a satisfactory explanation. The explanations offered older children tend to be more detailed than those for younger children (Howard, Hulbert and Lehmann, 1973; McNeal, 1969).

Discussions about requests for products are important in the consumer socialization of the child. They are part of the basis for the cross-generation transmission of consumer behavior, because the child learns to evaluate products by those criteria his parents use (Ward, 1974; Ward and Wackman, 1972b).

Parents then, in their dual roles as purchase agents and consumer educators, are the primary, mediating force between their children and the purchase of the products their children want and ask for. The interaction of parent and child seems to proceed in two directions: the child requests of the parent, and the parent responds to the child.

Research on the interaction between parents and children has usually proceeded from the direction of the children's influence attempts on their parents. Available information on the characteristics of parents which may make them more susceptible to the influence attempts of their children has for the most part come as lagniappe in studies of children.

A mother's attitudes toward television and advertising have some bearing upon the degree to which she will yield to purchase influence attempts made by her child. The mother who watches a lot of television experiences a greater number of influence attempts on the part of her child, and the likelihood that she will respond positively is greater. Furthermore, mothers who have more positive attitudes toward advertising acquiesce more often to the requests of their children. Conversely, the more restrictions parents place on their children's television viewing, the less receptive they are to influence attempts (Ward and Wackman, !972a).

Brand recall seems to be another important predictor of influence. A mother's brand recall of her child's favorite cereals was found to be significantly related to her purchase of those cereals (Berey and Pollay, 1968). However, a mother's recall of commercial content, though positively related to her child's purchase influence attempts, does not seem to be positively related to her yielding (Ward and Wackman, 1972a).

A mothers' child-centeredness (as determined by her time involvement in her child's activities) would also be expected to be a determining factor in successful influence attempts by her child. However, it does not appear to increase her receptivity to influence attempts when cereal purchase is involved. Highly child-centered mothers tend to purchase their child's favorite brand of cereal less frequently (Berey and Pollay, 1968).

In addition, a mother's child-centeredness would be expected to be positively related to her brand recall of her child's favorite cereals. Again, such is not the case. The investigators who reported this finding hypothesized that the negative correlation was due to the highly child-centered mothers who did not buy their child's favorite cereals, and whose resultant lack of experience with the product, possibly coupled with dissonance reduction, hampered their recall (Berey and Pollay, 1968).

The above research on children's purchase influence attempts on parental buying decisions has revealed some qualities of mothers which affect the degree to which they are influenced by their children's requests. However, this research has approached the mother's role, from the child's point of view, as a respondent to the child.

One additional study concentrates on measuring the relative influence of the mother and child in the decision making process, based on their alternative relationships and relative resources. The results of this study suggest that "Developmental changes in [child's and mother's] relative influence may depend on the mother's, rather than the child's, tendencies to relinquish, acquire and retain influence" (Deering and 3acoby, 1971).

In the present study the focus is on the mother in the child-mother dyad. We wish to isolate those attributes (life style, media and demographic) in a mother which determine whether she is influenced by her children or not.


2000 female members of the Market Facts mail panel were sent questionnaires covering a wide variety of topics. There were 192 attitude, opinion and belief questions (for example see Table 1), 100 activity questions (Table 2), questions on media consumption - television, radio, print - and product usage questions -- 658 questions in all. Also included in this study was a question asking women how much their children influenced their brand choice of a number of products. The products included (Table 3) were those for which kids are likely to participate in the buying decision. 1671 completed questionnaires were received, an 84% response rate.








The question on children's influence was the focus of our inquiry. We wanted to investigate which of the three classes of variables - demographic, life style (activity, interest and opinion) and media - would discriminate most between women who said they were influenced in their brand choice by their children and those who said they were not. We also wished to investigate if the variables that discriminate between women who are influenced by their children and those who are not, differ by product or product class. We felt that many of the 30 products in the children's influence question would cluster together. We therefore started with a factor analysis of the data. The results of the factor analysis (products with factor loadings greater than .5) are shown in Table 4.



To reduce the dimensionality of the AIO battery of questions a factor analysis was also performed on the AIO items. Sixty factors were found. Since the factors are not central to our investigation and in order to conserve space they are not enumerated.

For the purpose of analysis six products were chosen -two from each of the Factors 2, 3 and 4. Products from Factors 1 and 5 were not included in the analysis because of a relatively low frequency of usage of products in Factor 5 and almost universal usage of products included in Factor 1. The products in the analysis are shown in Table 5.



The principal mode of analysis was regression. For each product a regression equation was developed. The dependent variable was the response to the question asking the women to indicate the extent to which their children influenced their brand choice of the product.

The independent variables were a subset of the following classes of variables.

Demographic Variables             AIO Variables             Media Variables

The demographic variables included in the analysis are shown in Table 6; the media variables are shown in Table 7. Of the sixty factors from the factor analysis, 37 factors seemed likely to have a bearing on the issue of children's influence. One AIO item from each of these factors was included in the set of independent variables. Included were AIO items such as "Advertising helps me make better buying decisions," "Advertising directed to children should be taken off television,'' "Daytime television game shows are basically immoral," "There is too much violence in prime time television," all reflecting a mother's attitude toward television and advertising. Ward and Wackman (1972a) found mothers who have more positive attitudes toward advertising acquiesce more often to the requests of their children. Also included were AIO items such as "When making important family decisions consideration of the children should come first." Such items indicate a mother's involvement in her children, a variable related to Berey and Pollay's (1968) measure of mothers' child-centeredness. The entire list of AIO items included is shown in Table 8.

For each of the six products the dependent and the independent variables were entered in a stepwise regression program (UCLA's BMDP2R program). The shopping criterion used for excluding variables from entering the regression equation was an F to enter value of 4.0 and an F to remove value of 2.0.








The results of the regression analysis for the six products are shown in Table 9. Though all the R2 are significant at the 0.05 level, the largest R2 (potato chips) is only 0.12. On the average, attitudinal variables, along with demographic and media variables, account for slightly more than ten percent of the variance in the children's influence data.

It is noteworthy that none of the AIO items was common to all six products. Only three items - 15, 26 and 28 - (numbers refer to item numbers in Table 8) entered more than two regression equations. This suggests that no particular attitude or set of attitudes uniquely determines for all products whether a mother would be influenced by her children or not.

For potato chips a positive attitude toward advertising (item 11, Table 8) is related to mothers yielding to influence attempts by their children. Thus in the case of potato chips (and not for any other product studied) there is evidence to support Ward and Wackman's (1972a) findings that women with positive attitudes toward advertising acquiesce more often to the requests of their children.

There is evidence (regression with potato chips) that child-centered (not strictly as defined by Berey and Pollay, 1968) mothers (item 20, Table 8) are more likely to be influenced by their children, and that family oriented mothers (item 28, regression with clothes, soft drinks and potato chips), and women with close knit families (item 5, Table 8, regression with potato chips) are more susceptible to children's influence.

It is worth noting (though not surprising) that of the three television programs (Today Show, Happy Days and Waltons) that entered in regression equations, two (Happy Days and Waltons) have a large family audience. This suggests that mothers who watch television programs along with their children are more likely to yield to children's influencing attempts (it is probably especially true of products advertised on these shows).

Each of the six demographic variables (age, education, family size, income, degree of urbanization and working status of the mother) entered at least one of the regression equations. None appeared in all six. Age was positively related to mother's yielding to influence attempts by children for such products as children's clothes, potato chips and soft drinks. This finding is clearly the result of older children asking for these products. It supports McNeal's (1969) finding that parents are more likely to seek out the opinions of older children about purchases. Family size entered the regression for cereals and potato chips and not for other products. Thus the data indicate that larger family size doesn't necessarily increase the likelihood of parental yielding.


The results indicate that no unique characteristics or set of characteristics increases the likelihood of a mother's yielding to her children's influence attempts. Rather the data suggest that variables which increase the likelihood of parental yielding are product specific. However most studies on children's influence of mothers' behavior have been conducted on a single product or at best a product category and the results generalized.


Lewis A. Berey and Richard W. Pollay, "The Influencing Role of the Child in Family Decision Making," Journal of Marketing Research, 5(February, 1968), 70-72.

Broadcast Advertisers' Report, Network TV, (4th Quarter, 1975).

Andre Caron and Scott Ward, "Gift Decisions by Kids and Parents," Journal of Advertising Research, 15(August 1975), 15-20.

Barbara J. Deering and Jacob Jacoby, "The Effects of 'Alternative Relationships' and 'Relative Resources' on Consumer Decisions Between Mother and Child," in David M. Gardner (Ed.), Proceedings, Second Annual Conference, Association for Consumer Research, (1971), 135-142.

Thomas R. Donohue, "Effect of Commercials on Black Children," Journal of Advertising Research, 15(December, 1975), 41-47.

James S. Frideres, "Advertising, Buying Patterns and Children, "Journal of Advertising Research, 13(February, 1973), 34-36.

John A. Howard, James Hulbert and Donald R. Lehmann, "An Exploratory Analysis of the Effect of Television Advertising on Children," in Proceedings, American Marketing Association, (1973), 465-470.

Mark Clements Research, Inc., Golden Magazine Food Survey (New York: Mark Clements Research, Inc., 1967).

James U. McNeal, "An Exploratory Study of the Consumer Behavior of Children," in James U. McNeal (Ed.), Dimensions of Consumer Behavior (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1969), 255-275.

Scott Ward, "Effects of Television Advertising on Children and Adolescents," in George A. Comstock and Eli A. Rubinstein (Eds.), Television and Social Behavior, Vol. 4: Television in Day-to-Day Life: Patterns of Use (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972), 432-451.

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

Scott Ward and Daniel B. Wackman, "Children's Purchase Influence Attempts and Parental Yielding," Journal of Marketing Research, 9(August, 1972a), 316-319.

Scott Ward, "Family and Media Influences on Adolescent Consumer Learning," in George A. Comstock and Eli A. Rubinstein (Eds.), Television and Social Behavior, Vol. 4: Television in Day-to-Day Life: Patterns of Use (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972b), 554-567.

William D. Wells, "Communicating with Children," Journal of Advertising Research, 5(June, 1965), 2-14.

William D. Wells and Leonard A. LoSciuto, "Direct Observation of Purchasing Behavior," Journal of Marketing Research, 3(August, 1966), 227-233.