Interdisciplinary Research Needs and Opportunities in Consumer Behavior and Education

J. Barry Mason, University of Alabama
A. William Gustafson, University of Alabama
Mary Harrison, University of Florida
Norleen Ackerman, Roger Swagler|Rose Davis|Beatrice Petrich|Nancy Miller|E. Thomas Garman|Robert Mittelstaedt|Terrje Assum, University of Wisconsin, University of Tennessee| University of Kentucky| University of Wisconsin| University of Wisconsin| Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University| University of Nebraska
[ to cite ]:
J. Barry Mason, A. William Gustafson, Mary Harrison, and Norleen Ackerman, Roger Swagler|Rose Davis|Beatrice Petrich|Nancy Miller|E. Thomas Garman|Robert Mittelstaedt|Terrje Assum (1978) ,"Interdisciplinary Research Needs and Opportunities in Consumer Behavior and Education", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 05, eds. Kent Hunt, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 758-759.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 1978      Pages 758-759

INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH NEEDS AND OPPORTUNITIES IN CONSUMER BEHAVIOR AND EDUCATION

J. Barry Mason, University of Alabama

A. William Gustafson, University of Alabama

Mary Harrison, University of Florida

Norleen Ackerman, University of Wisconsin

Roger Swagler, University of Tennessee

Rose Davis, University of Kentucky

Beatrice Petrich, University of Wisconsin

Nancy Miller, University of Wisconsin

E. Thomas Garman, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Robert Mittelstaedt, University of Nebraska, Lincoln

Terrje Assum, Cornell University

The topics assigned to this ACR/AHEA subgroup for discussion were (1) consumer behavior and satisfaction, (2) family economics, and (3) home economics education, redefined as consumer education. Consumer behavior in the context of the household was the focus of the discussion. The group sought to translate specific aspects of the above three topic areas into a series of researchable topic statements. These statements were then ranked in terms of 1) their need for research and 2) their appropriateness for interdisciplinary research. The background for the three topic areas and the specific research topics agreed upon are presented below.

CONSUMER BEHAVIOR AND SATISFACTION

Objectives of Research

To strengthen understanding of consumer behavior so as to improve consumer competencies and satisfactions.

Current Situation

One goal of consumer behavior is to maximize satisfaction. Choices by consumers affect the quality of their lives, but many consumers are not adequately informed about the bases of choices or the consequences of decisions. The effects of factors such as governmental regulation, technological developments, and cost and availability of information on consumer satisfaction are not fully known.

Much of the research on consumer satisfaction serves only to determine preferences for brands of products and not whether the product is needed or whether a needed product is available. A better understanding of consumer values and goals and relative degrees of satisfaction would provide a basis for more efficient use of resources. An index of consumer satisfaction, for example, would provide producers and policy makers with new directions for decision making. Policy makers could also be guided in attempts to provide incentives for consumer decisions that conserve nonrenewable resources (for example, through tax credits and deductions) by the results of research on energy use in alternative lifestyles. In an economic system presumably guided by the ideal of maximizing consumer welfare, goals and satisfactions should be the focus of concern in evaluating societal progress.

Researchable Topics

The following topics were identified as those most in need of additional research. (1) The development of a comprehensive conceptualization of the meaning of cost/benefit in the context of consumer protection: (2) the development of measurement tools reflective of the benefits and costs of consumer protection to the consumer: (3) analyze the cost/benefits at the household level of specific consumer protection legislation--i.e., fair packaging and labeling, equal credit opportunity and similar legislation.

The most viable interdisciplinary research topics agreed upon were: the same as those developed above as most in need of additional research.

FAMILY ECONOMICS

Objective of Research

To analyze the components of economic well-being and evaluate their contribution to the family's overall well-being.

Current Situation

Families are faced with the necessity of reevaluating their expectations with respect to changes in real income and material levels of living. Since World War II families and individuals have experienced a fairly continuous rise in the level of real income. Expectations have developed that this trend will continue bringing possibilities of continued improvement in families' material levels of living. In the past few years, however, the U.S. economy has been faced with both inflation and unemployment which have threatened the maintenance of our currently high material level of living. Also, large numbers of families and individuals in the United States still live in poverty. Whether the size of the economic "pie" continues to increase or remain the same, alternative government programs for income redistribution need to be evaluated.

In addition, the economic significance of family composition and structure is greater today than ever before. The rise in the number of female-headed families, fewer elderly people living with relatives, and fewer couples having children affect the economic well-being of today's family unit.

In the above context, development and use of human capital in the labor market and in the home affect the economy and the individual family unit. Rapid increases in the cost of education, changes in job skills, and increases in female participation in the labor force have repercussions on the economic well-being of families.

Finally, evaluation of economic position, a concept broader than money income, is important, especially because of the increase in the use of credit for consumer purchases and since much of the material level of living is based on possession of durable goods. Economics position of the family, which includes not only the level of money income but debts and savings, and other monetary income are important in determining economic well-being.

Researchable Topics

The following topics were identified as those being most in need of additional research: (1) development of operational definitions of income adequacy and equivalence in order to review appropriateness of poverty thresholds, income supplements, income maintenance and related concepts; (2) studies of economic responses by families to aggregate economic changes including inflation, recession, stagflation, economic dislocations, changing productivity, unemployment and taxes; (3) assessment of the components of levels of well-being of families; (4) an investigation of the impact of public programs and policies on consumption patterns (housing, day care, income supplements, consumer education).

The most viable interdisciplinary research topics were identified as follows: (1) the study of the economic responses by families to aggregate economic changes including inflation, recession, stagflation, economic dislocations, changing productivity, unemployment and taxes; (2) development of operational definitions of income adequacy and equivalence in order to review appropriateness of poverty thresholds, income supplements, and maintenance; (3) study of changes in economic behavior of various groups of families experiencing changes in money income as a result of changes in family composition/circumstances such as multiple job holders and working wives.

CONSUMER EDUCATION

Objectives of Research

To strengthen the system for delivery of knowledge, strengthen the integrative forces within various consumer related disciplines and to improve the education of consumer educators and the public generally.

Current Situation

Consumer education serves individuals and families through professionals who work in such educational areas as:

1) higher education: undergraduate and graduate programs

2) vocational and technical education: in secondary, post-secondary, adult and paraprofessional programs

3) secondary education: in consumer and homemaking, occupational, and general programs

4) early childhood and elementary education: in preschool, kindergarten, primary and middle school programs

5) extension, continuing education, and other nonformal programs

6) research: in higher education, business, and government

7) other, such as in government, business and international programs

Researchable Topics

The following topics were identified as being most in need of additional research: (1) the establishment of systems through which professionals can identify competencies and needs of individuals and families as a base for consumer education programs and devise, validate, and evaluate instruments for use in the systems; (2) determine the characteristics related to the needs of specific learners that can be met by consumer education programs; evaluate models to meet educational needs of these special groups such as displaced homemakers, the elderly, the physically handicapped and institutional (mentally ill) populations; (3) establish systems through which professionals can identify competencies and needs of individuals and families as a base for consumer education programs; devise, validate, and evaluate instruments for use in the system.

The most viable interdisciplinary research topics were identified as: (1) study educational approaches which impede or facilitate change in the consumer behavior of individuals and families in consumer economics related areas (e.g., energy conservation, sex stereo-typing, and food habits); (2) determine the characteristics related to the needs of specific learners that can be met by consumer education programs; evaluate models to meet educational needs of special groups such as displaced homemakers, the elderly, the physically handicapped, and institutional (mentally ill) populations; (3) evaluate alternative educational delivery systems in consumer education in relation to such characteristics as purposes, audience, cost, and societal pressure.

RESEARCH TOPICS FOR ACR/AHEA 1978 WORKSHOP

The following two topics were selected as the subjects for papers to be presented at the ACR/AHEA meeting in June 1978: (1) sources and utilization of information and correlates of satisfaction/dissatisfaction in complaining behavior about food marketing practices at the retail level by the elderly consumer. Authors: Ackerman, Assum, Gustafson, Harrison, and Mason (Hunt and Swagler later joined this group); (2) delineation of professional and subject matter competencies of teachers in consumer education programs. Authors: Davis, Garman, Miller, and Petrick.

Joseph Barry Mason, Reporter

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