Underlying Perceptual Patterns in Husband and Wife Purchase Decision Influence Assessments

Alvin C. Burns, Louisiana State University (student), Louisiana State University
David J. Ortinau,
ABSTRACT - Wives' assessments of the husband and wife purchase decision making influence for thirty product decisions representing five large durable purchases, each with six attendant decisions were subjected to analysis of variance and factor analysis in an exploratory study. The results revealed seven identifiable product-, decision type- and product-decision type-perceptual dimensions in the responses. Individual analysis found two distinct groups of women with respect to these patterns. Perceptual and demographic differences between these two groups are reported and the implications of the findings discussed.
[ to cite ]:
Alvin C. Burns and David J. Ortinau (1979) ,"Underlying Perceptual Patterns in Husband and Wife Purchase Decision Influence Assessments", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 06, eds. William L. Wilkie, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 372-376.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 1979      Pages 372-376


Alvin C. Burns, Louisiana State University

David J. Ortinau (student), Louisiana State University


Wives' assessments of the husband and wife purchase decision making influence for thirty product decisions representing five large durable purchases, each with six attendant decisions were subjected to analysis of variance and factor analysis in an exploratory study. The results revealed seven identifiable product-, decision type- and product-decision type-perceptual dimensions in the responses. Individual analysis found two distinct groups of women with respect to these patterns. Perceptual and demographic differences between these two groups are reported and the implications of the findings discussed.


Research on the husband and wife purchase decision making process has brought into sharp focus the need for multidimensional conceptualizations of the sharing of influence in various purchase decisions. Beginning with the breakthroughs made by Davis (1970),it has become increasingly apparent that husband and wife purchase decision making influence varies across product, across decisions within products, across phases of the decision-making process, and across families. See, for example, Burns, (1975); Burns and Granbois, (1977); Davis, (1976); Davis and Rigaux, (1974); Ferber and Nicosia, (1972); Hempel, (1974); or Woodside, (1974). Most studies, however, stop with this determination and do not continue on to investigate the nature of these variations, nor to suggest patterns which might exist beneath the data. From an intuitive standpoint, one is inclined to suspect that certain tendencies or patterns should persist and these, if discovered, might lead to refined conceptualizations, or at least, insights into the ways in which husbands or wives perceive the manner in which they and their spouses make various purchase decisions.

The study reported in this paper builds on this notion and is an investigation into the nature of husband and wife purchase decision making influence with specific concern for the similarities and dissimilarities in wives' perceptions of influence shared for five representative large durable products and six decisions associated with each of these products. In particular, the study was designed to explore the following questions:

1. Are there differences in wives' perceptions of husband and wife purchase decision making responsibility across products and across decisions for these products?

2. If so, are there underlying patterns in the wives' perceptions of purchase influence distributions which demonstrate and clarify the nature of these differences?

3. If such patterns exist, are there individual differences in the form of subgroupings of women distinct from other subgroupings?

4. If the subgroupings exist, are there distinctions between these groups either in the form of influence perceptions and/or independent variables which may be relied upon as meaningful differences, perhaps useful in directing future research or as methods of segmenting the total population.

The research questions are not couched as hypotheses given the contingency nature of each question which is based on the results of its predecessor. Also, the next section will reveal other exploratory aspects of this research.


The exploratory study reported in this paper is based on the responses to a questionnaire administered to 81 wives chosen in a nonprobabilistic manner to represent a broad cross-section of women in terms of age, working status, socio-economic position, race, and educational attainment. The convenience sample was drawn primarily from a large Southern city and across that state. The questionnaires were administered at subjects' places of work or in their homes. Although the original study plans included the collection of husbands' responses, data collection difficulties prevented their use in this paper. Nor was the target sample size of 100 wives available for analysis at the time of this writing.

Each respondent was instructed to indicate on a five-point scale of how she believed she and her husband would decide each of thirty randomly arranged purchase decisions in accord with the response categories: "husband alone" (=1); "husband more than wife"; "both equally"; "wife more than husband"; or "wife alone" (=5). The women were directed to respond without conferring with their spouses or other individuals. Respondents were requested to indicate as accurately as possible "the way you believe the decision would be made in your family."

The thirty purchase decisions chosen for investigation in this study were comprised of six decisions for each of five products. The decisions of: when to buy, where to buy, how much to spend, brand or model, style, and color were paired with the large durable goods purchases of: family automobile, dinette set, sofa, television, and stereo set. Large durables purchases such as there are customarily used in husband-wife role structure studies. (Davis, 1976) Moreover, decisions types such as the ones used in this study are typically used in this research, (Davis, 1976) as is the five-point measurement scale (Davis, 1976). A final section of the questionnaire requested details on family and personal demographics.

Inspection of the sample's demographics revealed a diverse group ranging in ages from 21 to 69 years, in length of marriage from 1 to 50 years, in education from grammar school to graduate degree, in wife's workweek from 0 to 50 hours, and a broad range of both husbands' and wives' occupations.


Preliminary analysis of these wives' perceptions of the distribution of husband wife influence for the various product decisions was performed by computing means and standard deviations for each of the thirty product-decision combinations. Means and standard deviations were also computed for each product across all six decision types (product means) and for each decision type across all five products (decision means). These values are displayed in Table 1. The range for these values was found to be from 1.89 (where to buy an automobile) to 3.92 (color of a sofa) with a grand mean of 2.92. Thus while the overall average indicated equal sharing of decision making, the individual decisions paired with products ranged from "husband more than wife" to "wife more than husband." None of the means indicated autonomy. Frequency distributions for the responses to each product-decision (not shown here) verified this result.



In order to test for the presence of significant differences within the mean values, analysis of variance was performed utilizing the five products and six decisions as two sets of treatment levels and testing for an interaction effect. The results of this analysis are summarized in Table 2 which reveals that significant differences existed between products and between decisions. Furthermore, the interaction of products X decisions was found to be significant. All three cases were significant at the .0001 level.



These results indicated that at least one compared difference between the mean values was significant at the .0001 level for: (a) product means, (b) decision type means, and (c) product X decision type means. In short, the wives perceived differences in the influence they (or their spouses) have in deciding the purchase of various products (across decisions for the products) as well as in deciding various decisions (across products for the decision.) The significant interaction reveals that the wives do not think solely on a product differences basis nor strictly on a decision type differences basis. Instead, for this set of decisions and products, they perceive differences which are specific to individual decisions types for certain products.

In order to ascertain the products and decisions which were perceived as significantly different from one another, Duncan's multiple range test for significance of differences on means was performed, and the results for the five product means and the six decision type means are contained in Table 3. With regard to the products, the wives perceive the dinette and sofa to be appreciably more under their purchase decision making influence, not strictly and exclusively, but products nonetheless where the wife has greater decision making responsibility than the husband, overall. The stereo and automobile purchases, on the other hand, are appreciably more under the responsibility of the husband on the average, while the television set purchase exists as a separate product where the husband is seen as having only slightly more influence than the wife. In the context of those five products, the television purchase decision defines a joint-decision making region with the other product decisions moving progressively away from this situation.

Across the products for which they are determined, the various decision types demonstrated interesting differences. In particular, the color and style decisions are envisioned, on the average, as distinct from each other as well as distinct from all other decisions. Neither one, however, was found to be greatly under the responsibility of the average wife, with the color decision only slightly so and the style decision falling on the "both equally" point. The four remaining decision types - when, how much, brand, and where - exhibit more husband influence than wife influence in the decision, yet all four means show only a slight move away from joint and equal decision making.



These comparisons of the significant mean differences with the Duncan multiple range test do not show the differences denoted by the significant interaction term which warns of the probable presence of an "averaging effect'' which dampens both the product means and decision means differences. Consequently, a third Duncan multiple range test was performed using the product X decision type classifications. The results revealed considerable overlap of nonsignificant differences between means with groupings or clusters of the thirty cases exhibiting significant differences. Presentation of the results is clumsy and not given here. Instead, a different and more interpretable method, namely factor analysis, was applied to the wives' responses in order to investigate the underlying patterns which were suggested by the analysis of variance, significant interaction term result and third Duncan multiple range test results.

Factor analysis is a convenient method of identifying redundancy in responses based on their variability and simultaneously pointing out groupings of variables which constitute independent response sets. Thus, factor analysis does not concern itself with mean differences; rather, it works with the correlations between the variables under study and combines those highly correlated variables into orthogonal axes or perceptual dimensions in this case. Consequently, R-type factor analysis was applied to this set of wives' responses regarding husband and wife purchase decision making influence for the representative thirty products and decisions. Using the decision rule of cutoff for factors with eigenvalues less than 1.0, eight factors were determined, accounting for 72% of the total variance in the wives' responses. Varimax rotation was applied to the principal components results to enhance interpretability of the results.

Table 4 contains a summary of the factor analysis results with the decisions arranged by factors. In the interest of interpretability, only those factor loadings with a value greater than or equal to (absolute).40 are reported. This reporting method is consistent with Rummel (1970). It should also be noted that some instances of a product-decision variable loading with (absolute) .40 on two factors did occur, and in these cases, the correlations of that variable to other variables loading on the factors were scrutinized and a judgment was made as to which factor the variable should be associated. This practice of judging spurious results is consistent with Harman(1967).

Seven of the eight factors proved to be readily interpretable through varimax rotation and revealed interesting product-, decision type-, and product-decision type-dimensions in these wives' perceptions of spousal purchase influence. In particular, the results substantiate fairly well the family automobile and the stereo set products as a set of basically homogeneously viewed product purchase decisions. Factor V, for example, includes five of the six decisions for the stereo set while Factor IV accounts for four of the six decisions for the family automobile. The mean values for all of these decision types are quite similar, ranging from 1.9 to 2.5, and indicate that the average husband has greater influence than the average wife for these decisions. Neither of these two factors, however, includes the color decisions, and it is apparent that the color decision occupies a distinct niche in these wives' perceptions, for Factor VIII accounts for the color decisions for three of the five products, including the automobile and the stereo set. The mean values for these three decisions range from 3.0 to 3.3, or primarily equal decision making influence, on the average, as compared to the automobile and stereo set factor decision means.

The remaining factors show a distinction in the type of decision contingent on the type of product for which the decision is being made. In particular, the sofa and dinette set, or furniture products, are consistently paired with each other, yet the decision types are separated into three distinct types. Factor I includes the color and style, or the aesthetic and appearance decisions, for the sofa and dinette set while Factor VI accounts for how much and when, or instrumental decisions, for these two pieces of furniture. Finally, the brand decisions for the furniture products constitute Factor VIII. Inspection of the mean values for the decision types included in these three factors reveals that the aesthetic furniture decisions are those most perceived as under the responsibility of the wife (ranging from 3.5 to 3.9), the instrumental furniture decisions are seen as more equally shared (ranging from 2.9 to 3.5), and the brand furniture decisions are slightly more under the responsibility of the wife than equally shared (both at 3.5).

Of the two remaining factors, Factor II is comprised primarily of instrumental decisions for the television set with the husband perceived as having slightly more responsibility for these decisions than the wife. The final factor, Factor VI, contains the style of the television and the when to buy a new sofa decision. Apart from the fact that both are envisioned as equally shared decisions, the common theme of this factor is not readily apparent from this analysis.

The final phase of analysis concerned an investigation of individual differences in the wives' perceptions of husband and wife purchase decision making based on the perceptual dimensions uncovered by the previous analysis. Consequently, each wife's responses were converted to eight factor scores based on the factor analysis results, and these factor scores were subjected to hierarchical cluster analysis as described in Johnson (1967). The cluster analysis results showed that several of the wives represented unique, individual dispositions, although a slight majority did express common tendencies, and a much smaller group aligned together but differently from the larger group. Tests of the significance of differences between the two groups (n=43 and n=11, respectively) were performed to pinpoint the salient distinctions between the two groups' factor scores. With the use of t-tests, significant differences at the .05 level or less were found for Factors III, IV, and VIII, representing the automobile decisions, the stereo decisions, and the furniture brand decisions. Comparison of the mean values for both groups with regard to the decisions accounted for in the three factors revealed that the smaller group consistently credited the husband with greater decision making responsibility in the cases of the six stereo decisions, all of which were found to have significant differences at the .05 level or lower. (The fact that all these decisions were significantly different is predictable, given the factor analysis results.) The remaining differences were not significant beyond the .05 level, but there was evident a consistent tendency for the larger group of wives to indicate greater decision making responsibility for themselves in the furniture brand decisions than did the smaller group of wives.



A final comparison between the two subgroupings was made using demographic variables and difference variables (e.g., differences in spouses' education, ages, incomes and workweeks.) In general, the larger group was found to be slightly older, married longer, and of higher income. Educational differences were not apparent, but differences in spouses' workweeks (19 and 3.5 hours for the larger and smaller groups respectively, sign. level = .10), number of hours the husband worked per week (42 and 31 hours respectively, sign. level = .11) and number of children (2.2 and 1.4 respectively, sign. level =.07) were found.


The study has important limitations which should be brought to the attention of the reader at the onset of discussion. One obvious constraint on the results and their generalizability concerns the choice of products and decision types. A broader range of both sets could have clarified some of the patterns which emerged from the analysis, although the underlying response tendencies do appear to be fairly definite from most of the analysis here. Another limitation rests in the choice of the sample which is specific to a geographic region and nonprobabilistic in design. The intent was to draw a diverse group of families with the hope that commonalties in their perceptions might transcend demographic and other differences. Given this fact, the results are in actuality more profound than one might initially believe. In addition to this consideration, the tone of the paper points out that the use of self-report data such as this pertains to perceptions of these wives, rather than to objective observations of the purchase decision making process. Finally, the results are constrained by the assumptions and imperfections of the statistical analysis incorporated herein.

These limitations notwithstanding for this exploratory study, the results of the study offer encouragement and point to the probable nature of wives' perceptions of husband and wife purchase decision making. The authors are of the opinion that this paper has been more than the haphazard application of multivariate statistical techniques to a handy set of data. Instead, the analysis progressed logically, guided by a desire to investigate the patterns of responses and to thus explore the foundations of wives' perceptions of the sharing of purchase decision making influence for a representative set of large durable products and attendant decisions made for these products.

The results vividly demonstrate that an understandable logic does exist beneath the wives' assessments of purchase decision making responsibility for the thirty decisions. As indicated by the significant interaction term in the analysis of variance results, the perceived commonalties slice across some products and across some decisions while at the same time, they are specific to certain products and specific to certain decision types. Subsequent analysis reveals that the stereo set decisions, in particular, appear to be seen as an almost homogeneous set of decisions as are many of the family automobile decisions. Both sets of decisions represent more perceived husband influence than wife influence in comparison to the other decisions in the study. In contrast, the color decision stands as an independent realm of decision making responsibility, separate from other television, stereo and family automobile decisions and more toward joint or equal decision making in these wives' opinions. The final sets of decisions reveal that the two household furniture products, the dinette set and the sofa, are perceived in an identical manner; however, the various decisions for these two products are perceived distinctly. Thus, the aesthetic or appearance aspects of the furniture products constitute a set of decisions wherein these wives believe they have the greatest decision making responsibility, while the instrumental or pragmatic decisions of where and how much to spend are seen as shared more equally. Finally, the brand decisions for the furniture products constitute another dimension of decision making responsibility. These results lend strong support to the conclusion that multidimensional typologies of product types, decision types, and product-decision combinations should be formulated and applied to this area of consumer behavior research. The promise of meaningful results is plainly evident.

The results of the cluster analysis revealed that the wives were not identical in their assessments of the sharing of decision responsibility along the various decision dimensions uncovered by the factor analysis. Interestingly, the two groups identified by the cluster analysis differed on the stereo, family automobile decisions and furniture brand decisions, but not on the other furniture, color, or television-related decisions. Thus, the bulk of the differences in this sample of wives' perceptions of the distribution of husband and wife decision making influence rests along product-specific lines. Given the limitations of this study, these results are insufficiently generalizable to more than hint the possible form of individual differences between the two groups identified by cluster analysis. Still, the fact that such differences were evident with two relatively small groups is encouraging, inasmuch as it represents a conservative test of individual differences in wives' perceptions of purchase decision making responsibility. At this point, it is appropriate to encourage the pursuit of individual differences in wives' perceptions with this combination of techniques and with the objective of mapping the predispositions of groups on perceptual dimensions.

At the very least, the study has pointed out not only that differences exist but also the dimensionalities of these wives' perceptions of purchase decision making responsibilities shared with their husbands. An interesting observation at this point is in the family automobile product decisions which are envisioned as a very similar group with the exception of the color decision. Historically, the automobile purchase has been a prime target of husband and wife purchase decision making research (See for example, Brown (1961), Burns and Granbois(1977), or Davis (1970). While important findings have occurred in these studies, the results from this study suggest that more fruitful research would eventuate from the inclusion of or concentration on furniture products which represent more sharply differentiated decisions with regard to spousal influence distributions. Similarly, the results indicate that explicit concern for the color and brand decisions for certain products is justified. As one final word of caution, it should be pointed out that factor analysis is an imperfect technique, and wholesale reliance on these results is unwarranted. Certainly, however, the findings in this study suggest some important directions for research in the area of husband and wife purchase decision making.


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