A Path-Analytic Investigation of Life Satisfaction Among Elderly Consumers

William O. Bearden, University of South Carolina
A. William Gustafson, Texas Tech University
J. Barry Mason, The University of Alabama
ABSTRACT - A recursive model depicting a theoretical chain between individual health situation, financial situation, alienation, living level satisfaction, consumer satisfaction, and overall satisfaction with life was examined by path analysis. The data used to test the hypothesized relationships were collected by personal interview from a random sample of 110 elderly consumers living in a medium-sized Southeastern community. Health situation, alienation, and satisfaction with level of living were demonstrated as being plausible determinants of overall life satisfaction.
[ to cite ]:
William O. Bearden, A. William Gustafson, and J. Barry Mason (1979) ,"A Path-Analytic Investigation of Life Satisfaction Among Elderly Consumers", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 06, eds. William L. Wilkie, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 386-391.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 1979      Pages 386-391


William O. Bearden, University of South Carolina

A. William Gustafson, Texas Tech University

J. Barry Mason, The University of Alabama

[Research funded by a grant from the Administration on Aging, Center for the Study of Aging, The University of Alabama.]


A recursive model depicting a theoretical chain between individual health situation, financial situation, alienation, living level satisfaction, consumer satisfaction, and overall satisfaction with life was examined by path analysis. The data used to test the hypothesized relationships were collected by personal interview from a random sample of 110 elderly consumers living in a medium-sized Southeastern community. Health situation, alienation, and satisfaction with level of living were demonstrated as being plausible determinants of overall life satisfaction.


Increasingly, consumer and marketing researchers are directing their attention towards the elderly (e.g., Bernhardt and Kinnear, 1975; Gelb, 1977; Koeske and Srivastava, 1977; Phillips and Sternthal, 1977; Waddell, 1975). This research is largely attributable to the recognition of the aged as a market segment with substantial potential. Growing concerns for the general welfare of the aged in related sociology and gerontology research have resulted in an extensive series of studies designed to isolate correlates of elderly life satisfaction (e.g., Bell, 1974; Bull, 1975; Charfield, 1977; Clemente and Sauer, 1976; Cutler, 1973 and I973; Edwards and Klemmack, 1973; Knapp, 1976; Lohmann, 1977; Martin, 1973; Spreitzer and Snyder, 1974; Wolk and Telleen, 1976). Only recently have efforts been made to examine changes in life satisfaction over time (Palmore and Kivett, 1977) and to develop causal explanations involving the theoretical determinants of life satisfaction (Medley, 1976).

The principal objective of the present study was to investigate a theoretical explanation of elderly consumer life satisfaction. An attempt was made to examine the ability of several frequently hypothesized antecedents of behavior to explain life satisfaction among the elderly. Specifically, a causal chain between health situation, financial situation, alienation, satisfaction with level of living, consumer satisfaction, and overall satisfaction with life was examined via path analysis for a random sample of 110 elderly consumers. These variables have been hypothesized in previous research to impact individual well-being and/or consumer behavior. The intent was to consider directly the fact that many elderly must function as consumers in the marketplace and that a portion of their overall well-being is affected by that ability. Further, an effort was made to provide some additional insight into other consumer-related problems and concerns of the elderly. Specifically, a series of financial problems frequently encountered (Williams, Nall, and Deck, 1976) and the relative priorities of a number of dimensions assumed to underlie quality of life perceptions (Campbell, Converse, and Rodgers, 1976) were examined.


This study does not represent an attempt to develop a complete explanation of elderly life satisfaction but is concerned with examining an extension of the theoretical framework recently suggested by Medley. The modified framework examined is shown in Figure 1.


The proposed explanation consists of three exogenous (X1, health situation; X2, financial situation; and X3, consumer alienation) and three endogenous variables (X4, satisfaction with level of living; X5, consumer satisfaction; and X6, overall life satisfaction). Satisfaction with level of living and consumer satisfaction are depicted as intervening measures between the exogenous variables and overall satisfaction with life. The exogenous variables are depicted as being intercorrelated and affecting life satisfaction both directly and indirectly through the two intervening variables (Blalock, 1969; Duncan, 1975). Admittedly, the results would be different with other variables introduced and/or modification of the proposed structure (Medley, 1976: 449). However, previous research does support their inclusion as potential predictors of elderly life satisfaction.

The ability of perceived health conditions and financial adequacy to explain life satisfaction among the elderly has been demonstrated (e.g., Edwards and Klemmack, 1973; Spreitzer and Snyder, 1974; Bull and Aucoin, 1975; Clemente and Sauer, 1976; Palmore and Kivett, 1977). Support has also been found for the hypotheses that higher incomes both influence life satisfaction directly and reduce the impact of health problems on life satisfaction (Chatfield, 1977). Generally, positive feelings regarding household financial adequacy and self-assessed health are assumed to contribute substantially to overall life satisfaction and successful aging both independently and in interaction with each other.

The concept of alienation has been recently suggested as providing the potential for more fully understanding discontent and dissatisfaction among consumer segments (Pruden and Longman, 1972). Individuals may experience any number of forms of alienation which serve to intensify their discontent and produce frequent criticisms against business (Lambert and Kniffin, 1975). These alternative varieties of alienation (e.g., powerlessness, normlessness, and isolation) are based upon the concepts of values, behavior, and expectations (Seaman, 1961). Alienation is a cognitive state and these forms represent the range of feelings that may result from the interaction of individual values, the impact and nature of individual behavior, and expectations regarding the outcomes of behavior (Fisher, 1976). Further, alienation can be viewed as a relatively enduring experience of dissatisfaction based on these real and expected outcomes (Barakat, 1969) and, as an index of social participation in normal life activities, should predict overall elderly satisfaction with life (Martin, Bengston, and Acock, 1974).

Satisfaction with standard of living has also been shown to significantly influence life satisfaction (Spreitzer and Snyder, 1974). As an example, for elderly persons with high demands on their financial resources, relocation pressures and consumer decisions will likely influence satisfaction with level of living (Nelson and Winter, 1975). Movement from one residence to another is likely to be disorienting and become interrelated with feelings of helplessness and social isolationism (Medley, 1976). However, elderly consumers can influence the satisfaction received from their level of living and from goods and services purchased and consumed. Their ability to shop and operate effectively as consumers is often affected by their health and financial situations and represent viable means of affecting satisfaction with level of living. Satisfaction with level of living should in turn impact both overall life satisfaction directly and indirectly through feelings of consumer satisfaction based on experiences within the marketplace. This may be particularly true for many elderly, since recent reports indicate that those individuals who become dissatisfied but fail to take action and achieve satisfaction tend to be older, more financially pressed, and alienated (e.g., Warland, Herrmann, and Willits, 1975; Andreasen, 1977).


Data used in this study were collected from 110 elderly households in a medium-sized Southeastern community. Households were selected from a list of all taxpayers filing for homestead exemption within the area. Two hundred households with at least one permanent member 65 or more years of age were randomly selected. Data were collected by personal interview in the respondents' homes by trained interviewers. Each respondent represented the primary grocery shopper within the sampled households. The ninety nonrespondents were distributed among the following categories: refusal (16), absent after repeated callbacks (8), moved (6), deceased (18), both residents under 65 (21), and other (21).

The average age of the primary shopper was 66.2 years. Forty-two percent of the respondents reported household incomes of $7500 or more and an average education of 9.7 years. The age and education distributions of the present sample are compared in Table 1 with two recently reported national surveys relating to aging: (1) the 1975 Current Population Survey (Bureau of Census, 1976) and (2) the National Commission of Aging-Harris Study (Henretta, Campbell, and Gardocki, 1977). The percentages shown indicate that the respondents interviewed were somewhat younger and more educated than the elderly described by the national surveys. These differences are most likely attributable to the sampling frame employed (e.g., homeowner couples with at least one spouse 65 or older). While a completely random sample would have included single person households, residents of housing restricted to elderly, and patients in health-care facilities, the selection process did insure a sampling of elderly consumers active within the marketplace.



Twenty-eight percent of the sample indicated that health problems were of concern and limited somewhat their mobility. However, only 11 respondents reported being in poor health. Previous research has shown that physician ratings of individual health and respondent self-evaluations are generally consistent (e.g., Maddox and Douglas, 1973).

Operational Measures

Each respondent's current health situation (X1) was operationalized as a composite of their answers to four health-related statements. These statements were designed to assess their self-evaluation of health in terms of their physical mobility, eyesight, hearing, and general health and susceptibility to sickness (Maddox and Douglass, 1973).

The financial situation (X2) of each household was operationally defined as an aggregate score of each respondent's answers to a series of Likert statements reflecting the occurrence of 13 frequently encountered financial problems (see Table 4). The statements were scored four to one and labeled often, sometimes, seldom, and never (Williams, Nall, and Deck, 1976). Specifically, the interviewers used instructions similar to the following: Aside from not having enough money, which of the following problems do you have and how often do you have this problem?

Feelings of alienation (X3) were assessed by having respondents reply to the 24 5-point Likert "agree-disagree" statements comprising Dean's alienation scale (Dean, 1961; Robinson and Shaver, 1973). A combined score was used to represent the consumer's feelings of alienation.

Elderly satisfaction with their level of living (X4) was operationalized by having each interviewee respond to the following statement (Hafstrom and Dunsing, 1973):

The things people have--housing, car, furniture, recreation, and the way we live--make up their standard of living. How satisfied are you with your present standard of living? That is, with the things you have and the way you are living?

The elderly consumers were asked to respond either very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, somewhat dissatisfied, or very dissatisfied. Responses were scored four to one. This operationalization actually corresponds more closely with level of living since it reflects current levels and is not restricted solely to consumption. "Standard of living", although most often used in individual conversations, generally implies desires and striving for attainment (Davis, 1945).

Consumer satisfaction (X5) was assessed by having each member of the elderly sample indicate their agreement, disagreement, or uncertainty regarding 15 items of the 82 statements comprising the Consumer Discontent Scale recently developed and tested by Lundstrom and Lamont (1976). Eight negative and seven positively worded statements reflecting individual satisfaction with consumer experiences and business practices were selected (e.g., "the quality of goods has consistently improved over the years," "the only person who cares about the consumer is the consumer himself"). Responses to the 15 statements were recorded and combined into an overall score reflecting elderly satisfaction with their interface with the business environment.

Individual overall life satisfaction (X6) was operationally defined by means of the 10-item version of the Life Satisfaction Index developed by Neugarten, Havighurst, and Tobin (1961) and Klemmack, Edwards and Carlson (1974). The Index has been found to provide a reliable estimate of life satisfaction for both elderly and other age groups. The intent of the construct is to capture: zest for life as opposed to apathy; resolution and fortitude as opposed to resignation; congruence between desired and achieved goals; high physical, psychological, and social self-concept; and a happy optimistic mood tone (Adams, 1969). Respondents indicated their agreement, disagreement, or uncertainty regarding seven positively and three negatively worded statements. The instructions used by each interviewer and item statements were similar to the following:

Some people are satisfied with the way they have lived their lives while others may be satisfied with some parts and dissatisfied with others. Please tell me if you agree, disagree, or are uncertain about each of the following statements:

1. The things I do now are as interesting to me as they ever were.

2. I have made plans for things I'll be doing a month or a year from now.


The simple correlations, means, and standard deviations for each of the model's six components are shown in Table 2. Life satisfaction was significantly correlated as expected with each of the assumed explanatory variables. The potential and actual ranges for each of the variables examined are also shown. The coefficient of determination shown in Figure 1 indicates that the set of antecedent variables accounts for approximately 30 percent of satisfaction in life among the elderly sample (F=9.04; df=5, 104; p.< .01). The resulting path coefficients and their level of significance are shown on each single-direction arrow while the simple correlations between the three hypothesized exogenous variables are shown in parentheses.

Comparisons of the explanatory variables in terms of their direct effect on life satisfaction indicate that alienation and satisfaction with level of living are significant (p < .01) in their relationship with overall life satisfaction. A significant path was also found between alienation and life satisfaction through level of living satisfaction. The effects, if any, of the financial situation of each household on overall life satisfaction were felt through either respondent feelings of alienation or health concerns. Consumer satisfaction was not found to impact directly life satisfaction among the elderly.

A more complete decomposition of the resulting path relationships is presented in Table 3. The total effect between consumer satisfaction and overall life satisfaction as represented by the zero-order correlation is largely the result of a sizable spurious effect. However, health situation and alienation seemed to influence life satisfaction both directly and in conjunction with level of living satisfaction. The effect of the marginal significance (p< .05) between each household's financial situation and the respondent's overall satisfaction with life was apparently accounted for by the remaining variables.

A key idea in path analysis is that path coefficients can be used to estimate the empirical correlations among the variables in the system. Algebraic and graphical procedures for expressing each correlation as a function of path coefficients are discussed by Duncan (1966) and Heise (1969). [The mathematical expressions used to reproduce variable correlations consisted of a single direct path plus the sum of the compound paths representing all the direct connections allowed by the diagram. The following rule was used: Read back from variable i then forward to variable j forming the product of all paths along the traverse, then sum these products for all possible traverses (the same variable cannot be intersected more than once in a single traverse; in no case can one trace back having once started forward; bi-directional correlations are used in tracing either forward or back but only one can be used in a single traverse) (Duncan, 1966, p. 6).] The reproduced correlations shown above the main diagonal in Table 2 are generally consistent with the sample based variable correlations. The similarity between the two sets of correlations is encouraging and indicates that the proposed framework adequately fits the data. Actually, the procedure of reproducing variable correlations via estimated path coefficients and then comparing with actual correlations is more appropriate for rejecting existing theory than developing new empirically based theory. However, the closeness between the actual and the estimated correlation coefficients does support the proposed framework.







Although financial situation did not apparently impact elderly life satisfaction directly, an examination of the specific problems frequently faced by elderly households and assumed to represent the financial situation incorporated in this study provides some insight into the practical concerns affecting aged consumers. These problems and their relative importance based on the responses of the present sample are shown in Table 4. The rankings shown reflect the relative frequency of each problem's occurrence. The resulting order of problems indicates the tendency of the elderly to shift their expenditures away from purchases that can be postponed (e.g., recreation, savings, repairs) to avoid financial problems with more pressing daily needs (e.g., rent and utility payments). The frequency of medical-related financial demands is likely to be a particular cause for elderly concern.


This study attempted to examine the ability of several frequently discussed antecedents of behavior to predict and explain overall elderly satisfaction with life. A theoretical framework linking overall life satisfaction as the principal dependent variable to health situation, financial situation, alienation, consumer satisfaction, and level of living satisfaction was examined via correlation and path analysis. An individual's health situation, feelings of alienation, and satisfaction with level of living were found to be related with overall satisfaction with life. However, only 30 par-cent of the variance was explained by the variables.

Certainly, further research is needed to more adequately identify the causal determinants of overall life satisfaction before substantive conclusions can be drawn. These results would likely have been different if additional variables were included or the structure of the antecedents of life satisfaction assumed differently. For example, alienation might have been easily positioned as a result of health, financial situation, and age and not an exogenous measure with elderly health and financial situations as depicted here. Further, a larger sample of elderly including those more restricted by health and living environment could have altered the relative influences of the variables examined. Specifically, the use of only homeowner couples who are much more likely to have been active shoppers may account for the insignificance of the consumer satisfaction measure in the results of this study. Lastly, the use of different operational measures designed and validated for the study of individual life satisfaction is needed. Multiple item measures of level of living satisfaction and use of the complete CDS scale, while further lengthening the interviews, would have improved variable measurement.

Related to overall life satisfaction is the notion of quality of life. Campbell, Converse and Rodgers (1976) have recently suggested items that are principal contributors to individual perceptions of quality of life. Priority rankings were assigned to the items by the 110 elderly interviewed in the present study as a follow-up to the life satisfaction effort. The relative rankings somewhat support the findings of this study and indicate other measures as potential determinants of life satisfaction. Specifically, the importance attributed to family life might explain the significance of alienation in this study and suggests the direct consideration of family life satisfaction in future efforts. Health and financial concerns were considered relatively important and should be considered in future life satisfaction/ quality of life studies. Of the quality of life items examined, personal consumption aspects (e.g., furniture and household items) were generally not regarded as being critical when compared with the important concerns regarding home life and individual security and well-being.


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