The Influence of Children in Family Decision-Making: Parents' Perceptions

Roger L. Jenkins, The University of Tennessee
ABSTRACT - Most researchers in the area of family decision-making have equated family decision-making with husband-wife decision-making and have excluded or ignored the role of children. Through the use of focus-group interviews with parents and by data collected from 105 husband-wife couples, this exploratory study focuses on: (1) the perceived role of the children in family decision-making in the areas of furniture decisions, automobiles, groceries, life insurance, savings, general family decisions, and in vacation decisions, and (2) the relationship between children's influence patterns and various demographic, socio-economic, personality, and attitudinal variables.
[ to cite ]:
Roger L. Jenkins (1979) ,"The Influence of Children in Family Decision-Making: Parents' Perceptions", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 06, eds. William L. Wilkie, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 413-418.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 1979      Pages 413-418

THE INFLUENCE OF CHILDREN IN FAMILY DECISION-MAKING: PARENTS' PERCEPTIONS

Roger L. Jenkins, The University of Tennessee

ABSTRACT -

Most researchers in the area of family decision-making have equated family decision-making with husband-wife decision-making and have excluded or ignored the role of children. Through the use of focus-group interviews with parents and by data collected from 105 husband-wife couples, this exploratory study focuses on: (1) the perceived role of the children in family decision-making in the areas of furniture decisions, automobiles, groceries, life insurance, savings, general family decisions, and in vacation decisions, and (2) the relationship between children's influence patterns and various demographic, socio-economic, personality, and attitudinal variables.

INTRODUCTION

Family consumption behavior and the process of joint decision-making by husbands and wives has been of keen interest to marketing and advertising strategists as well as to sociologists and social psychologists (Cox, 1975; Cunningham and Green, 1974; Davis, 1976, 1975, 1974,1972, 1970; Ferber and Lee, 1974; Hempel, 1974; Munsinger, Weber, and Hansen, 1975; Safilios-Rothschild, 1969). The last decade has witnessed a substantial change in the family role structure and family decision-making which is, in turn, reflected in the marketplace.

These role structure changes affect existing products, services and marketing practices. Marketers must remain abreast of the impact of these family role changes and their concomitant consumer purchasing patterns in order to modify marketing and advertising strategies accordingly. Just as a marketing researcher thinks of market segments composed of people with certain common demographic or attitudinal characteristics, he can also describe families which have certain decision-making characteristics for the purpose of developing advertising appeals and selecting media.

The influence of children in family decision-making has been a much too neglected subject of inquiry. Practically all research has centered upon the husband-wife dyad (Cunningham and Green, 1974; Davis, 1976, 1975, 1974, 1972, 1970; Ferber and Lee, 1974; Hempel, 1974; and Munsinger, Weber and Hansen, 1975) and ignored the role of children. Children, as would be expected, have an important role in the Western nuclear family. Adult consumer behavior is the direct antecedent of child consumer behavior. Many researchers have been concerned with children's responses to different kinds of television programming and advertising appeals; both Wells and LoSciuto (1966) and McNeal (1964) have studied patterns of child behavior within the store setting. But there appears to be a void in the literature of family decision-making in exploring children influence.

Scope of the Study

This exploratory study investigates parents' perceptions of the role of children in various decision areas: major appliances, automobiles, furniture, groceries, savings, life insurance, vacations, and general household decisions. Do parents perceive children to have influence in such areas as major appliances or automobiles? Do husbands and wives differ in their perception of children's influence patterns? Why do children have more influence in some families than in others? These are relevant and important questions which must be answered before a general theory or model of family decision-making can become a reality. Too, have previous researchers been justified in equating family decision-making with husband-wife decision-making in given product areas?

Study Sample

Two focus-group interviews, each with five husband-wife teams, were held to establish the number, range, and commonality of decision making activities and subdecisions to be explored with the study sample of 105 married couples via a self-administered questionnaire for each spouse. The definition of "influence" varied from one person to another. Some perceived only the "active" dimension of the word while others perceived the word to encompass both the "active" and the "passive" dimensions.

A professional marketing research firm recruited ten married couples with children for the questionnaire pre-test and another 105 married couples for the final data collection. The research firm randomly called families until they filled the researcher's specified quota of having one-third of the couples having at least one child age five or younger; one-third with at least one child between the age of six and twelve years; and the remaining one-third with at least one teenager at home. Each participating couple was paid twenty-five dollars to complete the questionnaire. The couples were brought, in grouping of twenty couples, to a central location where they simultaneously and independently completed self-ad-ministered questionnaires.

Two sample limitations were recognized, but were judged to be within the acceptable "cost" limits. One limitation was representativeness of the couples as a sample of the Columbus, Ohio population. The families in the sample tended to have slightly higher income and educational levels than the general parent population. However, the sample utilized here is certainly more representative of the parent population than other samples in the family decision-making literature where students or convenience samples are usually the norm.

Another limitation of utilizing couples, some of whom had participated in previous projects conducted by the research firm, is that of bias in the responses of the couples. Respondents might be (1) trying to look good, (2) trying to appear as an expert or someone different from whom they really are, or (3) bored, annoyed, or fatigued from answering questionnaires at more frequent intervals than perhaps their neighbors. Since only twenty respondents indicated they had been recruited by the same research firm to take part in a similar survey, the possible bias would appear to be minimal.

Relative influence of husband, wife and each child was measured separately for each subdecision area. Each spouse was asked to respond on a constant sum scale by allocating 100 Points among the family members. In order to minimize bias, the researcher collected the responses for each subdecision area before he introduced the next subdecision. As the explanation of subdecision areas and the definition or relative influence had to be consistent from one decision area to another and from one twenty-couple setting to another, standardized oral instructions were prepared and read at each session with respondents.

Additionally, both male and female directors, with equal authority, assisted in the questionnaire administration in order to minimize any sex bias that might be introduced otherwise.

RESULTS

Dependent upon the decision category and the specific subdecision area, parents' perceptions of children's influence varied greatly. The results are summarized in Table 1. The following generalizations can be made from Table 1:

(1) Husbands and wives as groups are highly congruent in the perception of their own influence in decision-making. This is a rather unique finding when compared to other decision-making studies which have found a high amount of incongruence in spousal perception of their own influence patterns. The researcher postulates, in part, that this results from a tighter methodology for measuring spousal influence in this study as compared to others.

(2) Automobiles, family savings, and life insurance decisions are ones which are perceived by both spouses to be more husband-dominant; furniture, grocery, and most general family decisions related to money management are perceived to be more wife-dominant; and major appliances and vacation decisions are perceived to be areas in which husbands and wives share decision-making more equally.

(3) In general, husbands more than wives perceived their children to be more influential in family decision-making.

(4) In most product categories, both spouses did not perceive children to exert a high amount of influence in decision-making. Children were perceived to exert most influence in vacation decisions and least influence in major appliance decisions.

From these results, it would appear that previous researchers who have excluded children from these product areas and have equated family decision-making with husband-wife decision making have been justified.

Given the fact that both spouses perceived children to exert a high amount of influence in vacation decision-making, the researcher chose this decision area to explore further children's influence patterns across families.

Explaining Children's Influence in Vacation Decision-Making

Why are children perceived to have more influence in some families more than in others? Are older children perceived to exert more influence? Is the stage in the family life cycle related to perceived children's influence? Are the spouses' ages, educational levels, and incomes correlated with perceived children's influence? Will children have more influence in families which are highly mobile? Will children be perceived as having more influence in families whose parents have "traditional" attitudes toward marital roles or when parents hold more "contemporary" views of marriage? Will a highly authoritarian parent perceive the children as having less influence? How are parents' levels of self-confidence related to children's influence patterns in vacation decision-making? These are the exploratory questions addressed here.

TABLE 1

AVERAGE RELATIVE INFLUENCE OF HUSBAND, WIFE AND CHILDREN IN DECISION-MAKING AS PERCEIVED BY PARENTS

The husband-wife decision-making literature provided insight into which variables might be related to various influence patterns. Will some of the same variables help explain perceived children's influence? The independent variables which were investigated to determine if they could individually and collectively explain perceived children influence patterns were:

X1 - Number of years couple has been married

X2 - Age of each spouse in years

X3 - Difference in ages of couple, one spouse relative to the other

X4 - Number of preschool children age five or younger at home in family

X5 - Number of children at home in family between ages of 6 and 12

X6 - Number of teenagers at home in family

X7 - Number of hours per week spent on work and work related tasks away from home

X8 - Number of hours per week spent on outside-the-home hobbies and interests

X9 - Number of formal years of education of each spouse

X10 - Difference in education levels of each spouse, one relative to other

X11 - Income level of each spouse

X12 - Difference in income levels of spouses, one relative to the other

X13 - Number of years lived in present city

X14 - Number of times couple has moved at least fifty miles from one home to another within the past five years

X15 - Score on "Attitude Toward Marital Roles" variable (Scale used to get total score developed by Catherine Arnott, Nov. 1972, Journal of Marriage and Family and by Cunningham and Green, Journal of Marketing Research, 1975.)

X16 - Husband-wife difference on "Attitude Toward Marital Roles" variable

X17 - Generalized score on authoritarianism variable (Score based on Adorno's Balanced F Scale and used by M. B. Smith, Journal of Personality, 1965.)

X18 - Husband-wife difference on generalized score on authoritarianism variable

X19 - Generalized score on self-confidence variable (Scale constructed by Day and Hamlin, Journal of Sociology, March, 1964, and used by Gerald Bell, Journal of Marketing Research, (February, 1967,)

X20 - Husband-wife difference on self-confidence variable

Using the husbands' data, regression models were developed to investigate the relationship of these independent variables, individually and collectively, to perceived children's influence in vacation decision-making. The procedure was duplicated for wives' data. The dependent variable in each regression model was parent's perceived influence of children in a given vacation subdecision as derived from the constant sum scale discussed earlier.

Since there are ten vacation subdecisions, the dependent variable produces ten regression equations for husbands' data and ten for wives' data. As the relationships discerned in the husbands' data were generally the same as found in the wives' data, only the husbands' regression models are discussed here.

The researcher is interested in determining whether the independent variables developed earlier are able to collectively explain variability in influence patterns and whether individually the variables are statistically related to those patterns. Table 2 shows the results of the regression runs for the total vacation decision and nine subdecisions.

The first focus is in determining the relationship between the individual predictors and the criterion variable. Using partial F values, the hypothesis that each of the twenty independent variables is not related to children's influence in decision-making is tested on husbands' data. Whether the hypothesis is accepted or rejected at the specified level of significance is stated in Table 2 for the total vacation decision and nine sub-decisions.

For husbands, family life cycle variables are significantly correlated with children's influence in the following decisions: total vacation decision, whether to take children, how long to stay, kinds of activities, and selection of destination point(s). In the total vacation decision, Table 2 shows children's influence increasing the greater the number of teenagers and elementary school children in the family. Length of marriage is a statistically significant variable in four vacation decisions for husbands' perception of children's influence. In these decisions for each spouse, the longer the couple have been married, the greater the children's influence. This finding is in consonance with the early findings that older children are perceived to have greater influence.

In three vacation subdecisions--information collection, taking children, and amount of money to spend--Table 2 indicates older husbands allocate less influence to children. For husbands and wives the difference in age variable, more than absolute age, is related to influence patterns. In families where wives are older than husbands, children are perceived to have more influence.

Neither absolute income for each spouse nor spousal difference in income is significantly related to parents' perceptions of children's influence. It is not true for education. Table 2 indicates the higher the level of education for husbands, the less influence they perceive children to have, all other variables held constant. The hypothesis that husbands' perception of children's influence is independent of husbands' education is rejected in six of ten vacation decisions. The difference in education of husband and wife relative to husband is also a statistically significant variable in explaining children's influence in five vacation decisions for husbands. The greater the difference in education of the husband relative to the wife, the greater the influence of children.

The amount of time spent away from home is a significant explanatory variable for both spouses' perceptions of children's influence. The greater the number of hours husbands spend on work and work-related tasks, the greater the children's influence. Hours per week spent on outside-the-home hobbies and interests is not an important variable for husbands.

Only one of the two mobility measures is important in husbands' perceptions. The hypothesis that the number of years the couple has lived in present city is not related to children's influence is rejected for husbands' data in four vacation decisions. The sign of the standardized Beta coefficient indicates the longer the couple have lived in their present city, the lower the children's influence.

Each spouse's attitude toward marital roles and spousal difference on this variable are not highly correlated with perceived children's influence. The personality variables were important in understanding husbands' perceptions of children's important in decision-making. The absolute scores on authoritarianism and self-confidence are far superior to husband-wife difference measures on the same variables. Table 2 indicates the less authoritarian the husband, the more influence he perceives children to have. Similarly, the hypothesis that husbands' self-confidence is independent of his perception of children's influence is rejected in four vacation decisions. The direction of the relationship is such that the more self-confidence, the greater the influence allocated to children in vacation decision-making.

TABLE 2

HUSBANDS' PERCEPTION OF CHILDREN'S INFLUENCE IN VACATION DECISION-MAKING

The research question now addressed is whether the combination of Variables 1-20 are able to explain husbands' perceptions of children's influence in vacation decisions. The hypothesis tested is:

H1: Children's influence in the vacation decision is independent of the set of Variables X1 - X20.

Table 2 indicates for husbands this hypothesis is rejected in six of the ten vacation decisions. Hypothesis 1 is rejected at the .01 level of significance for the kinds-of-activities vacation decision. This combination of variables is also statistically significant in explaining husbands' perception of children's influence in the total vacation decision, selecting destination(s), amount of money to spend, and whether to take children.

Adjusted R2, or proportion of total variance in influence explained by these variables ranges, for wives, to a high of 23.05 percent for deciding on kinds of vacation activities. For husbands, these variables were able to explain a high of 33.20 percent in the kinds-of-activities decision.

SUMMARY

Children were perceived to exert minimal influence in the following major decision categories: furniture, major appliances, automobiles, groceries, family savings, life insurance, and decisions regarding selection of family doctor, keeping track of bills and money, and spending extra income. However, both spouses perceived children to be highly influential in deciding on what activities the family will participate in jointly, especially vacation decisions. In fact, some specific vacation subdecisions could be called "children dominant!"

Regression models investigated individually are collectively the relationship between perceived children influence and various independent variables. The models revealed several interesting relationships. The greater number of elementary school children and teenagers in the family, the more influence allocated to children for decisions concerning kinds of activity destination, and amount of money to spend. The older the husband, the greater influence allocated to children for vacation decisions relating to information collection, whether to take children, and amount of money to spend. The greater the number of years married, the more influence husbands allocated to children in these subdecisions: information collection, whether to take children, actual date of vacation, and amount of money to spend. It can be concluded from the correlation of family life cycle variables with perceived children's influence that children in families which are in the later stages of the life cycle have more influence in vacation decision-making. Older children, especially teenagers, are perceived to have more influence.

Income is not associated with either spouse's perceived influence of children's input into decision-making. However, for husbands, education is related. The more educated the husband, the less influence he perceives children to have in the total vacation decision and the following subdecisions: whether to take children, how long to stay, amount of money to spend, kinds of vacation activities, and destination point(s). This might be explained by reference to the husband's profession and education required for it. In families where the husband is highly educated and holds a professional or comparable position, the responsibilities to such are usually great and the family's alternatives revolve to a large extent around them. In such instances, the husband is likely to have considerable ability to decipher information on vacation alternatives. Likewise, the decisions on how long to stay and how much money to spend may depend less upon the children's influence, and more on husband's position.

However, the more educated the husband relative to the wife, the greater influence children are perceived to have in the total vacation decision and the same subdecisions as before: whether to take children, actual date of vacation, kinds of vacation activities, and destination point(s). For husbands, the greater the amount of time spent away from home for work, the greater children's influence in the total vacation decision, how long to stay decision, and how much money to spend decision. One might infer from these findings that husbands who spend a great deal of time away from the children and home because of work, feel some self-actuated guilt and perceive children as having more influence because of it.

The less authoritarian the spouse, the more influence he allocated to children. Also, the more contemporary the attitudes toward marital roles held by a spouse, the more influence he allocated to children. Husbands who possessed greater self-confidence perceived their children even more influential.

It can be concluded that in vacation decisions in which children were perceived to exert considerable influence, the overall regression equation was significant. For example, children were perceived to have the most influence, relative to other subdecisions, in deciding upon the kinds of vacation activities for the family to participate. This is the same subdecision in which adjusted R2 was highest--for husbands 23 percent and for wives 33 percent.

According to husbands' perceptions, increased children's influence in the total vacation decision is correlated with greater numbers of children ages six to twelve and thirteen to nineteen, less husband education, greater husband self-confidence, greater hours spent by husband on work, greater self-confidence of husband relative to wife, and younger in years relative to wife.

Hopefully, this exploratory investigation of children's influence in family decision-making will stimulate other research in this important area. The role of the child as an influencer of consumer behavior might also be investigated by studying the interaction between mother and child, between father and child, and across product purchase areas.

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