Children As Information Sources in the Family Decision to Eat Out

James E. Nelson, Montana State University
ABSTRACT - Children's involvement in the nuclear family decisions to eat out is examined relative to parental involvement across six decision stages. Stages include problem recognition, providing information, deciding on restaurant type, deciding on a particular restaurant, deciding how much will be spent, and making the final decision. Results indicate children over five are as involved as parents in recognizing the problem, providing information, deciding on restaurant type, and deciding on a particular restaurant. For all families, parents appear to reserve the right to make the final decision and decide how much is spent.
[ to cite ]:
James E. Nelson (1979) ,"Children As Information Sources in the Family Decision to Eat Out", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 06, eds. William L. Wilkie, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 419-423.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 1979      Pages 419-423

CHILDREN AS INFORMATION SOURCES IN THE FAMILY DECISION TO EAT OUT

James E. Nelson, Montana State University

[The author expresses appreciation to Professor Robert D. Abbott, Montana State University, for his assistance in data analysis in this paper.]

ABSTRACT -

Children's involvement in the nuclear family decisions to eat out is examined relative to parental involvement across six decision stages. Stages include problem recognition, providing information, deciding on restaurant type, deciding on a particular restaurant, deciding how much will be spent, and making the final decision. Results indicate children over five are as involved as parents in recognizing the problem, providing information, deciding on restaurant type, and deciding on a particular restaurant. For all families, parents appear to reserve the right to make the final decision and decide how much is spent.

INTRODUCTION

Little academic marketing research has been concerned with the relative involvement of children as information sources in family decision making. Yet grounds for such an interest can at least be found in the large numbers of families with children and the numerous marketing strategies which focus on children.

This study concerns children as information sources in the family decision to eat out. As information sources, children can be influential in recognizing the problem, in providing information, and in making the final decision. Their relative influence, vis-a-vis adults in the decision to eat out, is central to this study. That is, are children significant information sources? Does their relative influence vary with demographic family characteristics? Finally, does the relative influence of children affect family decision criteria?

EARLIER RESEARCH

These research questions relate to four earlier studies. Szybillo and Sosanie (1977) examined 190 New York families' last decisions to have dinner at a fast food restaurant and to go on a one day family trip. Mothers indicated whether or not husbands, wives, and children were involved in purchase idea initiation, obtaining and providing decision alternatives, and making the final decision. Counts of families showed children involved at approximately 60-80% of all decision stages.

Berey and Pollay (1968) studied 48 mother-child pairs for children's influence on the mother's purchase of breakfast cereal. The mother's child centeredness rather than the child's assertiveness was significantly related to cereal brand purchases (rs = -.27, a<.05). As with the Szybillo and Sosanie research, no demographic correlates of this influencing process were investigated.

Ward and Wackman (1972) studied parental yielding for 22 product purchase categories. Yielding was positively related to the child's age (r = .20, a <.01) but unrelated to family size and social class. Yielding was product specific, a finding confirmed by Mehotra and Torges (1977).

The present study extends this past research by examining the relative involvement of children across stages of the decision process. It replicates the Ward and Wackman (1972) and Mehotra and Torges (1977) research by examining demographic characteristics associated with children's involvement. It extends past research by examining children's involvement and family decision criteria.

METHOD

Interviewers stopped consumers who appeared to be over age 18 at three shopping center locations in Bozeman and Billings, Montana. Consumers who "frequently ate pizza out" were asked if they would be willing to participate in a research study. Each of the 450 who agreed were given an address label and asked to record their address, to which a mail questionnaire would be sent. Each were promised a coupon good for a small pizza at an unnamed local restaurant if they returned a properly completed questionnaire.

Usable questionnaires were received from 290 consumers (64.4%). From this group, 84 respondents reported eating their last pizza out as a nuclear family. The main data analysis was conducted on respondents from this group who provided complete data sets (approximately 70, depending on variables involved in the analysis).

Consumers were asked to report the degree of involvement (not involved, slightly involved, moderately involved, and very involved) for themselves, spouses, and child or children across six stages of the decision process. For example, the first involvement question stated, "Thinking back to the last time you went out to eat, indicate how involved the people below were in deciding to eat out in the first place. For each person below circle the appropriate response." The other five questions relating to stages of the decision process asked for involvement in providing information in making the decision, in deciding what type of restaurant to go to, in deciding on a particular restaurant, in deciding how much money would be spent, and in making the final decision to eat out. Degree of involvement was coded 1 through 4 for not involved through very involved respectively.

Consumers were also asked to indicate what things are important in deciding "what pizza restaurant you eat at." Fifteen salient dimensions or decision criteria were identified; consumers rated each on a five-point "importance scale." Anchors used were "not important, little importance, important, moderately important, and extremely important" with responses coded 1 through 5 for increasing levels of importance.

Finally, respondents indicated their age, sex, marital status, age of their youngest child living at home, family size, occupation of the household head, their last grade of school completed, and family gross income in 1976. In comparing to nuclear family population figures, sample families were slightly younger, larger, better educated, and had higher incomes.

RESULTS

Overall, children in this study were reported as slightly less involved across stages in the decision process than by Szybillo and Sosanie. Table 1 below presents the comparison.

TABLE 1

CHILDREN INVOLVEMENT IN THE FAMILY DECISION TO EAT OUT BY DECISION STAGE

Data in Table 1 generally indicate a widespread involvement of children across decision stages except for deciding how much will be spent.

The data, however, could be misleading. It may be that children are involved in the majority of decision stages but to only a small degree. Nothing in Table 1 makes any reference to the quality of children involvement, only to quantity.

Table 2 sheds some light on this issue, showing average involvement scores for all family members. Significance levels and sample sizes are also shown for the test of no difference between repeated measure means on each decision stage (Morrison, 1967). As Table 2 shows, this null hypothesis is rejected for each decision stage.

TABLE 2

FAMILY MEMBER INVOLVEMENT IN THE DECISION TO EAT OUT, BY STAGE IN THE DECISION PROCESS

Contrasts or multiple comparisons between involvement scores in Table 2 for each decision stage were conducted with Hotelling's T2 statistic (Morrison, 1967) using a significance level of .01. Briefly, involvement scores between parents for all decision stages are not significantly different. Children involvement scores, however, are significantly lower than those for either parent in providing information, making a final decision, and deciding how much money will be spent.

Children involvement scores are not significantly different than those for either parent in recognizing the problem, deciding on restaurant type, and deciding on a particular restaurant.

Again the data in Table 2 have potential to mislead. Intuitively, and from Ward and Wackman (1972), one would expect the extent of involvement would vary with child age. Parents with children under six would seem less likely to use their children as information sources than parents of older children. Tables 3 and 4 provide details, showing mean involvement scores for families whose youngest child is age five or less, and six or over, respectively. Significance levels and sample sizes are also shown for the test of no difference between repeated measure means on each decision stage.

TABLE 3

FAMILY MEMBER INVOLVEMENT IN THE DECISION TO EAT OUT BY STAGE IN THE DECISION PROCESS, CHILDREN AGE FIVE OR LESS

Table 3 shows more pronounced involvement differences between this group of younger children and their parents than the sample as a whole in Table 2. All children involvement sources are lower in magnitude while parental involvement scores are generally the same.

Contrasts between parental involvement scores showed no significant differences (a < .01) across the six decision stages. Children involvement scores, however, are significantly lower than scores for the responding parent (column 2 in Table 3) across all decision stages except for deciding on a particular restaurant. Children involvement scores are also significantly lower than spouse involvement scores in providing information, making the final decision, and deciding how much would be spent. In the other three stages, children/spouse involvement score differences are in the predicted direction but reach significance at approximately the .20 level.

The picture changes almost completely for families whose youngest child is age six or older. Table 4 shows the data.

TABLE 4

FAMILY MEMBER INVOLVEMENT IN THE DECISION TO EAT OUT BY STAGE IN THE DECISION PROCESS, CHILDREN AGE SIX AND OVER

Only in making a final decision and deciding how much money will be spent are mean involvement scores significantly different.

For these two decision stages, contrasts of mean differences between parental involvement scores are not significant. However, children's involvement scores are significantly lower than those for either parent in making the final decision (a < .05) and deciding how much would be spent (a < .01). That these older children are still significantly less involved than parents in making the final decision substantiates Berey and Pollay's "gatekeeper" concept (1968). Parents appear to reserve the right to overrule a child's consumption decision.

Rather than splitting the sample into two groups on the basis of children's age, it is possible to examine directly the relationship between age and children's relative involvement. Correlation coefficients between children's involvement scores across all six decision stages and all five socioeconomic characteristics are given in Table 5 below.

TABLE 5

CHILDREN'S INVOLVEMENT CORRELATED WITH SELECTED SOCIOECONOMIC CHARACTERISTICS BY DECISION STAGE (N=84)

Children's involvement is positively related to age of the family's youngest child and, in general, to family size. The first finding is consistent with Ward and Wackman (1972); the second is not. Neither measure of social class, occupation or education, is significantly correlated with children's relative involvement, again consistent with Ward and Wackman (1972).

The income/children involvement correlations are generally higher than those between social class and children involvement, although significant for only two stages in the decision process. This finding indicates that income may be more powerful than social class in predicting children's involvement in the decision.

Another analysis of children's involvement in family decision making is to examine only their involvement scores across decision stages. For example, children may be more involved in recognizing the problem but less involved in making the final decision. Table 6 compares children's involvement scores across all decision stages.

TABLE 6

CHILDREN'S INVOLVEMENT BY DECISION STAGE (N=65)

[Means in Table 6 may be compared to those for children in Table 2; the small differences are explained by the slightly different samples for both tables. That is, data in Table 6 are based on those 65 families who provided a complete set of child involvement scores across all decision stages. Data in Table 2 reflect those families who provided complete involvement scores for both parents and child within each decision stage.]

Contrasts between involvement scores in Table 6 show significantly less child involvement in deciding how much would be spent than in deciding any of the other five decision stages (a < .01). Children are also significantly less involved in making the final decision than in recognizing the problem and deciding on restaurant type (a < .05).

Tests similar to that reported above were also conducted for parental involvement scores. Null hypotheses of no difference between involvement scores across decision stages for both parents were supported (a < .05).

A final research question deals with differences in the importance of selected decision criteria in choosing a pizza restaurant for high and low child involvement families. High child involvement families (n = 38) were defined as those indicating that their children were either moderately or very involved in all decision aspects except deciding how much would be spent. Low child involvement families (n = 12) were defined as those indicating no or slight involvement for these decision stages.

Mean importance scores on each decision criterion for the sample as a whole, high involvement families, and low involvement families are shown in Table 7.

TABLE 7

IMPORTANCE OF SELECTED DECISION CRITERIA IN CHOOSING A PIZZA RESTAURANT

Because of the lack of published research on the issue and small sample sizes, no hypotheses were stated and tested. However, it appears that high and low involvement families may differ in their importance ratings for popularity with children, familiarity with the restaurant, comfortable atmosphere, availability of wine and beer, and thick crust pizza.

As might be expected from results earlier in this study, low child involvement families in Table 7 were significantly smaller and had younger children than high child involvement families.

CONCLUSIONS

The overwhelming conclusion from this research is that children are significant sources of information in the family decision to eat out. Beyond the age of five, children are generally as involved in this decision process as their parents except in making a final decision and deciding how much will be spent.

It is important to recognize that all children show in Table 2 near moderate involvement in recognizing the problem, providing information, deciding on restaurant type, and deciding on a particular restaurant. Thus, it would appear that children may be managerially significant information sources despite their statistically significant lower involvement scores. Lending credence to this conclusion are data from this study which show only about one family in six indicating no children involvement in the decision stages above.

There appear to be several differences between high and low child involvement families on several decision criteria. Larger sample sizes are needed to confirm this appearance.

LIMITATIONS

A limitation noted earlier in this paper should be repeated: earlier research has shown results to be product specific. Thus, caution should be exercised in extending results of this study to similar consumer decisions.

The sample suffers from its self-selection and non-random procedures, the last consideration being common to all earlier reported research. Self selection is not a severe problem given that decision makers are more interested in users than the population as a whole. And given that memory problems of the consumer were likely not extreme in qualifying themselves as eating "a pizza out frequently." Not reported earlier, sample members also indicated on the questionnaire eating pizza out a total of 163 times or an average of 1.9 times in the two weeks prior to being approached as a prospective sample member.

Additional sample limitations concern geographic and population density considerations. Of the two, population density is probably the most important. Both Bozeman and Billings, Montana, are small urban areas with populations of approximately 25,000 and 75,000 respectively. An example of the distortion would seem to be the relatively low importance rating given location of the restaurant as a decision criterion. This finding can be largely explained by the relative ease of driving to any pizza restaurant in both cities. Research in larger urban areas would likely find location more important.

A final limitation concerns the nature of the data used in the involvement and decision criteria analyses. All such data are between ordinal and interval in terms of measurement. As such, the use of F ratios is debatable but not unreasonable (McNemar, 1969). The frequent caveat that results must be interpreted with caution is appropriate.

IMPLICATIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH SUGGESTIONS

Because of the high overall child involvement in the decision process, marketing strategies focusing on children are appropriate for this industry. However, the family market may be different from young singles, for example, on important dimensions. Care should be taken that strategies which appeal to families do not alienate other segments.

For the family market, it would appear that advertisements featuring more than one child over age five involved with parents in problem recognition, providing information, and in choosing a restaurant type or particular restaurant would be effective. Parents might be shown alone in advertisements making a final decision and deciding how much will be spent. In-store promotions and products focusing on children are also consistent with this research.

Future research in different geographic areas in larger urban areas should be undertaken as replication. A reasonable workable methodology is demonstrated here and such studies should not be difficult to conduct. Larger samples of high child and low child involvement families are needed especially to examine differences in decision criteria for these two groups. Perhaps families may be segmented on this dimension.

Exploratory research is needed on potential alienation of other consumer segments from child or family centered marketing strategies. The concept of consumer-store image consistency hints at this alienation.

REFERENCES

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.

Quinn McNemar, Psychological Statistics, 4th ed. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1969.

Sunil Mehotra and Sandra Torges, "Determinants of Children's Influence on Mothers' Buying Behavior," in William D. Perreault, Jr., ed., Advances in Consumer Research, Volume IV (Atlanta: Association for Consumer Research, 1977) 56-60.

Donald F. Morrison, Multivariate Statistical Methods, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1967.

George J. Szybillo and Arlene Sosanie, "Family Decision Making: Husband, Wife and Children" in William D. Perreault, Jr., ed., Advances in Consumer Research, Volume IV (Atlanta: Association for Consumer Research, 1977) 46-49.

Scott Ward and Daniel B. Wackman, "Children's Purchase Influence Attempts and Parental Yielding," Journal of Marketing Research, 9 (August, 1972) 316-19.

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