Sex-Typed Product Images: the Effects of Sex, Sex Role Self-Concept and Measurement Implications

Nell K. Allison, University of South Carolina
Linda L. Golden, The University of Texas at Austin
Gary M. Mullet, University of Cincinnati (Student), University of Cincinnati
Donna Coogan,
ABSTRACT - This study assesses the relationship of sex and sex-role self-concept to masculine and feminine product perceptions for a spectrum of twenty-four product categories. Sex-typing of products was found to be based primarily upon sex, the specific product and the interaction of sex and the product stimuli. Moreover, masculine and feminine product perceptions appear to be two separate constructs that should be scaled and measured individually. This is in sharp contrast to the traditional unidimensional, dichotomous conceptualization of masculine and feminine product image among consumer behaviorists.
[ to cite ]:
Nell K. Allison, Linda L. Golden, Gary M. Mullet, and Donna Coogan (1980) ,"Sex-Typed Product Images: the Effects of Sex, Sex Role Self-Concept and Measurement Implications", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 07, eds. Jerry C. Olson, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 604-609.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 7, 1980     Pages 604-609

SEX-TYPED PRODUCT IMAGES: THE EFFECTS OF SEX, SEX ROLE SELF-CONCEPT AND MEASUREMENT IMPLICATIONS

Nell K. Allison, University of South Carolina

Linda L. Golden, The University of Texas at Austin

Gary M. Mullet, University of Cincinnati

Donna Coogan (Student), University of Cincinnati

ABSTRACT -

This study assesses the relationship of sex and sex-role self-concept to masculine and feminine product perceptions for a spectrum of twenty-four product categories. Sex-typing of products was found to be based primarily upon sex, the specific product and the interaction of sex and the product stimuli. Moreover, masculine and feminine product perceptions appear to be two separate constructs that should be scaled and measured individually. This is in sharp contrast to the traditional unidimensional, dichotomous conceptualization of masculine and feminine product image among consumer behaviorists.

INTRODUCTION

Tucker (1976, p.353) predicted that "during most of the rest of this century marketers will increasingly miss the center of their markets because they will not understand them. And the changes in the relations of the sexes will be the primary cause." This changing of relations between the sexes, as reflected by sex-role changes in both sexes, has potentially broad implications for consumer behavior and the marketing strategist.

In spite of the attention that changing women's roles have received, few consumer behavior researchers have focused on either the change in men's roles or on the relationship between sex-role self-concept and consumer behavior variables. Approaching the area of sex-role research from a self-concept perspective has its roots in self-theory which is based on the assumption that there is an interaction of the consumer's personality with the symbolic image of products that are purchased (Levy 1959). As suggested by Kassarjian (1971) this research takes an individual personality trait approach to investigate the effects of sex-role self-concept and sex (gender) on perceptions of masculinity and femininity in products. By understanding the correlates of sex-typing of products the marketer may be able to alter the existing image of a product and/or predict the development of new markets. In addition this research investigates the related methodological issue of the appropriate measurement of masculine and feminine product images.

Sex-Role Self-Concept and Consumer Behavior

Consumer behavior investigations of sex-role self-concept are represented by six studies. Aiken (1963) found that women who were more feminine were likely to belong to "decoration," "interest," and "conformity" clusters of female dress buyers, but masculinity-femininity made no difference for "comfort" and "economy" clusters. Vitz and Johnson (1965) reported that masculine males were more likely to smoke masculine image cigarettes and feminine females were more likely to smoke feminine image cigarettes. Fry (1971) found that feminine men were more likely to smoke cigarettes with a less masculine image. Morris and Cundiff (1971) reported that males with feminine identification and a high level of manifest anxiety expressed unfavorable attitudes toward the use of a feminine product, hair spray. Gentry and Doering (1977) investigated the use of and attitudes toward a variety of leisure activities, products and brands and found that sex was more strongly associated with consumer attitudes and choice than sex-role self-concept. Gentry, Doering and O'Brien (1978) also report weak support for the congruence between masculinity-femininity and consumer behavior variables, but stronger support for the association between product use, product perceptions and sex of respondent. Golden and Allison (1979) found that sex-role self-concept appears to be more important for feminine perceptions of products than masculine perceptions of products and that sex of respondent and product use is at least as important in influencing sex-typing of products as sex-role self-concept. Thus, previous consumer behavior research supports a hypothesized association between sex-role self-concept and product perceptions. In addition sex appears to be an equally important variable in the sex typing of products.

The Measurement of Sex-Role Self-Concept and Product Perceptions

Until the mid-1970's, the psychological literature conceptualized sex-role self-concept as a bipolar trait. Due to the work of Bem (1972, 1974) and Spence, Helmreich and Stapp (1975) psychologists now tend to view masculinity and femininity as two dimensions of the self-concept to be conceptualized and measured separately.

The earlier consumer behavior research involving sex-role self-concept measures followed the traditional, pre-mid-1970's psychological thinking by investigating sex-role self-concept as a bipolar concept (Aiken 1963; Fry 1971; Morris and Cundiff 1971; Vitz and Johnson 1971). In addition, consumer behavior researchers have generally conceptualized masculinity and femininity of products as opposite ends of a bipolar scale, consistent with the self-concept conceptualization of masculinity and femininity.

Three consumer behavior studies have measured sex-role self-concept as separate dimensions (Gentry and Doering 1977; Gentry, Doering and O'Brien 1978; Golden and Allsion 1979), and two of these studies have followed this conceptualization in the measurement of sex-typed product perceptions (Gentry, Doering, O'Brien 1977; Golden and Allison 1976). In addition Gentry and Doering (1977)and Gentry, Doering and O'Brien (1978) measured sex-role self-concept as a bipolar construct as well as separate dimensions. They found different relationships between the two different conceptualizations and consumer behavior variables which led them to conclude that the two different types of indices were measuring somewhat different phenomena.

Even though precedent exists in the psychological literature for the measurement of masculinity and femininity as separate self-concept dimensions, the measurement of product perceptions according to the same separateness of dimensions has been questioned. The study by Golden and Allison (1979) evoked the following reviewer's comment (Lambert 1979), "A high priority question to resolve prior to undertaking further research, it seems to me, is whether consumers visualize products on a single bipolar feminine-masculine dimension or on two independent feminine and masculine dimensions as operationalized in this investigation." Empirical investigation into this issue has not been reported in the marketing literature.

Purpose and Objectives

The first objective of this study is to investigate the relationships between sex, sex-role self-concept and masculine and feminine product perceptions for a spectrum of products. The sex-typed imagery of products may ultimately influence their acceptance by both sexes, and as sex-roles change in society, new markets may open for products which have been previously sex-specific (e.g., hair spray for men and neckties for women). Due to the exploratory nature of this study no specific relationships are hypothesized.

The second objective of the study is to examine whether masculine and feminine product imagery is perceived as two separate constructs or as a unidimensional dichotomous construct. Consistent with changes in sex-roles and the psychological literature's development of sex-role self-concept as separate dimensions, it is expected that most products will be perceived as having separate masculine and feminine images.

METHODOLOGY

Based on pretest results reported in Golden and Allison (1979) 24 product stimuli were chosen to represent three overall image categories; high masculine/low feminine image, medium masculine/medium feminine image, and low masculine/high feminine image. The questionnaire was divided into three sections. The first section of the questionnaire elicited masculine image of the 24 product stimuli. Each product was presented with a nine point horizontal scale with the extremes labeled "not at all masculine" and "extremely masculine" and the midpoint labeled "moderately masculine." The second part of the questionnaire obtained feminine perceptions of the 24 stimuli using the same type of scale. The third part of the questionnaire consisted of Bem's (1974) measure of sex-role self-concept. This measure consists of 60 adjectives representing extensively tested stereotypical masculine and feminine traits. The measure contains two sub-scales, one to measure masculinity and one to measure femininity. Evidence of the scale's reliability and validity can be found in Bem (1974). The respondents indicated on a seven point horizontal scale the extent to which each adjective is descriptive of him- or herself. In addition sex of respondent was collected, from a sample of 174 male and 133 female undergraduate business students.

ANALYSIS AND RESULTS

On the basis of the sex-role self-concept measure, respondents were assigned to one of four groups for analysis: androgynous (high masculine and high feminine identification n=74), masculine (high masculine and low feminine identification, n=80) feminine (low masculine and high feminine identification n=70) or non-sex-role specific (low masculine low feminine identification, n=83). In order to investigate the effects of sex and sex-role self-concept the data were submitted to repeated measures analysis of variance (Dixon 1977) for masculine and feminine product perceptions separately. The results of these analyses are presented in Table 1.

As indicated in Table 1 there was a significant effect of sex for feminine image only. Sex-role self-concept was not a significant source of variation for either masculine or feminine image. For both masculine and feminine product perceptions there was a significant effect for product indicating that not all 24 products were seen as having equal masculine or equal feminine images, on the average. The significant interaction between sex and the twenty-four product stimuli for both masculine and feminine product perception indicates that there was not a constant difference between male respondents' and female respondents' masculine product perceptions and feminine product perceptions.

In order to more fully understand the interaction between sex and the twenty-four product stimuli for masculine and feminine product perceptions, forty-eight one-way analyses of variance (Nie, et. al. 1975) were computed, one for each product by sex of respondent on masculine perception and one for each product by sex of respondent on feminine perception. Table 2 presents the results of these analyses.

Reading down the list of products in Table 2, the products are arrayed in order of decreasing overall masculine perceptions and increasing overall feminine perceptions. For example, the sample perceived a pocket knife to be high masculine/low feminine (masculine mean = 7.71, feminine mean = 1.86) and a scarf to be low masculine/ high feminine (masculine mean = 1.68, feminine mean = 7.85), and, the products near the middle of the array were perceived to be relatively similar in terms of degree of masculinity and femininity. A series of t-tests, one for each product, comparing masculine and feminine image indicated that there was only one product for which there was no significant difference (a < .05) between masculine and feminine perceptions; key ring (masculine mean = 4.42, feminine mean = 4.50). Products do tend to be "sex-typed" and products one through ten in Table 2 were viewed as significantly more masculine than feminine while products twelve through twenty-four were perceived as significantly more feminine than masculine.

TABLE 1

SUMMARY OF REPEATED MEASURES ANALYSIS OF VARIANCE FOR MASCULINE AND FEMININE IMAGE

TABLE 2

SUMMARY OF ONE-WAY ANALYSIS OF VARIANCE FOR MASCULINE AND FEMININE PRODUCT IMAGE BY SEX

As Table 2 indicates males attributed more masculinity than females for seventeen out of twenty-four products on the average. A sign test with a hypothesized value of .5 computed to test this phenomenon had a probability level of .032. Thus, males tended to perceive the whole spectrum of products as more masculine than did females. Of the nine products that had significant differences between male and female masculine product perceptions only one was from either the high masculine/low feminine or low masculine/high feminine end of the imagery spectrum. Thus, for products at the extremes of masculinity and femininity there was relative agreement between males and females in amount of perceived masculinity. However, for products that tended toward mid-range levels of masculinity and femininity, there were six out of eight products for which significant differences existed; furthermore males tended to perceive more masculinity, in general, than did females.

The results for feminine product perceptions by product and sex of respondent were somewhat different. As indicated in Table 2 females rated twenty-two of the twenty-four products as being more feminine than did male respondents. This data had a probability well beyond the .001 level of alpha as determined by a sign test with a hypothesized value of .5. The nine products having statistically significant differences in feminine perceptions between male and female respondents were scattered throughout all combinations of masculinity and femininity and produced no discernible pattern as was the case with masculine perceptions. For eight of the nine products that were perceived differently by males and females, females generally attributed more femininity than did males.

Scaling of Masculine and Feminine Product Perceptions

To investigate whether respondents perceived masculine and feminine product perceptions as separate constructs or as one dichotomous concept, sum scores of masculine and feminine product perceptions were computed for each respondent on each product. This was based on the notion that respondents who conceptualized masculinity and femininity as a dichotomy would have scores summing to ten across all product stimuli. For example, a person who perceived a product as extremely masculine and not at all feminine would rate the product a 9 on the masculine dimension and a 1 on the feminine dimension, summing to ten. If this same person believed the next stimulus product to be a little less masculine and a little more feminine, he/she would score an 8 on the masculine scale and a 2 on the feminine scale, once again summing to ten. Thus, for a person who perceived masculinity and femininity as a dichotomy, as one dimension increased the other dimension decreased. This is in reality the same as treating masculinity and femininity as one bipolar dimension.

A repeated measures analysis of variance across twenty-four product stimuli was calculated using sex and sex-role self-concept as grouping variables and the sum scores as dependent variables. The results of the analysis of variance for sum scores is presented in Table 3. No main effects for sex, sex-role self-concept, or interaction between these two variables were found to be significant. The main effect for the product stimuli showed that on the average there were differences between products for sum scores. This is evidence that combined perceptions of masculinity and femininity were not being treated the same for all stimuli. Respondents seem to be reacting to the stimulus products rather than to the scales themselves. Further, the significant interaction of sex and products indicated that males and females may have different perceptual modes for sex-typing products.

In order to further investigate the interaction of sex and product for the summated perceptual scores, a 95% confidence interval was calculated for the summed product means on each product for both male and female respondents. Based on the previous discussion, an interval that included the value of ten was considered to be evidence that the product imagery was perceived as unidimensional. An interval that failed to include the value of ten was treated as evidence that masculinity and femininity were seen as separate constructs.

Although it might be argued that correlation coefficients on a product-by-product basis could add insight into whether or not there is only one dimension or two dimension , the authors feel otherwise. For example, one could hypothesize that a correlation coefficient that is large and negative would point toward a single dimension. However, if product "A" had scores of either 1 or 2 on masculinity and 2 or 3 on femininity and, further, the 1 on masculinity invariably was associated with a three on femininity (and the 2's went together) a correlation of -1 would result. Could one logically conclude that this product was such that the respondents felt masculinity and femininity were unidimensional for this product or that this product did not have any strong masculine or feminine sexual imagery?

Table 4 presents a summary of confidence interval data for both male and female sum product means. For male respondents eighteen of the twenty-four confidence intervals failed to include a value of ten. Of the six products that included ten, five were toward the low masculine/high feminine end of the product spectrum. Confidence intervals for female respondent sum scores included a value of ten for eleven of the twenty-four stimuli. Approximately half of the confidence intervals including ten were toward the high masculine/low feminine end of the product spectrum and half were toward the low masculine/high feminine end of the product spectrum. Females appeared to perceive products "typed" toward either sex as more unidimensional, whereas male perceptions were more unidimensional when the product had an image that was "typed" as feminine.

Since females perceived the image of almost one-half of the products in accordance with the unidimensional criteria (summed scores of ten in the confidence interval), as opposed to males perceiving 25% of the products in accordance with the unidimensional criteria, females appeared to be generally more dichotomous than males in their gender perceptions of product image. Of the eleven products having a summed score of ten for either males or females, four products (blue jeans, sunglasses, hair spray, and nylon underwear) tended to be perceived on a unidimensional basis for both males and females. Thus, while there was some agreement between the sexes as to what products were to be perceived unidimensional, the sexes did not generally perceive the same products as unidimensional.

A total of thirty-one out of forty-eight possible perceptions met the multi-dimensional criteria. The above data is an indication that in a majority of the cases investigated, respondents did in fact perceive masculine and feminine product image as two separate constructs rather than as one dichotomous dimension.

One caveat remains in the interpretation of the confidence interval data. A product having equal masculine and feminine means, a two and a two or an eight and an eight, would be treated as evidence for separating the two constructs. However, a product that had a masculine mean of five and a feminine mean of five would have a summated score of ten and would be considered as support for the notion of a dichotomy due to the fact that ten falls within the confidence interval. The interpretation of a scoring pattern such as this is unclear. It is both possible and feasible to argue that this data should be treated the same as other equal means on the two scales. Thus, if one accepts this reasoning, the argument for separateness of masculine and feminine image is strengthened. For three products, blue jeans, sunglasses, and sandals, both male and female respondent mean ratings for masculine and feminine image were approximately five and five. When these products were added to the total number of confidence intervals that failed to include ten and were evidence of two dimensions, there were thirty-seven out of a total of forty-eight confidence intervals that failed to support the notion that masculine and feminine product imagery was one dichotomous construct.

TABLE 3

SUMMARY OF REPEATED MEASURES ANALYSIS OF VARIANCE FOR SUM SCORES

TABLE 4

SUMMARY OF CONFIDENCE INTERVAL DATA FOR MALE AND FEMALE SUM PRODUCT MEANS

CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS

Using a repeated measures experimental design across twenty-four products, this study investigated the impact of sex and sex-role self-concept on masculine and feminine product image for a student sample. Limitations due to the generalizability of the data should be kept in a discussion of this study's findings. The results indicated that across the product spectrum sex-role sex-concept was not a significant influence on masculine and feminine product perceptions. This conflicts with results of several earlier studies (Aiken 1963; Fry 1971; Gentry and Doering 1977; Golden and Allison 1979; Morris and Cundiff 1971; Vitz and Johnson 1965). A partial explanation for the discrepancy in results between this and other studies may lie in methodological differences, differences in the products investigated, and the different focus of each study. Of specific note is the fact that other studies investigated the relationships on a product-by-product basis, whereas this study utilized an analysis which considered an entire spectrum at once. Thus, while no generalized relationship between sex-role self-concept and masculine or feminine perceptions was uncovered in this study, a product-specific relationship may exist as reported in the earlier literature.

Consistent with other research (Gentry and Doering 1977; Gentry, Doering and O'Brien 1978; Golden and Allison 1979) this study found that sex was a more important influence on product sex-typing than was sex-role self-concept. The interaction of sex and product significantly influenced perceptions of both masculine and feminine image. Each sex appeared to perceive the product spectrum as containing more of the image of their respective sex. In general males perceived more masculinity in the products and females perceived more femininity in the products. Thus, sex-typing of products does appear to be somewhat sex specific, implying the difficulty that the marketer might have in trying to alter the sex-typed perceptions of product. However, this may not be so much a problem for the marketer as it appears at first glance. If males (females) a priori tend to perceive more masculinity (femininity) in a product and if product use is related to sex of respondent (Gentry and Doering 1977; Gentry, Doering and O'Brien 1978; Landon 1972) then obtaining male (female) use of a feminine (masculine) product becomes somewhat easier. The task of the marketer becomes more a matter of altering degree of masculinity (femininity) than direction. This is not to imply that this is an easy marketing task, but it seems to be easier than having to alter both direction and degree.

It appeared, however, that products tended to be sex-typed. Twenty-three of the twenty-four products investigated in this study had significantly different masculine and feminine perceptions, although the extent of differences varied greatly. We appear to be living in a society which has socialized consumers to sex-type products, and degree of perceived masculinity and femininity appeared to be intuitively related to the sex who stereo-typically was thought of as using a product. The implication is that if a marketer is interested in altering the sex-typing of a product, advertisements showing the opposite sex using the product may eventually change the perception of the product. As sex-roles change in our society we have seen a few companies using this strategy (e.g., Mop and Glow ran advertisement featuring a husband using the product, and the wife coming home from work approving of the clean and shiny floor). The length of time an advertisement must be shown in order to change perceptions of sex-typing is unclear and must be investigated. Product images or stereotypes have been built up over years of exposure and will probably be somewhat resistant to change. In this study, hair spray feel towards the low masculine/high feminine end of the product spectrum even though this product has been actively marketed to men with men portrayed in the advertisements for many years.

This research also investigated the degree to which masculine and feminine product perceptions were independent of each other, that is, whether individuals perceived masculinity and femininity as separate constructs or as opposite ends of a continuum. Previous research concluded that because products tended to be sex-typed as either masculine or feminine (Golden and Allison 1979) masculinity and femininity may be perceived as a bipolar construct rather than two separate dimensions. The results of this study indicated very strongly that masculinity and femininity are perceived as separate constructs. Thus, consistent with the measurement of sex-role sex-concept, masculinity and femininity of products may be realistically measured on separate scales rather than as end-points of a bipolar continuum.

While sex of respondent in this study was found to be a more important variable in the sex-typing of products than sex-role sex-concept, the changing sex-roles in our society imply that sex-role self-concept may ultimately emerge as an influence on sex-typing of products, albeit very slowly. Thus, consumer behaviorists cannot ignore the potential importance of sex-role sex-concept for product image and use. Acceptance of opposite sex-typed products does occur over time and this is aided by effective marketing to the opposite sex, but changing sex-role self-perceptions may facilitate the product's acceptance among members of the opposite sex. This issue can only be answered by future longitudinal research.

It would be extremely relevant for the marketer to go beyond present research in this area to identify the dimensions and characteristics of a product that contribute to masculine and feminine product perceptions. All we "know" at this point in time is that sex and, according to some research, sex-role self-concept influence product perceptions. But these are all variables associated with the perceiver. Of great relevance are the variables associated with the product and how these variables will interact with the characteristics of the consumer. One influence is undoubtedly the sex that typically uses a product but a more thorough understanding of product characteristics will aid the marketer in developing advertising and product strategy.

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