An Investigation of Ethnicity and Sex-Role Attitude As Factors Influencing Household Financial Task Sharing Behavior

Chankon Kim, Concordia University
Michel Laroche, Concordia University
Lianxi Zhou, Concordia University
ABSTRACT - This study proposes and tests a structural equation model specifying the relationships among the English-French Canadian ethnicity, sex-role attitude, and the household finance related task sharing behavior. Findings show that a stronger French-Canadian ethnic identity of the wife and a more modern sex-role attitude of the husband are associated with a more egalitarian approach to task sharing by the couple.
[ to cite ]:
Chankon Kim, Michel Laroche, and Lianxi Zhou (1993) ,"An Investigation of Ethnicity and Sex-Role Attitude As Factors Influencing Household Financial Task Sharing Behavior", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 52-58.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993      Pages 52-58


Chankon Kim, Concordia University

Michel Laroche, Concordia University

Lianxi Zhou, Concordia University


This study proposes and tests a structural equation model specifying the relationships among the English-French Canadian ethnicity, sex-role attitude, and the household finance related task sharing behavior. Findings show that a stronger French-Canadian ethnic identity of the wife and a more modern sex-role attitude of the husband are associated with a more egalitarian approach to task sharing by the couple.


One of the topics that research on family decision making has been concerned with relates to the factors influencing family role structure or influence sharing (Corfman and Lehmann 1987; Rosen and Granbois 1983; Qualls 1987; Green and Cunningham 1975). Of the various factors investigated, two have recently attracted considerable attention - culture/ethnicity (Imperia, O'Guinn, and MacAdams 1985; Green and Cunningham 1980; Douglas 1979; Hempel 1974) and sex-role attitude of the spouse (Kim and Lee 1989; Qualls 1987; Rosen and Granbois 1983; Schaninger, Buss, and Grover 1982; Scanzoni 1977).

The impact of culture on attitudes and behaviors of individuals is pervasive. Individual values and norms are shaped and moulded to correspond to those of the culture in which they live. In the case of family life, cultural norms prescribe each spouse's roles and behaviors. Blood and Wolfe (1960) proposed long ago that cultural norms and expectations have a significant impact on the family decision making process and on the division of labor between the spouses. The reported research in general confirms the variation across cultures in the patterns of decision making (Hempel 1974; Douglas 1979; Green, Verhage, and Cunningham 1981).

Sex-role attitudes reflect, in essence, beliefs about the appropriate sex-based division of labor and power structure in the marriage (Brogan and Kutner 1976). Such beliefs are affected by the prevailing societal/cultural norms (Qualls 1987; Scanzoni 1977), and thus should vary across different cultures. There is a fair amount of evidence that sex-role attitudes of spouses in turn influence the household decision role structure and responsibility sharing (Mortimer, Hall, and Hill 1978; Bird, Bird, and Scruggs 1984; Kim and Lee 1989).

The research reported here investigates the relationships among three variables - ethnicity, sex-role attitude, and household task sharing. It proposes and tests a structural model that links the above variables. The tasks that are focused on in this study are family finance related decisions and activities (Green and Cunningham 1975; Rosen and Granbois 1983; Kim and Lee 1989).


Cultural/Ethnic Influences

Research investigating cultural/ethnic influences on family decision making typically compares families from two or more cultures/ethnic groups with respect to the husband-wife influence pattern for a variety of household purchase decisions. Some studies have compared Hispanic-American families with Anglo-American families. Imperia, O'Guinn, and MacAdams (1985) report a stronger pattern of husband dominance for durable purchase decisions in Mexican-American families than in Anglo-American families. Also found was that Mexican-American families engage in significantly less joint decision making than do Anglo-American families. A later study by Webster (1989) concurs that high-Hispanic identification couples tend to exhibit a stronger pattern of husband dominance than English-speaking and low-Hispanic couples in the home and automobile purchase situations.

Douglas (1979) investigated cross-cultural differences in husband/wife involvement using samples from Chicago, Glasgow/London, Paris, Brussels, and Quebec City. The author found a substantial similarity in husband/wife involvement in a number of household activities in all five samples. However, noticeable differences were reported between the French speaking and English speaking samples. A greater degree of wife's involvement was reported in the French speaking samples for the husband's clothing and care decisions. High levels of shared or husband involvement was observed for traditionally wife-specialized tasks such as going to the supermarket, vacuuming, and taking out the garbage. Further, there was greater joint involvement in the French language groups in the otherwise husband-dominated activity of saving and investment.

Two other cross-national studies (Green and Cunningham 1981; Green, Verhage, and Cunningham 1981) examined husband-wife decision making patterns in Venezuelan and Dutch families and compared them with the pattern in American families. The first study found greater husband dominance in Venezuelan families than in American families for seven of the nine decisions involving mostly durables, and greater joint decision making by American couples. The latter study also revealed significant cross-national variations in that American wives made more household purchase and finance decisions autonomously than Dutch wives, and that Dutch couples engaged in more joint decision making.

Hempel's (1974) study comparing families from Connecticut and Northwest England focused on husband-wife roles in the various stages of the home purchase decision process. The English couples reported a greater level of joint input than the Connecticut couples in the initiation stage. A high level of role sharing was reported by the families in both cultures for the information seeking stage. The author noted, however, that husband-wife differences in role perception were greater than international differences.

Green et al. (1983) in their study of husband-wife involvement in five countries (The United States, France, Holland, Gabon, and Venezuela) concluded that certain product categories are universally male or female stereotyped. For instance, grocery decisions are dominated by wives whereas automobile and insurance decisions tend to fall under husbands' influence. The authors associate the cross-national variations observed for other product categories with the stages of economic development, by inferring that husbands in less developed countries make more decisions than those in developed countries.

By and large, existing findings do demonstrate sufficient evidence of a cross-cultural/national variation in husband-wife decision influence and task sharing patterns. While some of this variation may well be explained by other factors such as the level of economic development, a critical determinant has to be the different set of cultural norms and values to which a society subscribes. As stated earlier, ethnicity as a factor influencing the household task sharing behavior is examined in the present study. Specifically, we examine French-/English-Canadian ethnic identity of the spouse as a factor influencing the pattern of household financial task sharing. The existing literature on the English and French Canadian comparisons on lifestyles, though not entirely germane to our purpose, provides some insights into this area.

The French- and English-Canadian lifestyle research conducted in the 70s suggests that French-Canadian families are more traditional than English-Canadian families in the division of household labor (Tigert 1973; Mallen 1977; Vickers and Benson 1972). These studies show that French-Canadian females are more strongly oriented toward the home, the family, the children, and the kitchen. Langelier (1982), in his discussion of Franco-American families, similarly states that " is fairly safe to assert that sex-specific roles are well defined, with almost no sharing of tasks between husband and wife." (p. 233)

While the general belief is that French Canadians are more traditional and conservative than English Canadians in their perceptions of male/female (husband/wife) roles and behaviors, recent studies by Kim and Laroche (1989) and Hui et al. (1993) suggest otherwise. These studies show that French Canadians believe more strongly that women should pursue a career outside the home and put less importance on family life and having children. While more investigation is certainly needed to ascertain the direction of the differences, some potential explanations for the discrepancies in the existing findings may include true changes in lifestyles of French and/or English Canadians over the last two decades or so and differences in the approaches to ethnic identification used in the latter studies.

Sex-Role Attitudes

According to Scanzoni (1975), sex-role norms and sex typed behaviors are acquired by contact with sociocultural agents. Cultural or societal norms and values are an important source of influence that shapes and conditions sex-role attitudes of individuals. Qualls (1987) elaborates that " ... sex-role preferences are indicative of culturally determined attitudes (traditionalism versus modernity) toward the role of wife/husband and mother/father in the household. Sex role preferences reflect the societal standards by which family members determine the rewards and costs associated with their behavioral actions." (pp. 265-266) Cross-cultural variations in sex-role attitudes, on the basis of such reasoning, can be easily expected.

Much research gives credence to the hypothesis that sex-role attitudes, in turn, influence household role behavior (Mortimer, Hall and Hill 1978; Bird, Bird, and Scruggs 1984). A general belief is that egalitarian sex-role attitudes foster a commitment to more equal sharing of household decision influences and family responsibilities. The areas in which past research has demonstrated the influence of sex-role attitudes include family financial management, household chores performance, and product purchase decision making.

Schaninger, Buss, and Grover (1982) report that for the financial tasks traditionally handled by the wife (e.g., handling expenses for food, beverages and clothing), sex-role modern families showed less wife but more joint and husband influence. On the other hand, for those traditionally husband dominated tasks (e.g., handling expenses for transportation, recreation, and saving plans), less husband but more joint and wife influence was observed among the sex-role modern families. Similarly, Qualls (1982) found that the sex-role modern husbands in his sample perceived to a lesser extent than sex-role traditional husbands that savings decisions should be husband dominant. The study by Kim and Lee (1989) shows that couples with more sex-role modern wives are likely to take a more egalitarian approach in deciding/handling expenses and in making savings decisions. The husband's sex-role attitude showed no significant relationship with the extent of financial task sharing.

The relationship between spouses' sex-role attitudes and the sharing of domestic chores has been the focus of investigation by some sociological studies. The study by Perrucci, Potter, and Rhoads (1978), examining the determinants of husband's participation in 12 selected household/child-care activities, found that the traditional sex-role perception was significantly associated with the husband's participation in fewer of these activities. Two other studies (Bird, Bird, and Scruggs 1984; Ross 1987) demonstrated the sex-role attitude and role behavior relationship, but only for husbands. They both found that the husband's sex-role attitude was a significant predictor of the household division of labor; modern sex-role husbands accepted more traditional household responsibilities.

With regards to product purchase decisions, Qualls (1982) reports that sex-role traditional husbands, much more so than sex-role modern husbands, perceived themselves as dominating purchase decisions regarding vacations, automobiles, housing, and insurance. His study similarly found that wives' sex-role attitudes on the contrary did not show any relationship to the perceived influence pattern. Schaninger, Buss and Grover (1982) investigated the influence of sex-role attitudes on the five aspects of the last durable purchase made by families. Their findings indicated that sex-role modern families show less husband's but more joint and wife's influence over three of the five aspects of the purchase (who decided initially to buy, when to buy, and where to buy).


Based on the above literature review, the following hypotheses are proposed and tested in this study:

H1: The stronger English- (French-) Canadian the husband/wife is, the more (less) modern sex-role attitude he/she holds.

H2: The stronger English- (French-) Canadian the husband/wife is, the more (less) egalitarian is the pattern of household financial task sharing.

H3: The more modern (traditional) sex-role attitude the husband/wife holds, the more (less) egalitarian is the pattern of household financial task sharing.

The conceptual model incorporating these hypotheses is presented in a diagram contained in Figure 1. The model also hypothesizes a correlational relationship between the husband's and wife's ethnicity and between the husband's and wife's sex-role attitude. Whereas the first relationship is easily envisaged, the latter may not be intuitive. The great deal of emotional and instrumental interdependence that exists between two people in marital relationship is expected to have a guiding force on the spouses' attitudes toward a more mutually compatible direction. This hypothesis that one spouse's sex-role attitude should covary with the other's has been empirically supported by Cronkite (1977) and Kim and Lee (1989).





Data used in this study came from a survey of households in four districts of the greater Montreal area. These four districts were selected in the first stage of the area sampling procedure used in this study because of their high concentrations of English- and French-Canadian populations. In the second stage, residential streets were randomly chosen, and efforts were made to contact as many households on these selected streets as possible. Interviewers contacted door to door male or female head of the household, and asked for the cooperation of those who identified themselves and their spouses as either French or English Canadians.

Two questionnaires (to be completed independently by the husband and the wife) were left with those who consented, to be either picked up by the interviewer or mailed in a self-addressed envelope. Respondents had a choice between the English and the French versions of the questionnaire. In total, 120 couples provided usable responses. The French questionnaire was used by 61 couples (51%), the English questionnaire by 52 couples (43%), and 7 couples (6%) responded to mixed questionnaires. In terms of key demographic features of the sample, the median age of the husbands was between 41 to 50 and 31 to 40 for wives, 50.8% of the husbands and 39.8% of the wives reported to have partially or fully completed university or more, and 53% (according to both the husbands' and wives' reports) had the household income of $60,000 or more. Thus, the sample consists of couples with a somewhat above average socioeconomic status.


For the measurement of ethnic identification, each spouse was asked to indicate the extent to which he/she agrees with his/her ethnic self-identification as Anglophone and as Francophone (Items 1 and 2 below). Also used were two items (3 and 4 below) capturing his or her spouse's perception of the respondent's self-identification:

1. I consider myself to be Francophone.

2. I consider myself to be Anglophone.

3. My spouse considers himself/herself to be Francophone.

4. My spouse considers himself/herself to be Anglophone.

Seven-point Likert scales were used for these items.

Each spouse's sex-role attitude was measured with Scanzoni's (1975) 28 item sex-role attitude scale. The scale taps seven dimensions: traditional wife role; wife self-actualization; problematic husband alterations; institutionalized equality; traditional husband role; religious legitimation of mother role; and traditional mother role. These items also used seven-point Likert scales.

To measure husband-wife financial task sharing, each spouse was asked to assess his/her relative participation in 16 household finance related activities ranging from handling expenses for groceries to deciding the type of savings plan on five point scales (1=Wife always; 2=Wife more than husband; 3=wife and husband equally; 4=Husband more than wife; 5=Husband always). Since the focus of this study is on the couple's task sharing pattern rather than the pattern of role dominance, the responses on these items were recoded to reflect this: 1=Not shared at all (corresponding to 1 and 5 on the original scale); 2=Partly shared (corresponding to 2 and 4 on the original scale); 3=Shared equally (corresponding to 3 on the original scale).


The hypotheses of this study depicted in the conceptual model (Figure 1) are tested using the LISREL analysis. The first stage of data analysis, however, was on the measurement items.

English-French Canadian Ethnicity

As presented, there were two sets of ethnic identification measurement items; one pertaining to self-identification and the other pertaining to the spouse's perception of the respondent's self-identification. Bipolarity of the two questions in each set was checked by examining the correlation coefficients. Correlations were very high, -.95 between the first two items (i.e., "I consider myself to be Francophone" and "I consider myself to be Anglophone") and -.97 between the second two items (i.e., "My spouse considers... Francophone" and "My spouse considers...Anglophone"). At this point, it was decided to subtract the response on the Anglophone identification question from that on the Francophone identification question in each set. The resulting values for self-identification and the spouse's perception of the respondent's identification ranged between -6 (Strong English-Canadian identification) and +6 (Strong French-Canadian identification). These two indices as indicators of the spouse's ethnic identification correlated at .96 (Cronbach's alpha = .98) both for the husbands and wives in the sample.

Sex-Role Attitude

Reliability analysis of the 28 items contained in Scanzoni's sex-role attitude scale showed a Cronbach's alpha value of .87 for the husbands and .80 for the wives. Consequently, individual responses on the 28 item Scanzoni's sex-role attitude scale were averaged to produce an overall sex-role attitude score (1=traditional; 7=modern). The average scale scores for wives and husbands were 4.37 and 4.20 respectively, indicating that wives on the average are significantly more modern than husbands (t=2.41, p=.017). This is consistent with the past findings (Brogan and Kutner 1976; Kim and Lee 1989).

Financial Task Sharing

The sixteen financial task items were first submitted to factor analysis (principal component analysis) using the husband-wife combined sample (N=240). The solution produced three factors with eigenvalues greater than 1.0 accounting for 47.8 percent of the variance in the original 16 variables. All of the items except one (Deciding items and amounts for the monthly budget) showed clearly interpretable factor loadings (greater than .4 on their respective factors). The factor solution excluding this item produced three factors with eigenvalues greater than 1.0, this time accounting for 60.2 percent of the total variance. Factor patterns obtained from separate three-factor solutions for the husband and wife subsamples matched each other quite well. The three factors were labelled as "financial task implementation," "financial decisions," and "expenses decisions." The financial task implementation factor was represented by five items: recording deposits and withdrawals in checkbook; priority order for bill payment; reconciling bank statements; paying routine household bills; and balancing the checkbook. The financial decisions factor was represented by six items: what to do with leftover money; amount to be contributed to savings; types of savings plan; methods of financing for major appliance purchases; where to place savings and investments; and obtaining a life insurance policy. Lastly, the expenses decisions factor was represented by four items: expenses for groceries; expenses for recreation; how much to spend on clothing; and how much cash to withdraw for expenses.

In the subsequent stage, the items loading highly on each factor were averaged for the wives and husbands separately. This was done after checking the reliability of the items to be combined. For wives, Cronbach's reliability coefficients were equal to .86, .83, .69 for the measurement items of "financial task implementation," "financial decisions," and "expenses decisions," respectively. For husbands, they were equal to .87, .56, .86 for the three factors respectively. The average scores computed for husbands and wives for each group of activities were very similar: 2.19 (1=Not shared at all and 3=Shared equally) for husbands and 2.20 for wives for the financial task implementation factor, 2.49 and 2.51 for the financial decisions factor, and 2.50 and 2.45 for the expenses decisions factor for husbands and wives respectively.

The average responses of the husband and wife on the multiple items loading on the same factor are later used as two indicators of the couple's sharing of the type of financial activities denoted by the factor. Cronbach's as for the husband's and wife's indicators were .77, .62, and .62 respectively for the factors of financial task implementation, financial decisions, and expenses decisions. For a two-indicator measure, these are all satisfactory values.

Structural Model Testing

In testing the structural relationships earlier hypothesized, the three financial task factors were incorporated into the model (Figure 1) one at a time. Figure 2 shows the LISREL model specification, and Table 1 contains the results of the LISREL analyses of the three models.

Regarding the first model incorporating the financial task implementation factor, its goodness of fit to the data is quite satisfactory; c2d.f.=14=20.63, p=.112, and GFI=.961. Significant structural coefficients (t>2.0) include b31 (pertaining to the influence of the husband's sex-role attitude on the couple's sharing of financial task implementation), g32 (pertaining to the influence of wife's ethnicity on the couple's sharing of financial task implementation), f21 (the covariation between husband's and wife's ethnicity), and y21 (covariation between husband's and wife's sex-role attitude).

The second model incorporating the financial decisions factor showed an excellent fit as indicated by the c2 value of 12.07 for 14 degrees of freedom (p=.601). The value of GFI was equal to .977. Among the structural relationships between ethnicity, sex-role attitude, and task sharing, only b31 (the influence of the husband's sex-role attitude on the couple's sharing of financial decision making) was significant. The estimated values and significance levels for f21 and y21 are the same as before. The third model incorporating the expenses decisions factor also showed an excellent fit (c2d.f.=14=14.31, p=.427, and GFI=.973). The significant parameters were identical as those in the first model - b31, g32, f21, y21.

Thus in all three cases, only the husband's sex-role attitude has a significant impact on the couples' sharing of household finance related activities. The direction of impact is consistent; the more sex-role modern the husband is the more sharing of financial task implementation, financial decisions, and expenses decisions by couples. Regarding the influence of English-French Canadian ethnicity on the couple's task sharing, the results indicate that the stronger French-Canadian ethnicity is for the wife, the more sharing of financial task implementation and expenses decisions is done by couples. These findings are contrary to the direction hypothesized earlier (H2). The hypothesized relationship between English-French Canadian ethnicity and sex-role attitude (H3) was not corroborated. Finally, results did provide a confirmation for the hypothesized covariation between the husband's and wife's sex-role attitude (y21=.543, t=5.25) as well as the husband's and wife's ethnicity (f21=.834, t=6.99).


Results of this study provide some tentative conclusions regarding the relationships among English-French Canadian ethnicity, sex-role attitudes of the spouses and the couple's task sharing behavior. The findings in general are encouraging, although the relationships may not be as extensive as anticipated earlier. The finding that the English-French Canadian ethnic identity of the spouse had no linkage with the spouse's sex-role attitude is contrary to the beliefs contained in the literature. We suspect that this unexpected finding may have been due to the fact that French Canadians and English Canadians in our sample come from the same region of the country. While their ancestral roots, principal languages, and self-professed ethnic affiliations differ, they coexist within the confines of the same socioeconomic environment. Thoughts and behaviors of one group are influenced greatly by the other as there are constant interpersonal and mass media contacts between them. The fact that a large proportion of the French and English Canadians in the Montreal area are bilingual facilitates the transfer of cultural norms and values.



Whereas neither spouse's sex-role attitude was significantly linked to his/her English-French Canadian ethnicity, the study did show that the couple's task sharing in two of the three areas of family financial management - financial task implementation and expenses decision making - was influenced directly by the wife's ethnic background. Regarding the insignificant relationship found between the wife's ethnicity and the couple's task sharing behavior in the area of financial decisions, one may note that these are relatively more important decisions and that they receive a high degree of joint husband-wife involvement irrespective of the couple's ethnic background. Recall that the average task sharing scores for these decisions were 2.49 and 2.51 (where 1=Not shared at all and 3=Shared equally) as computed for husbands and wives respectively. The revealed direction of the influence that stronger French-Canadian ethnicity of the wife is connected to a more egalitarian mode of task sharing is contrary to the more widely held belief that French Canadian wives are more traditional in their role perceptions than their English Canadian counterparts (Tigert 1973; Mallen 1977; Langelier 1982). On the other hand, it is in a closer agreement with the more recent findings by Kim and Laroche (1989). One may suspect that, over the last two decades, the pattern of husband-wife task and decision influence sharing may have evolved differentially in the two cultures.



The study found consistently across the three areas of family financial management that only the husband's sex-role attitude influences the couple's task sharing behavior. Thus, the development of a more equitable pattern of couple's role structure is contingent upon the husband's attitude change regardless of the wife's. This finding corroborates earlier findings by Bird, Bird, and Scruggs (1984) and Ross (1987) that only the husband's sex-role attitude was a significant predictor of the household division of labor. However, Rosen and Granbois (1983) found that sex-role attitudes of both spouses were significant determinants of the couple's role structure regarding the financial task implementation. Further, Kim and Lee's (1989) finding showed only the wife's sex-role attitude as the significant predictor of financial task sharing. Thus, it appears that the couple's task sharing pattern is affected at least by the sex-role attitude of one spouse. Any further conclusions will require more investigation on the relationship.

Finally, the strong positive covariation found between the husband's and wife's sex-role attitude supports the view that belief systems of the spouses influence each other to become more compatible. Given the high level of interdependence between the spouses created by the intimate and relatively stable nature of marriage, this is not unexpected.

Both ethnicity/culture and sex-role attitude have recently emerged as important constructs in explaining variations in the husband-wife decision influence patterns. Past studies, however, focused on one construct at a time. This study, drawing upon the relevant literature, proposed and tested a model which integrates these two constructs in examining their effects on the couple's task sharing behavior in family financial management. A hypothesis of particular interest was the intermediary role of sex-role attitude in explaining the influence of ethnicity on the couple's financial task sharing behavior. Although no evidence was offered by this study that sex-role attitudes of spouses are affected by ethnicity, this should not discourage further investigations on their relationship using other ethnic segments in North America. Essential in the development of cross cultural marketing strategies is the understanding of different (similar) cultural norms and attitudes underlying consumer behavior. As suggested by Douglas (1979), future family studies including cross-cultural investigations should focus more strongly on the understanding of the basic forces underlying husband-wife interaction rather than simply who is involved.


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