Social Time Perspective and Cross-Cultural Consumer Behavior: a Framework and Some Results

ABSTRACT - Social time is presented as a useful framework for understanding cross-cultural consumer behavior. Three distinct aspects of time are developed through an international study of time and its use: Time allocation; time perception; and time orientation. Measurement and conceptual development of these ideas is addressed through findings from three countries: the United States, Mexico, and New Zealand. Findings support the use of social time as a consumer research construct.


Jonathan E. Schroeder, M. Ven Venkatesan, John K. Wong, and Beverlee Anderson (1993) ,"Social Time Perspective and Cross-Cultural Consumer Behavior: a Framework and Some Results", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, eds. W. Fred Van Raaij and Gary J. Bamossy, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 18-23.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1993      Pages 18-23


Jonathan E. Schroeder, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, U.S.A.

M. Ven Venkatesan, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, U.S.A.

John K. Wong, DePaul University, Chicago, U.S.A.

Beverlee Anderson, University of Wisconsin, Parkside, U.S.A.


Social time is presented as a useful framework for understanding cross-cultural consumer behavior. Three distinct aspects of time are developed through an international study of time and its use: Time allocation; time perception; and time orientation. Measurement and conceptual development of these ideas is addressed through findings from three countries: the United States, Mexico, and New Zealand. Findings support the use of social time as a consumer research construct.

Time is an ever-present variable in all consumer behavior. Knowledge of how people spend their time is important in several ways for consumer behavior researchers. Time use and decisions regarding time can be used as indicators of preferences, attitudes, and values. Information on time use also involves consumers in all of the roles in which they engage: husband/wife, parent/child, worker/boss, etc. The individual can be seen across situations in real life behavior. Time use information provides a baseline to compare consumers within families, genders, roles, societies, and across time. Perhaps most importantly, each consumer has the same amount of time to work with, making interindividual comparisons that much more meaningful.

Two articles appeared in 1976 that spurred work on time as a consumption variable. In a wide-ranging overview, Jacoby and his colleagues point out the dearth of research within consumer behavior on time, and attempted to place time in a useful conceptual model. They point to three qualities of time: 1) it is limited, therefore it has value, 2) As a resource, time cannot be stored in the usual sense, and 3) it has cause and effect properties (Jacoby, Szybillo, and Berning 1976). A terminology for time was presented under a general call for more research and thinking in the area. Nicosia and Mayer suggested looking at time as a critical component of consumption activities. Moreover, they proposed that time may be the critical variable in consumer behavior because its supply is ultimately fixed (Nicosia and Mayer 1976). Time remains seriously under-represented in consumer research (Robinson and Nicosia, 1991).

This study utilizes the framework of social time set forth by a sociologist Robert Lauer, who in turn was influenced by the eloquent writing of Hall (e.g. 1983). Lauer emphasizes how distinct our experience of time is from the more easily measure clock-time. Social time consists of three components: temporal pattern, temporal orientation, and temporal perspective (Lauer, 1981). After a review of some other relevant conceptions of time, we will discuss how these three concepts are instrumental for an understanding of consumers and their use of time.


A model of time use was proposed by Feldman and Hornik in a special issue of the Journal of Consumer Research on the consumption of time (Feldman and Hornik 1981). In discussing the behavioral and socio-economic influences on time allocation decisions, they stress the relationship between time use and needs and values. Feldman and Hornik categorize time into three simultaneously occurring facets: 1) activity within the time space, 2) psychological, perceptual, and need satisfying activities, and 3) environmental and situational factors that constrain choice. Consumption of time is postulated to involve a choice of activities, the fulfillment of needs, and the use of space and money. In addition, mediating factors such as personality, demographics, and the subjective value of time are included in their model of time allocation decisions.

Feldman and Hornik also promoted conducting research to capture the pattern of time use by individuals and coined the term timestyle to refer to this component of analysis. Time allocation information can be utilized to segment groups into timestyles, determine needs that are being satisfied, and assist planning agencies. They outline a taxonomy of time use incorporated into the model that furthers the distinctions of work vs. leisure time. Work is restricted to work at a job, and nonwork is divided into necessary activities, homework, and leisure. Information generated using this approach offers insight into values, attitudes, and decision making processes, as well as practical marketing data.

Lewis and Weigert developed a model of time scarcity that has achieved some empirical support. They suggest that more events in a time interval should cause it to seem to pass more quickly. This has been shown to occur by Orme in his experiments on the experience of time (Orme 1969). This effect has been postulated as leading to an accelerated sense of time in a more industrialized society (Lewis and Weigert 1981). Lewis and Weigert point to several societal processes that are resulting in an increased perception of time scarcity. Linder also considered modern society to lead to increasing time pressure, or a harried leisure class, through economic growth (Linder 1970). Impetus for more work in the area of time use has come from economics and consumer behavior.

Much of research utilizing time in consumer behavior has employed some variation of the time-budget method. This method has been accepted as "both a conceptual framework and operational measure" (Hirschman 1987, p. 62) of research on time. The term time-budget is interchangeable with time-diary and refers to information kept by individuals over the course of a set time period, usually twenty-four hour days. This method allows the researcher to capitalize "on the most attractive measurement properties of the time variable" (Robinson 1988). These properties include recording all daily activity, which is equally distributed across respondents, and a period of time that is manageable and accessible to people. This method was used in a somewhat different form by Sorokin and Berger for their 1939 monograph "Time Budgets of Human Behavior," and was modified and refined into its' present form by social researchers in Eastern Europe (Robinson 1977). Other large-scale efforts to employ the time-budget method include those by DeGrazia (1962), and Szalai (1972).

Serious attention has been given to the validity and reliability of the time-budget method. One key criticism that applies to all self-report data is that respondents are motivated by social desirability concerns (Juster and Stafford 1985). This might lead to under-reporting of criminal activity, sedentary activity, etc. and over-reporting of positive activities, such as child care. Direct observation might be suggested to overcome this problem, but its expense and reactivity prohibits any large study (Robinson 1977).

How time affects thought is another temporal influence on behavior. Work in this area often reflects an individual difference orientation, with an eye towards time's role in personality processes. The concept of time perspective has been discussed under various names, time perspective here will refer to one's attitudes towards time, how one thinks about time, and this perspective's impact on behavior. This paper will concentrate on time perspective as an individual difference; however, time perspective (or time pressure) can be manipulated for the purposes of experimental research (e.g., Kelly and McGrath 1985, Strack and Erber 1985, Strack, Schwartz, and Gschneidinger 1985).

Several scales have been constructed to assess the concept of time perspective. In a study designed to investigate differences in time attitudes between a mental institution sample and a normal sample, Calabresi and Cohen (1968) gave personality and time-attitude questions to 200 psychiatric patients and 308 college students. They identified four dimensions of time attitudes through factor analysis that distinguished the two groups.

Three of these factors significantly differentiated the two groups: Time Anxiety, Time Possessiveness, and Time Flexibility. Patients scored higher than students on Time Anxiety and Time Possessiveness, and lower on Time Flexibility. The researchers interpret these results as evidence that there exist well-defined dimensions of time attitudes and that they have significance for personality, concluding "the findings reported bring empirical support to the long-held conjecture that attitudes toward time reflect basic features of the individual personality" (Calabresi and Cohen 1968, p. 439). This result also holds ramifications for health outcomes of time attitudes, although no causal inference can be made.

Inspired by Jahoda's line of reasoning on the latent functions of employment (Jahoda 1981), Bond and Feather undertook a program of research investigating what they described as time structure (Feather and Bond 1983, Bond and Feather 1988). In their first study, they gave a sample of employed and unemployed college graduates questionnaires relating to self-esteem variables and time structure. Jahoda conceives work as a central means to obtain structure in one's life, partially through the time structure it imposes. Feather and Bond found evidence supporting this view, as the unemployed sample (n = 43) had lower scores on Rosenberg's self-esteem measure, higher scores on Beck's depression index, and reported less structured and purposeful use of time than a matched group of employed graduates (n = 255). Organized and structured use of time was positively correlated with self-esteem and negatively correlated with depression for both groups. In general, the unemployed showed less engagement, less direction, and less routine in their use of time. Those that used their time in a directed manner were more likely to enjoy higher self-esteem and lower depression.

Bond and Feather went on to develop their Time Structure Questionnaire (TSQ) as an instrument for research into how people perceive time use. A 26 item scale was given to three samples of subjects (N = 746). Responses were factor analyzed which resulted in five factors. The total score on the TSQ was called Use of Time. Correlations between the factors and several psychological variables were reported, and the authors sum up this analysis by reporting "the results indicated positive relations between perceived use of time and a sense of purpose in life, self-esteem, reported health, present standing and optimism about the future, and more efficient study habits" (Bond and Feather 1988, p. 327).

In a large-scale survey of Psychology Today readers, Gonzalez and Zimbardo (1985) identified seven factors of time perspective. The survey included 31 items revolving around time, a factor analysis resulted in 25 of those being included in a seven factor solution. Four factors were defined as future-oriented, two present-oriented, and the other was termed Time Pressure. These factors allowed discrimination between various professions and roles, and offer a broad framework for discussion of time perspective. In each of the time perspective scales reviewed, cognitive, motivational, and social psychological concepts were apparent. Future time perspective is clearly motivational, and largely related to interpersonal goals. Time pressure exerts a cognitive as well as social force on individuals. The organization of time requires cognitive and social effort. This approach underscores two major approaches to understanding the social context of time: McGrath and Kelly's (1986) social psychology of time; and Lauer's (1981) social time.

Two experimental social psychologists proposed a wide ranging model of social time called social entrainment (McGrath and Kelly 1986). The social entrainment model has four components, rhythm, mesh, tempo, and pace, that include several propositions about the temporal nature of behavior. Rhythm refers both to physiological cycles and behavioral patterns such as work-rest. Mesh is their label for the synchronization among cycles, or mutual entrainment. They suggest the existence of a system or regulatory device that maintains this synchronism. Tempo is an attempt to capture the processes of flow of activities, temporal characteristic of communication, and growth and development of the person. These three components are thought to be linked as rhythms become entrained to a few meshing systems which lead to observable behavior patterns, or tempo. The fourth component, pace, affects each of the others: it consists of all the events and cycles external to the organism that can influence temporal events.

McGrath and Kelly use the example of conversation between two people to flesh out the social entrainment model. Each individual has particular endogenous temporal patterns, or rhythms that shape the communication flow. These may include intimacy and privacy needs fluctuation, as well as place in the work-rest cycle. The two must harmonize their separate temporal patterns, or mesh together to have a conversation. The conversation itself will develop a tempo, with each participating along the lines of social norms. Pace comes into play when an external event affects the conversation in some way. In this manner, the social entrainment model offers a guide for interpreting research and investigating social interaction.

Lauer's social time consists of the three components temporal orientation, pattern and perspective. Social time fits in well with time perception as a construct and can be readily applied to consumer behavior research (viz. Venkatesan and Anderson 1985). Previous studies have shown cross cultural variations in time perception (e.g. Venkatesan, Wong, Schroeder, and Anderson 1991); gender based differences (e.g. Schroeder 1989), advertising (e.g. Gross and Sheth 1989) and household behavior (Ahrentzen, Levine, and Michelson 1989), to name several. Time perception also has been shown to play an important role in ratings of quality (e.g. Chebat 1991). We will focus on temporal pattern, which consists of five elements: (1) periodicity, (2) tempo, (3) timing, (4) duration, and (5) sequence.

Periodicity refers to the regularity or frequency with which one engages in activity or the rhythms of life. This concept is similar to McGrath and Kelly's (1986) rhythm. Tempo is the pace of life: how fast or slow one moves through events. Timing is the "when" of an activity, and duration is how long something lasts, or feels like it lasts. Finally, sequence is the ordering and structuring of events, internally or externally imposed. This framework is an excellent starting point to move beyond the time budget method in consumer research (cf. Venkatesan and Arndt 1980) and provides a rich vehicle with which to study consumers.




Information on time was collected from seven hundred sixty-six subjects in three countries: United States, Mexico, and New Zealand. The survey instrument employed consisted of three parts: questions about periodicity of activities; timing of activities; and attitudes towards time. The survey was translated into Spanish for the Mexican sample, and reverse translated back into English .

In Mexico and New Zealand, data were collected through personal interviews. In the U. S., surveys were mailed to members of a pre-existing consumer panel, accustomed to the use of mail instruments. The Mexican sample was obtained through the Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan, the major educational institution in the region. Face-to-face interviews were used to assure cooperation. Interviewers were trained and familiarized with the survey instrument, and accompanied by a researcher for a subsample of interviews. The New Zealand sample was obtained through the use of MBA students, who contacted local individuals and asked them to complete the survey. In Mexico and New Zealand, quota samples were used, resulting in a sample size of 361 Mexicans and 163 New Zealanders. The U. S. sample is 160 households from the consumer panel.


Table 1 displays the findings for temporal orientation for the three countries for a number of dimensions. It is clear from the analysis that subjects do not think about the past, present, future at the same rate, and that there are strong cross-cultural differences in temporal orientation. In general, the U. S. sample reported that the "present" was their preferred time; but that they daydream and like to watch movies about the past. They are looking forward to the future as the "best time in life." The Mexican sample showed a much different temporal orientation. They like movies about the future; things seem better in the past; and they like to daydream about the present. The New Zealand sample also differs, showing a preference for the future as the best time in life; watching movies about the past; and taking about the present.

Specific temporal orientation behaviors are shown in table 2. Results show that the U.S. and New Zealand demonstrate a strong commitment to scheduling through the use of appointment calendars, and farsighted scheduling of events. For example, almost 80 percent of the United States sample uses an appointment calendar, compared to 45 percent of the Mexican sample. U. S. citizens seem to have a penchant for planning ahead, with about 30 percent scheduling appointments 2-3 months ahead of time, compared to only about 1 percent of the Mexican sample. The daily routine also highlights cross-cultural differences. More of the U. S. subjects wake to an alarm and go to bed at a planned time. Mexicans report leaving for work at the same time each day and scheduling an exact time for lunch. Another strong cross cultural distinction is a preference for the duration of appointments: U. S. and New Zealand need to know when appointments start, Mexicans are more interested the when appointments end.



Table 3 lists the five most important attitudes toward time, as measured by agreement to a series of statements about time. Interestingly, all three countries adopt the value that "managing one's time is an important key to success in life." This may be a demand artifact from a survey on time, nevertheless, this result does demonstrate the importance of time and values. Time perception is graphically represented by asking subjects to mark on a 14 centimeter line where they feel they are between birth and death. In this study, the U. S. subjects were closer to "death" followed by the Mexicans and then the New Zealanders (see Figure 1).


Temporal orientation and temporal perspective have been shown to have a marked association with culture. The ordering of time perspective offers insights into preferred activites and values. For example, the emphasis on the past in Mexican culture suggests a longing for nostalgia or for what is seen as the good old days. The specific time related behaviors of appointment scheduling and sequence of daily events may offer useful insights for doing business in the particular culture and offering of services. Morevover, insight into temporal perspective offers a kind of consumer confidence measure: Are consumers optimistic or pessimistic about the future? Do they value things from the past or do they want new things that represent the here and now. As an important component of culture, social time should be included in efforts to understand specific cultures.

Time perspective appears to have an influence on a range of psychological functioning. What is not known is how malleable time perspective is. If it is functional, can it be shaped and/or taught? How does time perspective interact with actual time use? Does time perspective affect the major consumer behavior variables such as motivation, persusaion, and decision making? Or is it an antecedent of cognitive processing? These are a few of the questions that come to mind as crucial in understanding this variable more fully. Analysis of time perspective as a cross-cultural difference offers unique and penetrating insight into how consumers' structure and value their most precious resource: their time.






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Jonathan E. Schroeder, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, U.S.A.
M. Ven Venkatesan, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, U.S.A.
John K. Wong, DePaul University, Chicago, U.S.A.
Beverlee Anderson, University of Wisconsin, Parkside, U.S.A.,


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1 | 1993

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