Time Orientation and Canadian Consumer Behavior: Case of French and English Speaking Canadians


Jean-Charles Chebat and M. Ven Venkatesan (1993) ,"Time Orientation and Canadian Consumer Behavior: Case of French and English Speaking Canadians", 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: 24-27.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1993      Pages 24-27


Jean-Charles Chebat, University of QuTbec, MontrTal, Canada

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


Research on attitudes toward time is rapidly growing. New concepts are emerging and literature is more structured than it was in the seventies. The present research explores the differences and similarities between the two principal cultural groups of the Canadian population, the French and the English. The basic purpose is to assess to which extent the cultural variable explains more or less variance of attitudes toward time than social class variables such as age.


As noted by Nurmi (1982), the concept of time perspective is developed in relation to cognitive activities resulting in the elaboration of values and motives into structured goals plans and strategies. Future orientation is this resulting from personal development: age and personality certainly qualify as variables explaining time orientation. One can also understand that successful experiences as well as fear for threatening events or actual past failures could explain time orientation: for instance some psychanalytic works on dreams (e.g. Torras de BTa, 1985) show the interaction between attitudes toward past and present which are contended to be interrelated in the structure of the psychic apparatus. How does culture interfere with this? How could it be that culture influences attitudes toward time and past-versus-future time orientation?

Surprisingly enough, literature on time orientation leaves relatively little space to culture and, more problematic is the fact that theories on the influence of culture on time perspective are vague and/or not empirically based. It is not meant that such researches emphasizing cultural perspectives on time do not exist but their theoretical bases are far from satisfactory.

Since the purpose of our study is to assess the cultural weight on time orientation by comparison with the weight of social class, we have to offer an explanation for our results; such explanations are not ready made and could hardly be found in an existing theory. However results are likely to be of great importance: if culture happens to be a more powerful way of explaining time orientation, then that would show how wide the gap is between the two main Canadian groups; on the contrary, if social class offers a better explanation, then such difference would give an assessment of the gap between classes of income and occupation.


Effects of social class

Future time orientation is directly related to social class (Koenig, Swanson and Harter, 1981): "avoidance of thinking about the future among the lower class is a defense reaction (...) to the lack of power of their class". This does not seem to stem from childhood, since the development of time concept is not significantly different among advantaged and disadvantaged younger children, at least in the Israeli society (Levin and Globerson, 1984). However, at the college stage (Abrawal et al. 1983), deprivation affects time perspective and future orientation. The effects of social class on time orientation seem to develop with socialization outside the family milieu in particular in relation to the work milieu conditions (Nelson et al, 1984). Time perspective is related to two factors contributing to the definition of social class: education (de Volder and Lens, 1982) and in some level (Bouwen, 1977; Verhallen, 1975). However a global relation between time perspective and social class is questionable: Koenig et al. (1981) formed a significant and positive relation but Lomranz et al. (1983) did not; the latter study takes place in Israel whereas the other study takes place in the U.S.. The cultural aspect could explain the difference.

Effects of culture

Some studies on the cultural dimension of time perception are extremely important to note here. In a famous article on perception of time, Graham (1981) shows that European-American hold a different pattern of time perception than other cultures: their model is a "linear-separable" model, in which time is "separable into various discrete compartments". The "circular-traditional" model is typical of the culture of Mexico and Latin America: "the same events are repeated according to some cyclical patterns". This pattern is also associated with the poor and the less-educated. In the third model, said "procedural-traditional", activities are procedure-driven rather than time-driven: it is not relevant that things be accomplished "on time" but following the right procedure. That's the "Indian time". In our opinion, that is also the craftsman's time for whom things have to be done according to precise procedures and independently from usual economic concepts of time: in the Middle-Ages, European craftsmen, as memers of Corporations which imposed strict norms forthe produciton of objects (shoes, cakes, etc...), were attributed a local monopoly protecting them form outside competiotn and allowing them to fix their prices at the adequate level. These economic conditions induced to be more inclined to follow the right procedure than to increase the pace of production. It is contended here that such a time-orientation is inherent to a closed, protected social milieu. An interesting study on perception of time in our isolated small Spanish Village (Quentin-Mauroy, 1982) shows that its inhabitants tend to live in the past, their attitudes toward time are "conscious, perceived, recognized and deliberately protected": Time consciousness is a determinant factor in culture; this is confirmed in a study by Levine et al. (1980): American respondents had a more negative overall impression of a person who is frequently late and rated punctuality as a more important trait than Brazilian respondents.

Langage versus Social Class Cultures

It is extremely interesting that studies on time orientation from a cultural viewpoint and those from a social class viewpoint necessarily overlap: to reconcile contradictory results, one has to hypothesize that culture in itself does not explain what it was supposed to explain and conversely with social class. For instance contradictory results between the study by Koenig et al (1981) and the study by Lomranz's et al. (1983) on social class could be reconciled if the difference between American and Israeli cultures were taken into account. Conversely, one can point out that contrasts between cultures parallel contrasts between classes: "circular-traditional" model of time is not only that of the Latin-American but also that of the poor and lower-educated individuals in North America as pointed out by Kohn (1968) in his famous book Class and Conformity. It thus seems that the two dimensions, culture and social class, are intertwinned.

Whorfian Hypothesis about Time

Graham's article (1981) is centered on the Worfian hypothesis that the concept of time is deeply rooted in the language categories. The fact that language reflects time orientation or that time orientation is molded by language is generally accepted in the field of consumer behavior (with the exception of some "rejoinders"); however, the idea is not unanimously accepted neither by linguists nor by anthropologists.

As a linguist and an anthropologist, Whorf proposed the hypothesis that languages lead users of the languages to specific concepts of reality, nature, life and time. This hypothesis was not new in itself but borrowed from Herodot; Whorf gave the hypothesis a scientific status and it became the royal way to scientific studies.

Fishman (1980:32:33) pointed out weaknesses inherent to the Whorfian hypothesis.

a) "How can we tell whether langage structure are significantly different: Whorf does so by translating morph by morph from a variety of contrast languages (...). Whorf is too taken up with the surface differences between languages that his translation method reveals and fails to recognize that these may irrelevant to basic cognitive similarities". In other words, structural differences between languages are not necessarily the evidence for cognitive differences.

b) "Whorf is unconsciously imprisoned within the view that all speech communities are naturally monolingual (one culture = one language). The varieties utilized by monolingual communities may differ grammatically form each other every bit as much as do the languages of the multilingual communities". That is precisely the problem of the interference with social class: sociolinguistic studies have shown language diversity within the same unilingual community in particular in Canada (Darnell, 1971)

c) "Language itself is not fixed by any means, as Whorf assumed (...) Whorf's view of language structure as given and unmodifiable (...) is probably unfounded and exagerated, (...). Various segments of mankind are not trapped by their various grammar."

d) "Whorf is one among several champions of language-as-prime-cause. Most students, however, consider the relationship between language and society to be a circular one (...) Language usage and language structure thus point to a social reality and reflect a social reality but they are not themselves the sale or even the prime causes of that reality".

e) "The human species is far more versatile in coping with the inevitable limitations in its communication systems (...) than Whorf acknowledged (...). Humanity struggles more successfully with this problem than Whorf admitted (...) Whorf dealt with the dark and problematic side of cross-cultural and interdisciplinary communication".

f) "Many of the persuasive cognitive processes that have been investigated in conjunctions with the Whorfian hypothesis are now known or suspected of being pre-lingual rather than post-lingual in human development" (...) it is likely that mind fashions language as much as or even more than language fashions mind."

Fishman concludes: "There is simply no justification for focusing on differential language structures as the causal factors in value structures, weltanschauugen cultural outlooks and cognitive styles, whether viewed across cultures or within anyone or another of them".

Marxian Hypothesis and its limits

The Marxian hypothesis stems from the general theory in a very clear way: objective conditions of economic production fashion time perception. Workers sell their time at a rate fixed by labour market; his time is constrained by fixed schedules. His leisure time is used as a function of his limited income. Bourgeois people are looking for maximization of the use of their time by selling their own time or buying other people's time; their schedule are determined by their own interest in maximizing their time.

Many studies confirm the Marxian hypothesis: in particular the relation between time orientation and occupation (Spreitzer, Snyder and Larson, 1974 a and b) or time orientation and income (Namus and Ableman, 1973). However many other studies contradict the Marxian hypothesis, such as those by Robinson (1977) and Ennis (1968).


The basic purpose of this study is to assess:

1) the extent to which the two variables, i.e. linguistic culture and class culture, explain the time orientation of Canadian respondents

2) The interaction between the time variables, i.e. the degree to which time orientation in a product of the two types of cultures.

Canada is the ideal environment for such a study. The two linguistic cultures, i.e. French and English, are both well rooted in the country. They are also of the same European origin, sharing the basic same values inherited form the Old Continent. The two cities selected, i.e. Toronto and Montreal, are major cities, one with an English majority, the other with a French majority; the two cities are of the same size and have similar cultural or academic status. The two (French and English speaking) populations are now comparable in terms of income and education levels as shown in recent statistics. (Au courant, 1987)


1. Index of social class

An index of social class was construed on the basis of two variables:

- formal education (in number ofyears)

- prestige of occupation

The index of social class is the scalar product of education and prestige of the profession [This index has been designed and validated by a canadian sociologist for the Canadian population: for each occupation a score (between 0 and 100) is attributed which reflects the relative prestige of the profession Blishen (1967).] the distribution of which is split in three classes: low-average-high.



2. Sample

A firm specialized in opinion polls was hired to make a representative sample of five areas in Montreal and five areas in Toronto. (Only French Spealing respondents were selected in Montreal, onlly English-speaking were selected in Toronto). The five areas were selected in such a way that we have as broad a scope of the social class spectrum in both cities from the poorest to the wealthiest. 1000 questionnaires were sent by mail to Montreal respondents; an identical number of questionnaires was sent to Toronto respondents. Response rate was 63% for Montreal and 22% for Toronto. 15 Montreal questionnaires were eliminated because they came from non francophone respondents; 32 Toronto questionnaires were eliminated because they came from non anglophone respondents. Other questionnaires were also deleted because they were not adequately filled up.


Table 1 shows the results of a series of ANOVA's; the dependent variables are:

B the ratio subjective age (S.A.). as a ratio of the distance between "birth" and the point of life at which respondents think they are now and the real age in years.

B the average score of past-versus-present-versus-future orientation on the 9-question questionnaire

B the factor scores that a given respondnet has on each of the five factors obtained form the factor analysis of the 35 questions related to time orientation. [A Varimax rotation procedure has resulted in a five factor structure; 54% of the total variance is explained. Factor #1 is: "control over time"; Factor #2 is: "pace of activities"; Factor #3 is: "amount of wasted time"; Factor #4 is: "length of activities known in advance"; Factor #5 is: "punctuality".]


1) No interaction is found between linguistic and social class cultures: if time orientation is molded by a given type of culture, it is either by one or by the other (or by none of them) but not by their interactive effects. Consequently, the assumption developed from the literature review that language could serve as a mediator variable to explain contradictory results on the effects of social class on time orientation, is not supported.

2) For all the seven indexes of time orientation, except for the "score", it is either social class or language which explains significant portions of the variance; in other words, time orientation is fashioned by either types of cultures.

3) More specifically, French-speaking respondents have significantly higher ratios (of subjective/objective ages): they tend to regard themselves as older than they really are and significantly more so than English-speaking respondents.

4) French-speaking respondents score higher on the following factors of time orientation:

- amount of wasted time

- length of activities known in advance

French-speaking respondents score lower on:

- pace of activities

- punctuality

5) Social class has a more limited impact; it has a direct and significant effect on "control over time": the higher the class the higher the "control over time".


1) In general, linguistic culture seems to mold time orientation more than social class does; however the basic idea of the Marxian hypothesis is supported: control over time is more important to the middle and upper middle class than to the working class.

2) Language fashions some important aspect of time orientations. French-speaking respondents tend to project themselves in the future more than English-speaking respondents do.

They are more concerned with wasting their time and with activities the length of which is unknown; activities which could be regarded as obstacles or with no payback are more likely to be avoided. They have a prospective attitude toward time: searching ahead for the "route", which is more likely to provide them with high returns. On the other hand, English-speaking respondents are stressing more punctuality and control over the pace of events: tasks have to be performed on time and according to a pre-established schedule.

The contrast between the two linguistic cultures is interesting: whereas French speaking respondents are focusing on the results, English speaking respondents are more concerned with the process.


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Jean-Charles Chebat, University of QuTbec, MontrTal, Canada
M. Ven Venkatesan, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, U.S.A.


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1 | 1993

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