Influence of Children on Family Consumer Decision Making

ABSTRACT - Over the past two decades since Sheth's (1974) seminal work on family buying decisions, the effect of the family on consumer behaviour has often been overlooked. However, consumer decision making within the family has begun to receive a growing amount of attention with the increased realisation of the magnitude of the effect that each individual within the family exert over the consumer activities of this primary social group.


John Hall, Mike Shaw, Melissa Johnson, and Peter Oppenheim (1995) ,"Influence of Children on Family Consumer Decision Making", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, eds. Flemming Hansen, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 45-53.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, 1995      Pages 45-53


John Hall, Victoria University of Technology

Mike Shaw, Monash University

Melissa Johnson, University of Southern Queensland

Peter Oppenheim, University of Ballarat


Over the past two decades since Sheth's (1974) seminal work on family buying decisions, the effect of the family on consumer behaviour has often been overlooked. However, consumer decision making within the family has begun to receive a growing amount of attention with the increased realisation of the magnitude of the effect that each individual within the family exert over the consumer activities of this primary social group.

This paper investigates the influence that children have on family consumer decision making. It takes the unique approach of investigating purchase influence from the perspective of both the child and the parent. High and low involvement products have been considered, along with children's age and gender, family structure, family decision making process, and a variety of demographic factors.

The paper concludes with a brief examination of the social and ethical implications of this work in the face of the conflicting evidence of other studies which have been undertaken to assess economic benefits associated with advertising. Finally a number of suggestions for future research are offered.


The foundations for the study of how families buy products and services was set by Sheth in the 1974 treatise ' A Theory of Family Buying Decisions '.It has taken some time for consumer decision research to acknowledge the family as a central consuming group. A large obstacle in this metamorphosis was the realisation that family decision types, processes and determinants were not merely an aggregation of individual purchase behaviours. The focus of family consumer research in the past has centred around the dyadic relationship of husbands and wives, and most part ignored the impact that children have on family purchase decision making. Past studies of purchase decision making in families has also largely measured abstract concepts such as power and influence, rather than concentrating on the tangible consumer behaviours of family members in purchase decision processes.

More recently, a transition can be seen away from the dyadic definition of the family, towards consideration of multiple participant decision making. Whereas earlier studies on family decision making only really examined spousal interaction (Davis 1976, Burns 1977, McDonald 1980), greater importance is now being placed on the role and impact of children in decisions (Belch, Belch and Sciglimpaglia 1980, Moschis and Mitchell 1986, Foxman and Tansuhaj 1988). However, the triadic (multi-adic) interaction of mother, father and children in family decision making is still a relatively unexplored area, and the research that has been carried out has developed adhoc with limited attempts made to integrate concepts.

Decision-making activity involving the purchase of goods and services within a family appears to be more of an outcome of group decision making than ever before (Burns, 1992). Such decision-making activity typically involves several family members who play a variety of roles in the process. Furthermore, evidence is building that children play a much greater role in the family decision-making process than has been predicted by previous studies.


Until relatively recently, the majority of studies that examined family decision making have focused solely on the husband-wife dyad, ignoring any effect that children may have on the process (Foxman & Tansuhaj, 1988). The relatively few studies that have examined the influence of children have typically observed that children influence those decision that directly impact upon themselves (Foxman, Tansuhaj, & Ekstrom, 1989). For instance, Szybillo, Sosanie, & Tenebein (1977) found that younger children were typically the decision makers for purchases involving confectionery, snack items, and movies, and older children were typically the decision makers for purchases involving their clothing, record albums, and reading material. The most common focus in this line of research has been examination of the extent to which parents yielded to the requests of children (Atkin, 1978; Berey & Pollay, 1978).

Because of a growing awareness of the role children play in family decision making, as well as a realisation that the influence of children in family decision making appears to have grown significantly over the past two decades (Sellers, 1989), increasing attention is being given to children and their role in family decision making (Foxman et al.,1989). This trend of increased influence appears to emanate from a number of factors, including the greater affluence enjoyed by many households, higher consumer socialisation of children, and the increasing independence given to children due to dual income families and higher divorce rates.

Ekstrom, Tansuhaj, and Foxman (1987) concluded that recent societal changes, and therefore the demographic profile of the family, bring about subsequent changes in the children's relative influence in family decision making. It is reasonable to expect that the behavioural form of this influence, such as the choice of conflict resolution strategy, is similarly affected by family structure variables, Jenkins (1979) for instance found that children's influence is greater with increased family income, and in a higher socio-economic status.

Family structure, in a simple descriptive capacity, is still an important variable in family purchase decision making, representing the physical framework within which the family operates. It should be remembered however, that similar to family communication patterns, and parental style variables, family structure has relatively limited application on its' own. Instead it forms an important part of a set of family environment measures and as Power (1991) suggests the influence that children possess on family decision making appears to increase with their age.

One variable that moderates children's influence on purchase choice features in family decision making literature, is product type. Studies by Ekstrom, Tansuhaj and Foxman (1987), Isler, Popper and Ward (1987), Darley and Lim (1986), Jenkins (1979), Malhotra and Torges (1977), and Roberts, Wortzel and Berkely (1981), all found evidence to suggest that the influence of children in family decision making varies according to the type of product involved. As well, Isler, Popper and Ward (1987) showed the strength of children's purchase requests and parental responses vary by this dimension. Furthermore, it is suggested that the conflict resolution strategy chosen by children is an operationalised measure of "strength of influence" and the choice of an appropriate strategy is shown to vary by product category.

It is significant that children not only influence the purchase of products that they use or consume, but affect the choice of a much wider range of products for use by the entire family (Foxman et al, 1989; Kim, Lee, & Hall, 1991). Recent studies indicate that children influence such widely varied product purchases within the family as cars, vacations, televisions, and product involving new technologies, such as personal computers (Williams, 1990). Belch, et al ,(1985), however, noted that the influence of children (specifically adolescents) is not consistent across products nor the stages of the decision-making process. In fact, a substantial degree of variation has been noted both between families and within families.

Similarly, Mangelbug (1980) is of the belief that parental characteristics, particularly those related to child rearing attitudes, may provide high explanatory power in examining the strength of children's influence. The relationship between parental style and children's behaviour could provide the basis for explanatory and predictive assessment, of the behavioural interaction between parents and children in family purchase decision making.

Carlson and Grossbart (1988) investigated the socialisation practices of parents Results of the study indicate that parents with different socialisation styles differ in communicating with children about consumption. Specifically, they suggest four types of families:

Authoritarian. In the authoritarian family, parents seek a high degree of control over children and expect unquestioned obedience.

Neglectful. In the neglectful family, parents are distant from their children and do not exert much control over them.

Democratic. In the democratic family, parents attempt to foster a balance between parents' and children's rights, encouraging self-expression and valuing autonomy, but expecting mature behaviour, with deviations subject to discipline.

Permissive. In the permissive family, parents try to remove as many restraints from children as possible without endangering them, believing that children have adults rights, but few responsibilities.

Children can be expected to have direct control over a greater percentage of family purchases in neglectful and permissive families. Furthermore, children can be expected to exert influence over a greater percentage of family purchases in the democratic and permissive families. Finally, children in authoritarian families would be expected to exert the least control or influence over family purchases.

Extensive research on parental styles has also been carried out by Baumrind (1971). He subscribes to only four (4) parental styles including authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and rejecting-neglecting. The characteristics of Baumrind's (1971) classifications are evident in Carlson and Grossbart's (1988) expanded typology.

Baumrind (1978) draws parallels between parental disciplinary patterns and social competence in children, this paves the way for the use of parental style typology's in monitoring and comparing the behaviour of children in family purchase decision making. Features of the parenting process such as the allowance of disagreement in families, degree of autonomy encouraged in children, adherence to parental policy, and social awareness, indicates that this base is potentially useful for analysing the behaviour of children in family purchase decision making.


The influence of children on the decision-making activities of the family does not occur totally exogenously to the family. Indeed, it has been suggested that children learn their purchasing and consumption habits within the family itself, usually from their parents through consumer socialisation (Grossbart, Carlson, & Walsh, 1991). In fact, consumer socialisation, or the process "by which young people acquire skills, knowledge, and attitudes relevant to their functioning in the market-place" (Ward, 1980, p.380), has received a degree of attention in the past (e.g., Moschis & Churchill, 1978; Szybillo et al., 1977). This line of research has explored a number of socialisation influences, such as mass media, peers, and the family (Kim et al., 1991). The family, however, is believed to have the largest influence on the consumer socialisation of children (Petersen & Rollins, 1987).

One significant variable which emerges from the consumer socialisation literature is that of family communication patterns. Past studies (Moschis, Prahasto and Mitchell 1986, Moschis and Mitchell 1986, Moschis and Moore 1979, Ekstrom, Tansuhaj and Foxman 1987), suggest that family communication patterns may be important in shaping the actual consumer behaviour of children rather than just impacting upon the family decision process.

Using McLeod and Chaffee's (1972) typology of family communication patterns, Moschis and Moore (1979) and Moschis, Prahasto and Mitchell (1986) examined the influence of those patterns on children's consumer socialisation.

Moschis and Mitchell (1986) cast doubts about the ability of family communication patterns to effect children's participation in family consumer decisions on any behavioural level. However, a common weaknesses in this statement stems from the expectation that family communication patterns alone regulate children's participation in family purchase decision making. It is far more likely that family communication patterns are only one component of the whole family environment, which collectively shapes and regulates children's consumer behaviour.

McLeod and Chaffee (1972) developed the co-orientation model, and together the two dimensions of family communication were seen to yield a typology of family communication patterns including laissez-faire, protective, pluralistic, and consensual. This typology recognises one dimension of family communication structure is defined by parental objectives the polar ends of this dimension are socio-orientation and concept-orientation. Socio-oriented communication is that which is designed to produce deference, to foster harmonious and pleasant relations, and advocates avoidance of conflict. Concept-oriented communication is a pattern that focuses on positive constraints in helping the child to develop their own views about the world. The four specific classifications recognise differences in communication between parents and children, organised around the two-dimensional orientation.

This typology has the potential to be useful in application to specific behavioural activities in family purchase decision making, and to explain some of the variance in choice of decision process alternatives.

McLeod and Chaffee (1972) identified two dimensions of parent-child communicationsCdimensions that Moschis (1985) believes affect the socialisation of a child. These dimensions are the degree of social orientation and degree of concept orientation.

Social Orientation. The communications in families with a high social orientation are designed to produce obedience from the child and foster family harmony.

Concept Orientation. The communications in families with a high concept orientation are designed to encourage openness and foster an independent outlook.


Children from families with different modes of parent-child communications have been found to differ in their decision-making activities as well as the magnitude and type of influence they exercise in family decision making. Children from families with a high social orientation are less likely to make consumer decisions for themselves and less likely to be involved in family decision making (Moschis & Mitchell, 1986). Children from families with a high concept orientation, however, are likely to have more product knowledge and be better able to manage a family budget (Moschis & Moore, 1979). Interestingly, children from families with a high concept orientation were also found to have a higher regard for the opinions of their parents and a higher preference for functionally oriented sources of product information, such a Consumer Reports (Moschis, Prahasto, & Mitchell, 1986).

From studies of the literature the following factors are anticipated to influence children in their influence in the purchase of a variety of goods.

The objective of this pilot study is primarily to validate previous findings on children's influence and also to investigate whether there was any consensus between parents and children on the degree of influence children have in the purchases of high and low involvement products.

The following hypotheses will be investigated in the paper.

H1: Children have a significant input into family decision making for a variety of products.

a: Children have a >30% in put into family decision making for a variety of products

H2: There is a significant relationship between perceived level of involvement in purchase decision making and various demographic factors;

a: Age

b: Gender

c: Socio Economic

d: Marital Status

H3: There is a significant relationship between perceived involvement in purchasing decision making and certain family characteristics;

a: Family communication pattern

b: Family decision type

H4: Parents and children will differ in their estimates of influence for all types of purchases.


Information for this study was obtained through personal interviews. Two-hundred and ten households in the north and western suburbs of Melbourne Australia were interviewed. The sample was not a random sample but gathered on the basis of convenience. Families were interviewed in their own home. One parent and one child (between the ages of five and eighteen) were interviewed in each household. The questionnaire related mainly to the influence of children in the purchasing of a variety of products and also family structure, communication patterns and a variety of demographic characteristics. The questionnaire was pretested and interviewers were trained, validation of all surveys was undertaken to ensure the accuracy of the interviews.


Two- hundred and ten households were interviewed and the sample of children comprised 58% were male and 42% female. there was quite a good distribution of age categories with 30% of children in the 5-10 age group, 21% in the 11- 13 category and 41% in the 14-18 age group.




Parents were asked to rate children's involvement in purchase decision making overall, and on specific product categories . Parents were asked to rate their children's involvement in this decision making process from 1 to 10, where 10 corresponded to heavy involvement and 1 to no involvement.

Generally parents believed that children had a reasonable involvement in household consumer decision making with an average score of 5.8.

Children were seen to have considerable influence in low involvement every day purchases and purchases that related to themselves. Own Goods (7.8), Take Away Food (7.7), Breakfast Cereal, Runners (7.5), Video Games (7.3), Brand of Jeans (6.4), Daily Goods (6.2), Brand of Bicycle (6.2).

Children were asked "When Mum or Dad buy any of the following things, could you tell me how much notice they take of what you say about these things when any are being bought". Given that questions were being asked to children over a wide range of age groups it was thought to be of importance that the question was pitched at a level that all could understand.

An ordinal scale of 0-4 was used where 4=A Lot; 3=Quite a bit; 2=A Little; 1=Not at all and 0=Don't know.

Children perceive that they have no influence at all on the purchase of cars, video players and choice of bank while they perceive their influence to range from a little to quite a bit on all of the other products.

Parents were also asked to divide up 100 points between each of the persons in the family and told that the amount given to each person should reflect the amount of influence that they have in the purchase of the product. These values were totaled to gain an insight into the total influence of children in the purchasing of products as perceived by adults in the family.

When considering children's influence from this perspective it can still be observed that children do have minimal influence in choice of bank, car and video player. However it is interesting to note the percentage influence that children have in various other goods vary from 36% in holiday destination to 72% of influence with regard to video games.

It should be noted that significant correlation coefficients between parents and their child's perception of influence on decision making were found across all products

Parents and children have been asked to rate the influence of children and children to rate their own influence in the purchasing process. The responses to these questions were recoded to reflect significant levels of influence and non significant levels of influence. For parents if the children's influence had been rated as 6 or above this was regarded as a high level of influence. For the children if the respondents selected "A lot" or "quite a bit" this was regarded as a high level of influence.

Following the recoding process a cross tabulation of responses from children and parents was undertaken. This gave insight into the levels of agreement between children and parents, obviously those goods that both parents and children thought that children had a high level of influence in purchasing decisions offer windows of opportunity for marketers to market goods to children and allow them to influence purchasing decisions.

Levels of agreement between parents and children, (whether amount of influence be high or low) assisted in validating the measurement process, while also including to parental areas of conflict between parents and children where disagreement may occurs between the level of influence that the child perceives to that which the parents believe to be the case.









When the results of this process are considered it is apparent that both children and adults consider that children do not have a high level of influence on "high involvement" goods such as Cars, Video Players and the choice of Banks. It should be noted that there is over 80% agreement between adults and children on these results.

However when the remaining goods are considered it appears that children do have reasonably high level of influence on the purchase of Holidays, Jeans, Take-Away Food, Breakfast Cereal, Bicycles, Video Games and Runners.

It is interesting to note that the level of agreement with regard to this is very high ranging from 65% to 79%.


Parents were asked to rate communication patterns on a scale where 1 represented matters related to obedience and ten related to matters of openness and independence. The following table shows where significant correlation coefficients were achieved between communication patterns and involvement in purchases. While Moschis and Mitchell (1986) cast doubts about the ability of family communication patterns to effect children's participation in family consumer decision making it was anticipated and supported by Ekstrom, Tansuhaj and Foxman (1987) that family communication patterns would be important factor in children's involvement in consumer decision making.

Quite a number of goods show a significant relationship between communication patterns and level of involvement.


No significant difference was found for type of occupation category and degree of children's involvement in decision making.


Based on Power (1991) and Sellers (1989) it was anticipated that level of involvement would increase with age . While this was found to be the case with some products it was not for all. A cross-tabulation of the variables was undertaken and Chi Square analysis applied to the results.

Jeans showed significant difference (p,<.05) with age with increased involvement of up to 75% in the older age bracket. Runners and Video games also showed significantly greater (p <.05) involvement in older age groups. The other products either remained high or low for all ages.


Gender and influence in the decision making process was cross tabulated and the results analysed by Chi Square . Given the product mix it was not anticipated that significant differences would occur between genders of children. However with holidays, bikes and video games significant differences in levels of involvement by gender were apparent. Females were shown to have significantly more involvement with holidays and bikes and males with video games (p <.05).

Family Type

As Carlson and Grossbart (1988) suggested the influence of children is expected to vary across family types. It was anticipated that children would exert greater levels of influence in families categorised as permissive and democratic rather than those classified as authoritarian.

Although the differences in the overall level of influence was not statistically significant, it was found that some differences existed by individual product categories.

Family Category

Family types were also compared, those that came from traditional families with both original parents to those that had another form.

Cross tabulations of the family category and level of involvement for various product types with a Chi Square analysis was undertaken.

Significant differences were found for the family category with regard to holiday, type of take-away food (p <.05) and type of runners with those from traditional family background having greater involvement.



In order to explore these relationships in greater detail a factor analysis was performed. Two factors, one representing family communication styles while the other represented family categories were isolated. The analysis revealed that factor loadings and principal component loadings were virtually identical indicating that the two derived factors were orthogonal. The factors were then fitted to a generalised linear model using childrens involvement as the dependent variable. The resulting model (1) provided a statistically significant explanation of the hypothesised relationship between level of involvement and the nature of the family organisation.



Hypothesis 1 that children have a significant in put into family decision making for a variety of products is accepted. Children were found to have an extensive involvement in consumer decision making overall in particular with the purchase of daily goods, their own goods, holiday destination, brand of jeans, take-away food, breakfast cereal, brand of bicycle, video games and runners.

Hypothesis 1a was also accepted with parents suggesting that their children's influence was greater than 30% for all of the previously mentioned products.

Hypothesis 2 there is significant relationship between children's perceived level of involvement in product decision making and various demographic factors had mixed success. With regard to Age, the purchase of jeans, runners and video games was found to have increased involvement by children with age, however with the other goods such as breakfast cereal, take-away food and bicycle purchases, children had a high level of involvement in all age brackets. Whereas with high involvement goods such as the purchase of video players and cars children's involvement remained small and constant.

Hypothesis 2a found that some products Jeans, runners and video games had significant differences of influence according to gender. However there were many products that did not slow a difference according to gender. However this factor needs to be considered in the marketing of products.

Hypothesis 2b S.E.S was operationalised by using information on occupational categories, while this may give some insight into S.E.S., the authors believe that occupational categories need to be supported by other reasons in order to accordingly ascertain the influence of S.E.S. In this case the hypothesis was rejected.

Hypothesis 2c Marital Status. While this hypothesis could not be accepted overall some indication that children from families with both original parents having a greater influence in consumer purchasing was evident, particularly with regard to holidays, take-away food and runners.

Hypothesis 3 measured the impact of family communication patterns and family type (authoritarian democratic and permissive). The influence of family type was rejected and the authors suggest further developments of the scale used to measure family types is required. However significant relationships were found between levels of communication in the household and children's involvement. As communication patterns moved further from matters relating to obedience and the ordered running of the family and closer to matters concerning openness and independence increased involvement in consumer decision making was perceived.


As is often the case research poses more questions than it answers. One question of paramount importance and one which deserves to be addressed in this paper, refers to the implications of this study to marketing ethics. The strategic and ethical implications are substantial when one considers the potential commercial value associated with the influence that children may exert over their parents purchasing decisions. This in turn raises the question of advertising to children.

Advertising to children is questionably one of the most controversial issues that marketers and advertisers in particular must deal with. With an ever increasing proportion of time that children spend watching television, this medium can easily reach children. Weisskoff (1985) [Weisskoff, R (1985) "Current Trends in Children's Advertising" Journal of Advertising Research 25, (1), 12-14.], for example found that children between the ages of 2 and 11 watch an average of 26 hours of television a week and may see between 22,000 and 25,000 commercials a year. However television is not the only advertising medium that has been criticised. Other promotional media that have come under scrutiny include point of purchase displays and radio advertisements.

There now exists two schools of thought. On the one hand opponents of child oriented advertisements who argue that children do not have the required experience and knowledge to be able to critically evaluate advertising appeals and cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality. In addition as a result of their limited ability to comprehend the commercial implications of the advertisement or even to distinguish, in extreme cases between the advertisement and the program, the opponents conclude that advertising to children is unfair and should be restricted.

On the other hand there is a school of thought that advertising to children should be permitted, as advertising is part of life and children need to learn how to deal with it. This issue has received considerable attention in the past with the result that a number of countries have now implemented regulations to restrict advertising to children.

Given our results which describe the nature of the influence that children have on family consumer decision making, the question remains, how much protection from advertising do children need? This question in turn raises a second and wider issue that, if children are to be protected from advertising because of the reasons listed above, are there not other sectors of the community such as the less well educated etc. that could or should also be incorporated under the umbrella of protection from advertising as well?

These social and ethical questions have led us to consider these issues in relation to the economic aspects of advertising. Advertising plays an important role in our society not only by making consumers aware of products and services but also by providing them with information that may assist in decision making. The economic role of advertising is however far more pervasive as it effects our entire economic system.

Proponents of advertising argue that advertising encourages consumption and therefore facilitates economic growth which in turn leads to economies of scale in production and marketing, this in turn leads to lower consumer prices. On the other hand critics of advertising argue that advertising not only fails to adequately perform its function of information provision but also adds to the cost of products and services by discouraging competition and market entry, which in turn leads to industrial concentration and results in higher prices for consumers. [Belch, G.E. and Belch M.A. (1993) "advertising and Promotion" Irwin, Homewood, IL 836pp.]

After reviewing the various arguments with respect to the relationship between advertising and prices we are forced to concur with Farris and Albion (1980) [Farris, P.W. and Albion, M.S. (1980) "The Impact of Advertising on the Price of Consumer Products" Journal of Marketing 44 (3) pp. 17-35.] who concluded:

the evidence connecting manufacturer advertising to prices is neither complete nor definitive.....consequently, we cannot say whether advertising is a tool of market efficiency or market power without further research

This leads to our final question which we now propose as an avenue in which further research is required. Given the unresolved issue associated with the economic effects of advertising we feel a new area of research which to date has been largely un-researched would involve determining the relationship between the nature of the influence of children on family decision making and the marginal annual family expenditure as a function of this influence. This in turn leads to additional research that also requires attention, for example we would be interested to learn of the relationships that might exist between different levels of household communication, responsivess to the influence of children and the subsequent level of marginal annual family expenditure.

As a final study we offer the ambitious, the challenge of a longitudinal study in which the influence of children in family decision making and marginal family expenditure is studied across generations in a variety of cultural contexts.


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John Hall, Victoria University of Technology
Mike Shaw, Monash University
Melissa Johnson, University of Southern Queensland
Peter Oppenheim, University of Ballarat,


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2 | 1995

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