The Role of Goals in Family Decision Making

ABSTRACT - The study investigates the role played by Job Commitment, Job Goal, House Goal, and Family Goal in explaining the wife’s perception of role overload, her overload reduction strategies, household time allocations, and household consumption patterns. In general, the goals explain only modest amounts of variance. The wife’s House Goal was the best predictor of perceived role overload and of the ownership of household durables. The wife’s commitment to the job was inversely related to the ownership of household durables. The wife’s Family Goal was related to role overload reduction strategies such as asking family members to help with housework, having the husband help more with child care, minimizing the time spent on the job, and discussing problems with her husband.


James Gentry, Shreekant Joag, and Karin Ekstrong (1996) ,"The Role of Goals in Family Decision Making", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, eds. Russel Belk and Ronald Groves, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 93-99.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, 1996      Pages 93-99


James Gentry, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Shreekant Joag, St. John’s University

Karin Ekstrong, Gotbgurg University, Sweden


The study investigates the role played by Job Commitment, Job Goal, House Goal, and Family Goal in explaining the wife’s perception of role overload, her overload reduction strategies, household time allocations, and household consumption patterns. In general, the goals explain only modest amounts of variance. The wife’s House Goal was the best predictor of perceived role overload and of the ownership of household durables. The wife’s commitment to the job was inversely related to the ownership of household durables. The wife’s Family Goal was related to role overload reduction strategies such as asking family members to help with housework, having the husband help more with child care, minimizing the time spent on the job, and discussing problems with her husband.


The impact of the drastic increase in the proportion of women in the work force has spurred much interest in the consumption behavior of households with wives of different occupational statuses. The basic premise of most of the research is that role overload occurs among working wives, resulting in more convenience-oriented consumption behavior than for nonworking wives. That is, the wife’s employment would take away a share of her time and nergy from home production activities and, thus, result in increased purchase of time-saving goods and services. In general, surprisingly few differences have been found between the consumption in households with working wives and those with nonworking wives. This study will investigate wives’ Work and House goals, as opposed to work status, in terms of explaining their strategies to reduce role overload, their time allocations, and their consumption of durables.


Working wives have been found to spend less time in supermarkets (Hacklander 1978), to make fewer shopping trips (Anderson 1972; Douglas 1976; McCall 1977), to spend fewer hours on housework (Nickols and Fox 1983; Reynolds, Crask, and Wells 1977; Walker and Woods 1976), and to make more quickly prepared home meals (Jackson, McDaniel, and Rao 1985). Conflicting findings have emerged regarding the purchasing of more convenience-related items among working wives. A few studies support this idea (Rizek and Peterkin 1980; Vickery 1979; Waldman and Jacobs 1978), while the majority of studies fail to find strong evidence that working wives purchase more convenience products (Anderson 1972; Douglas 1976; Reynolds, Crask, and Wells 1977; Strober and Weinberg 1977, 1980; Weinberg and Winer 1983). In fact, Bryant (1988) found that wives’ employment was inversely related to the purchase of durables.

Realizing that the dichotomous classification of work status alone is somewhat limited (and, apparently, somewhat insufficient) as a predictor of household purchase behavior, researchers have begun to look for additional constructs to explain the differences in the consumption behaviors of working and nonworking wives. One extension was the three-way occupational status scheme introduced by Schaninger and Allen (1981). Their approach is based upon the Rappoports’ (1971) distinction between dual-income and dual-career families. The three categories of occupational status used in this scheme are nonworking wife, low-occupational status working wife, and high-occupational status working wife. The researchers hypothesized that the high-occupational status working wife would experience the greatest role overload (Reilly 1982) due to her dedication to her career, and they used the Hollingshead Index of Social Position (Hollingshead and Redlich 1958) to categorize wives according to their work status. Other studies (Joag, Gentry, and Ekstrom 1991; Joag, Gentry, and Hopper 1984; Nickols and Fox 1983) have also used a similar approach. In general, some differences in purchase behavior have been explained with the three-way classification system; for example, Schaninger and Allen (1981) showed that Low Occupational Status Working Wife families tended to consume more convenience foods and beverages than Higher Occupational Status Working Wife families and nonworking wife families. However, other variables seem to do just as well, if not better. For example, Nickols and Fox (1983) found income to be a better explanatory variable of purchase behavior than the occupational status of the wife.

Schaninger and Nelson (1991) review the various models of wives’ work involvement and investigated their ability to produce significant attitudinal and consumption-related differences. The Bartos model (1977, 1978, 1982) and a modified version of the Schaninger and Allen (1981) model (with nonworking split into stay-at-home and plan-to-work groups as well as the two groups of working wives) were found to outperform the working/nonworking and full time/part time/ nonworking wife models. The Bartos model contrasts "just-a-job" wives with "career" wives, while the Schaninger and Allen (1981) model categorizes wives as high status or low status occupation wives based on their responses to the Hollingshead and Redlich (1958) measure. Thus, these models combine work goal concepts with work status to yield the two by two categorization scheme.

Hiller and Dyehouse (1987) questioned whether occupational (work role) measures effectively separate women into career-oriented and non-career-oriented subgroups. Clearly most of us can generate an exemplar for the non-career- oriented professional or for the career-oriented clerical worker. Their results found no difference in job commitment across occupational levels (as measured using the Powers and Holmberg (1982) occupational status scale), leading them to conclude that it is not possible to infer one’s job commitment by using one’s employment title or education level. Another recent discussion of the status vs. work involvement issue was provided by Schaninger, Nelson, and Danko (1993), who noted that 30% of "career" wives [categorized using the Bartos (1977, 1982) procedure] worked in lower status occupations [as categorized using the Hollingshead and Redlich (1958) index]. Bartos (1988) noted that, in the US, three out of five working women said that, even if they were given the money, they would still rather go to work.

Various models have been presented in attempts to explain consumption patterns of goods and services as well as patterns of time allocations within the household. While statistically significant results are common, the patterns of results are not generally consistent. No one group (such as the high status occupation wives) consistently uses all services more or all time-saving products more. For example, Kim (1989) found that both groups investigated (working and nonworking families) showed significantly heavier consumption on about an equal number of convenience foods items. [For other examples, see Ishii-Kuntz and Coltrane 1991, 1992; Joag, Gentry, and Ekstrom 1991; Schaninger, Nelson, and Danko 1993]. Our conclusion is that it is somewhat naive to believe that any one model can explain the configural nature of household consumption patterns. We argue that role stress and, more specifically, role overload are not solely functions of the number of responsibilities facing the wife. The addition of a job does not necessarily create time and energy demands beyond the wife’s capacity. Sieber (1974) suggested that additional responsibilities (i.e., a job outside the home) may involve positive outcomes such as role privilege, status, security, status enhancement, and personality involvement which outweigh the additional role overload. Consequently, a wife’s total available amount of energy may expand to handle the additional load. Gove and his colleagues (Gove and Geerken 1977; Gove and Tudor 1973) developed an even stronger proposition in their Role-Stress Theory. They argue that employed wives will be less psychologically distressed than housewives because they have two sources of potential gratification (work and family). Gilbert (1994), in her review of research on dual-career household, concluded that having multiple roles benefits women; women with multiple roles were found to have increased self-esteem, better physical and mental health, and enhanced economic independence. To the extent that the wives want to be in the work force, we would concur with the predictions of Role-Stress Theory. Thus, investigation of the wife’s work goals and her motivation to achieve them is critical in the assessment of her perceived role overload.

We represent the wife’s perspective of the home environment in terms of two goals: (1) the House Goal, which deals with household production activities which have typically be viewed within the Consumer Behavior domain, and (2) the Family Goal, which concerns relationships within the family and impacts Consumer Behavior more tangentially in the sense that the wife’s time allocations reflect her various priorities. Incorporated in the latter goal is the relationship with children, an issue that researchers in family sociology have also overlooked to some extent. For example, Rossi (1968, 1980) noted that research interest in parental "satisfaction" has been very limited when compared to interest in work or marital satisfaction.

Deci and Ryan (1990) distinguish between "self" and "skin" in terms of the motivation for intentional behavior. Those acivities undertaken willingly are associated with "self" (and are "self determined"), while those undertaken out of obligation ("I have to" rather than "I want to") are associated with the "skin" but not the "self." Both job and home responsibilities may be self determined for some individuals, while others may handle both sets out of obligation. The subjective perception of the responsibilities determines role overload, and not the objective role loads themselves.

This study will focus on goals of various types (Job, Household, and Family) to see if one predominates or if their relative importance depends on the stimulus under study. First, though, we will attempt to see whether the Hiller and Dyehouse (1987) finding that job status is unrelated to job commitment is supported in our study. If so, the inclusion of work status in future studies would seem to have little value.


Wives in Madison, Wisconsin, were contacted at their residences, and asked to complete a ten-page questionnaire and to mail it back to the investigators. If the female contacted was not currently married, the interviewer thanked her and went to the next household. Several neighborhoods were sampled in order to provide a mix of socio-economic backgrounds. Most of the contacts were made during the early evening on week days or on weekends. A total of 185 responses were received, out of the 230 which were distributed.

Wives rather than husbands were chosen for several reasons. First, the focus of our study is on wives’ convenience consumption patterns. The extent to which husbands influence spouse behavior in this area needs exploration and clarification. Studies have found that husbands of employed wives spend about the same amount of time doing household tasks as do husbands of homemakers (Berk and Berk 1979; Meissner, Humphreys, Meir, and Scheu 1975; Pleck and Rustad 1980; Robinson 1977; Walker and Woods 1976). Therefore, inclusion of the husbands may not have offered a significant contribution. Also, Foxman and Burns (1987) found that the husband’s role load was not causally related to household time-saving consumption. The reason for this result, however, may be that wives (the respondents in their study) may not be very accurate in predicting spousal role load (Davis, Hoch, and Ragsdale 1986).

Dependent Measures

The questionnaire asked the respondents about their perceived role overload and their usage of strategies to reduce that overload. Perceived role overload was measured as a summation of three items, and had a Cronbach alpha of .63.

Consumption-related strategies were investigated further by including items concerning ownership of time-saving durables, their use of time-saving services, and their time allocations to various household and leisure activities. [The items included in the questionnaire are listed in Table 3].

Independent Variables

Four different Goal constructs were developed: Job Goal (aspiration level), Job Commitment, House Goal, and Family Goal. The Job Goal and Job Commitment measures each consisted of four items, and the internal reliabilities associated with them (.72 and .67, respectively) are acceptable. These measures were at least as reliable as the White and Ruh (1973) scale used by Hiller and Dyehouse (1987).

The House Goal used three items and the Family Goal only two, and the internal reliabilities are low (.53 and .35, respectively). Clearly more work is needed to capture the essence of these constructs reliably. The House Goal dealt with the importance of maintaining the home and with whose responsibility it should be, thus combining affinity for homemaking with sex-role orientation. Future instruments shouldprobably be more specific and deal with various aspects of home maintenance activities (shopping, cleaning, laundry, etc.).

The Family Goal measure used here dealt with the shaping of children’s values and whose responsibility it is, combining child care responsibility with sex-role orientation. Future work should include a broader domain, including family relations and family closeness. We strongly believe that there are reasons to treat Family and House Goals separately; it is not hard to visualize situations where House responsibilities are ignored easily by both spouses but where Family responsibilities cannot be.


The first stage of analysis was to investigate the generality of the Hiller and Dyehouse (1987) finding that it is not meaningful to separate working wives into two categories. We separated wives according to job status using the Hollingshead and Redlich (1958) Index and then compared the Goal measures, amount of time spent at working, and income level across the two levels. The results are shown in Table 1. Wives from the two occupational status levels are significantly different in terms of their job commitment and job goal, with High Status Occupation wives being more committed and having higher job aspirations.



The results from our study conflict with those from the Hiller and Dyehouse (1987) study. Our sample size is much smaller and we used a different measure of occupational status [the Hollingshead and Redlich (1958) index as opposed to the Powers and Holmberg (1982) measure]. The disparity in our study between the numbers in the Low Status (30) and High Status (90) groups may indicate that an upscale sample was obtained; however, an overt attempt was made to sample "downscale" neighborhoods in Madison as well. Further, the study required that the females be married in order to be included in the sample, excluding single mothers who are more likely to hold lower status occupations. An alternative explanation is that those wives who were career-oriented, though possibly not in positions that would be categorized as "high status," might have been more likely to have "inflated" their occupation responses. On the other hand, those less career-oriented may have been more willing to list [truthfully] a low status occupation. To the extent that this explanation for the disparate sample sizes is correct, the "inflated" responses of occupation are consistent with a valid measure of "career-orientation," as the responses may be reflecting their career aspirations rather than their current states.

Further, differences were found for House Goal as well, with Lower Occupation Status wives having higher House Goals. However, no differences between the two occupational statuses were found for Family Goal, nor for time spent working (neither hours per week nor weeks per year). These findings support our contention that House Goals and Family Goals are independent constructs. As one would expect, higher occupational status wives had higher incomes themselves and were in households with higher total incomes.

Table 2 presents the correlation among the variables discussed above. What is most notable are the inverse relationships between House Goal and the work measures (time spent as well as job attitudes) and the independence of Family Goal from the other constructs. The independence of Family Goals here is consistent with the findings of Gutek, Searle, and Klepa (1991) and Higgins, Duxbury, and Lee (1994), who found greater independence between the domains of work and family than previous research had led them to believe.

Stepwise regressions were run using the Goal constructs as independent variables and role overload, overload reduction strategies, time allocation measures, time-saving services, and ownership of time-saving durables as dependent variables. The results are shown in Table 3. The discussion will focus on the ability of the various goals o explain the dependent variables in an attempt to find patterns. It should be noted that the R-square values are not very high (.02 to .13). While the findings shown in Table 3 are statistically significant, it is clear that the Goal measures used in this study only explain small amounts of variance.

Family Goal does not play a major role in many of the relationships, but there are several interesting results involving the construct. Those with stronger Family Goals are more likely to reduce role overload through discussing problems with one’s husband or through seeking family members’ help with housework. Apparently these approaches are seen as cooperative efforts consistent with maintaining family harmony. Similarly, those with strong Family Goals are more likely to minimize the time spent on the job as a means of reducing role overload and are more willing to spend money on work-related products in order to save time on the job. When the husband’s allocations to various tasks are investigated, we find that husbands of wives with high Family Goals are likely to spend fewer hours doing housework. This pattern of separation of duties among husbands is very similar to that found by Ishii-Kuntz and Coltrane (1991, 1992). Wives with high Family Goals were also more likely to spend more time themselves with child care activities and in watching their child’s leisure activities. Wives with stronger Family Goals spend more time Sewing (a task done for the collective good) but less time Reading (more of an individualistic task).

House Goal explains more than does Family Goal. It was the only variable related significantly to role overload; it may be that home maintenance responsibilities are the key to perceived role overload, regardless of one’s work status. Those with strong House Goals are less likely to postpone/avoid housework as a means of reducing role overload. A strong House Goal is associated with the strategy of purchasing time-saving products in order to reduce role overload and with the ownership of household appliances. These findings lend support to the conclusion by Bryant (1988) that nonworking wives own more time-saving durables than do working wives.



Findings that indicate that wives with strong House Goals are associated with the stereotypical "Traditional Housewife" include their being less willing to ask family members to help with housework, their serving more meals per week and more items per meal, their being more involved in volunteer work, and their being less willing to have others (inside or outside the family) help with child care.

The job-related constructs (Job Commitment and Job Goal) yield results which are more consistent with the premise that work responsibilities will mean reduced time available for home efforts. Wives with strong work orientations are more likely to avoid/postpone housework responsibilities, minimize travel time to the job (by relocating closer to the job), do fewer loads of laundry per week, watch less television, and purchase more work-related products. Husbands of wives with strong job commitments spend more hours in housework activities. Wives with strong job commitments are less likely to reduce role overload by purchasing time-saving products; they are more likely to use other strategies, such as avoiding housework altogether or having their husbands and children help with housework.

Job commitment was the only goal variable related to the handling of family finances. Wives with strong job commitment spent more time on the family finances and their husbands spent less time.


This study has investigated the role of job-related and home-related Goal constructs in explaining a variety of household consumption variables. Contrary to the conclusion of Hiller and Dyehouse (1987) that occupational status is unrelated to job commitment, we found that occupatio status does explain differences in Job Commitment, Job Goal, and House Goal, but not in Family Goal. Job Goal and Job Commitment are inversely related to House Goal, indicating that the simple job/house dichotomy used to describe the work/family interface has some face validity. However, the Family Goal is independent of Job Commitment, Job Goal, and House Goal.

The one consistent finding is that Goals play only a minor role in explaining variance in time allocation, role overload, and consumption, as judged by the low R-square values. Various goals were related to various activities. A crude summary is that Job Commitment and Job Goal are related to minimizing housework-related activities. On the other hand, House Goal is related to doing them better, although also in a more convenient fashion. Consistent with the Bryant (1988) findings, wives with strong House Goals are more likely to purchase time-saving durables (as opposed to those with strong commitments to the job, who we might infer to have less time available for housework). Wives with strong Family Goals are more likely to discuss problems with their husbands, but are less likely to ask their husband to help with housework (while those with strong House Goals are less likely to ask their husbands to help in child care). Perceived role overload was related to House Goal and not to job-related variables.



Schaninger and Nelson (1991) provide strong support for the inclusion of job-related motivation in classifications of wives’ work status. Our study indicates that the additional inclusion of Family Goal will add in the explanation of certain types of consumption behavior and time allocation patterns. Thus, we conclude that Goals should be considered along with status variables such as age, education, income, and work role. Goals alone will not explain a great deal, but their addition to existing models may add clarity in terms of explaining the configural nature of the relationships typically found. Clearly more work is needed in terms of measuring House and Family Goals, as discussed earlier. The simple working/nonworking dichotomy can explain some variance in household consumption, but not across a wide domain. Attitudinal constructs are needed as well. The findings of Schaninger and Nelson (1991) that job attitudes (as incorporated in the Bartos model) add greater explanatory power provide a step in the right direction. The findings of this study indicate that attitudes toward the importance of family and toward home maintenance should also be incorporated.


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James Gentry, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Shreekant Joag, St. John&#146 s University
Karin Ekstrong, Gotbgurg University, Sweden


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