Love and Money: Chinese Couples’ Decisions on Wedding Expenses

ABSTRACT - Spousal roles in the decision process of wedding-related products and services were examined for a convenience sample of 91 Chinese couples married in Hong Kong in 1999 and 2000. Spousal role influence varied by type of products and services. Contrary to what we expect, we did not find more joint influences for high-expense products throughout the decision-making process. Instead, mean influences of grooms were higher than brides in high-expense products for both the information search and the final decision stages. There was no indication of movement towards joint influences from the information search stage to the final decision stage for all product types. Spousal role influence did not depend on resources and power. Grooms with higher income or education did not exert greater influence in the final purchase decisions of all wedding products and services.



Citation:

Kara Chan and Shiu-Fai Chan (2002) ,"Love and Money: Chinese Couples’ Decisions on Wedding Expenses", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Ramizwick and Tu Ping, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 224-230.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2002      Pages 224-230

LOVE AND MONEY: CHINESE COUPLES’ DECISIONS ON WEDDING EXPENSES

Kara Chan, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong

Shiu-Fai Chan, Lingnan University, Hong Kong

ABSTRACT -

Spousal roles in the decision process of wedding-related products and services were examined for a convenience sample of 91 Chinese couples married in Hong Kong in 1999 and 2000. Spousal role influence varied by type of products and services. Contrary to what we expect, we did not find more joint influences for high-expense products throughout the decision-making process. Instead, mean influences of grooms were higher than brides in high-expense products for both the information search and the final decision stages. There was no indication of movement towards joint influences from the information search stage to the final decision stage for all product types. Spousal role influence did not depend on resources and power. Grooms with higher income or education did not exert greater influence in the final purchase decisions of all wedding products and services.

INTRODUCTION

Researchers in consumer behavior in recent years started to study purchases associated with ritual occasions in American culture, including Thanksgiving (Wallendorf and Arnould, 1991) and Christmas (Otnes, Lowrey and Kim, 1993; Sherry and McGrath, 1989). Rook (1985) argued that these occasions are worthy of study because consumers often devote much time and effort to the purchase of goods and services that enable them to participate fully in events surrounding these occasions.

The white wedding in the U.S. has become more expensive as well as more popular due to the promotional effort of the bridal industry, the increase in age at first marriage, and the popular belief in the value of the pursuit of happiness in the modern consumer culture (Pleck, 2000). Weddings are often elaborate and require a long period of planning (Gilbert, 1983). Studying the purchase decision enables us to understand how consumers coordinate the purchase of goods and services for one of the most important days of their lives and how the different genders engage in ritual-related consumptions (Lowrey and Otnes, 1994).

There have been some studies of weddings in non-American cultures (e.g. Kendall, 1989). However, there is a lack of study of weddings in the Chinese culture. Consumer behavior and role performance related with wedding in the Chinese culture is worth studying because of at least two reasons. Firstly, the family occupies an essential role in the Chinese culture (Yang, 1972). The wedding is considered one of the most important rituals of passage that celebrates the formation of the family. A survey in Hong Kong indicated that Chinese young people demonstrated a strong belief in the commitment of marriage (The Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, 1996). In Chinese tradition, the wedding is a kinship and social event that involves the extended family members of the bride and the groom. Often the couple needs to take into account of the preferences of the families in order to maintain social harmony (Chien, 1979). Secondly, the wedding occasion provides an opportunity for two closely related individuals to influence one another and to make consumer decisions. This is probably the first experience of a family purchase decision-making pattern as cohabitation is not common.

RESEARCH OBJECTIVES

The objectives of this study are:

1. To examine the relative influence of brides and grooms in purchase decision of wedding-related goods and services

2. To examine the change in spousal influence between the information search stage and the final decision stage of wedding-related goods and services

3. To explore factors that may have impact on the spousal purchase decision patterns

LITERATURE REVIEW

Chinese marriage concept: From traditional institution to modern companionship

One of the key principles of the Confucian thought is unequal status relationship will result in a stable society (Hofstede and Bond, 1988). Such unequal status relationship exists in marriage too. Traditionally, Chinese marriage is institutional in character. It is a social institution for procreation, continuing the family lineage and economic production. The marriage is hierarchically organized, which reflects the domination of men and the subordination of women. However, Burgess, Locke and Thomes (1963) and Hicks and Platt (1970) have recognized that marriage has transformed from an "institution" type to "companionship" type. MacQuarrie (1975) and Wong (1977) found that there was movement toward greater role-sharing and gender equality in marital relationship in Hong Kong. Yim (1988) found increased rolesharing in marital relationships in China which she attributed to the increasing economic power of women from their outside employment, the rise of individualism, technological advancement in birth control, and the liberation of sexuality.

In a modern marriage, the roles of husband and wife are marked by jointness. Yeung and Kwong (1995) studied Hong Kong youth’s attitude toward marriage and found a general rejection of traditional pattern of dividing work and family responsibilities along gender lines. Respondents expected modern marriage to be a fairly egalitarian relationship with fairly equal distribution of decision-making power.

Hong Kong is a major Chinese city with a population of 6.8 million. The 156-year-old British crown colony returned to the People’s Republic of China in 1997 as a Special Administrative Region. With its unique strategic position in business, finance, and information in the world, Hong Kong is a meeting point of the Eastern and Western cultures. Every year, there are about 31,000 marriages registered in Hong Kong (Census and Statistics Department, 2001). In 1999, ninety-three percent of the weddings were held in the marriage registries and the remaining seven percent were held in churches (Hong Kong Government, 1999).

Decision-making in family

In the consumer research literature, the family was often considered as a decision-making unit that received information (Roberts, 1984). Most studies of husband-wife influences in family purchase decisions focused on how the relative influences varied according to three factors, including the type of product, the stage in decision-making, and the family and cultural characteristics.

Davis and Rigaux (1974) conducted the first benchmark study of husband-wife influences by product category in Belgium. Family decision-making for 25 products and services were classified into one of the four categories, including husband dominant, wife dominant, autonomic and joint decisions (syncratic). An update of Davis and Rigaux’s (1974) study for U.S. households indicated that some products and services of high perceived risk such as cars, TV sets, and financial planning moved from a husband-dominant position to joint decision making (Putnam and Davidson, 1987). Time pressures brought about by larger numbers of dual-worker families may have contributed to the increasing autonomic decisions in categories of low perceived risk. The change was attributed to a greater influence of working wives. Corfman and Lehmann (1987) took into account of the interests the husband and wife had in different product categories. They concluded that the greater interest a spouse had in purchasing, the greater would be the influence he/she exercised. Studies took similar approaches usually concluded with lists of products associated with each sex (Lavin, 1993; Yavas, Babakus and Delener, 1994).

Lowrey and Otnes (1994) reported gender differences in wedding ritual artifacts used in the American culture. Artifacts significant to brides included the wedding dress and related accessories, the minister, the church, and the decorations for the wedding ceremony. Most of these items were designed for the actual wedding ceremony itself. Artifacts significant to the grooms were fewer in number. Most of the grooms tended to focus on the reception rather than the wedding ceremony. Lowrey and Otnes (1994) attributed the gender difference to the traditional view of a wedding as "the bride’s day", and the fact that the wedding was paid for by the bride’s parents.

Davis and Rigau (1974) found that the husband took a more dominant role in going from problem recognition stage to information search stage. When moving from information search to the final decision, the pattern of influence became more equal. In Putnam and Davidson’s (1987) study, movements toward more joint decisions from the information search stage to the final decision stage were more pronounced for goods that were risky or had high involvement for the family.

Several studies indicated that spousal role influence varies among families. In a survey of 600 Spanish families, Martinez and Polo (1999) observed that young couples made joint decisions only if the wives worked. In a situation where the wife did not work or the spouses had married for many years, it was the husband alone who decided. It reflects that the provider in a family owns the decision power. Other studies indicated increased level of education, income, and occupational prestige experienced by the wives correlated with increased participation by the wives in family purchase decision-making (Cunningham and Green, 1979; Hopper, 1995; Rank, 1982). Davis (1976) suggested that the cultural role expectations of husbands and wives, the comparative resources within the families, and the assessments of the costs and benefits associated with particular outcomes of the decisions would determine the role specialization of husbands and wives.

Recently, there were cross-cultural studies on husbandwife influence of family purchase decisions (for example Callan and Gallois, 1985; Ford, LaTour and Henthorne, 1995). Findings generally supported a higher level of joint decisions in egalitarian societies.

To summarise, research literature indicated that spousal influence of family purchase decisions varied with types of products, decision stages, family and cultural characteristics.

HYPOTHESES

Based on the prior discussion, the following hypotheses are proposed:

H1: Given that more joint decisions are associated with high-risk products, there will be more joint influences for high-expense products throughout the decision-making process.

H2: Movements towards joint influences from the information search stage to the final decision stage will be more profound for high-expense products.

H3: Given that spousal role influence depends on resources and power, grooms with higher income and education (relative to the brides) will exert greater influence at the final decision stage.

T-tests are used to test the above hypotheses.

METHODOLOGY

The survey was conducted in Hong Kong during the period October 20 to November 30, 2000. Students enrolling in the part-time master degree program at the Communication Studies Department of the Hong Kong Baptist University and the undergraduate marketing program at the Lingnan University were asked to distribute the questionnaires to couples who got married in 1999 and 2000 in their workplace or among their friends and relatives. Either the bride, or the groom, or both of them filled out the questionnaires together. Students either conducted telephone interviews or delivered the questionnaires for self-administration.

The questionnaire consisted of three parts. The first part collected information about expenses on ten wedding-related products and services. These items were selected from local bridal magazines and from one of the authors’ previous study of wedding expenses in the United States. The item 'bride price’ [A traditional Chinese wedding often involves cash gift exchange between the bride=s and the groom=s families. The money contributed by the bride=s family is called the >dowry= and that contributed by the groom=s family is called the >bride price=. The bride can keep the dowry but the bride price usually goes to the bride=s family.] was added as it is a Chinese tradition that the groom will pay money to the bride’s family. Two off-scale categories included "no such expenses" and "paid for by others" were included to filter out other influences from the bride’s and the groom’s families, and focused only on relative spousal influence. The second part of the questionnaire requested respondents to distribute 100 points (constant sum method) to indicate the degree of influence of brides and grooms at the information search stage and at the final decisions for items with non-zero expenses. One off-scale category "not applicable as decision made by others or no such expenses" was included. We do not include the problem recognition stage as most of these items are commonly found in weddings. The final part of the questionnaire collected the demographic profiles of the grooms and brides. This includes age, education, type of occupation, and income before the marriage.

FINDINGS

The sample consisted of 91 Chinese couples in Hong Kong (population of approximately 6.5 million). About sixty percent of the sample was married in 2000 and forty percent was married in 1999. A majority of the brides and grooms were young (20 to 29) and well educated. The median ages of the brides and grooms were 26 and 30 respectively (compared to 27 and 29 of those had their first marriages in 1998). We speculate that most of the marriages were first marriages. Fifty-six percent of the grooms were engaged in managerial and professional jobs and about one-third of the brides were engaged in clerical jobs. The median annual income of grooms and brides were US$38,200 and US$29,600 respectively, which were nearly double that of the median income of US$18,500 and US$16,400 of male and female employees (Census and Statistics Department, 1999).

TABLE 1

ITEMIZED WEDDING EXPENSES

Table 1 shows the itemized wedding expenses of the sample. On average, each couple spent US$28,570 on the wedding. High-expense items included the banquet, furnishing for the new home, and the bride price. These three items together accounted for about three quarters of the total wedding expenses. Middle-expense items included the honeymoon trip and the jewelry. Low-expense items included gowns, rings, photography, site rental and cards. About one-sixth of the couples did not spend money on site rental. The findings underestimated the total expenses as close to twenty percent of the sample reported others paid for the jewelry.

What are the relative influences of grooms and brides on the wedding expenses and how their influences change at different decision stages? Table 2 summarizes the spousal roles for individual wedding items. The mean influence of grooms at the information search stage varied from the lowest 25 percent for jewelry to 63 percent for the bride price. The mean influence of grooms at the final decision stage varied from the lowest 25 percent for jewelry to 61 percent for the bride price.

Table 3 shows the spousal roles for three different types of products. To test H1, two-tailed t-tests are conducted to examine whether there is significant difference in the mean influence of grooms from the hypothesized mean influence of 50 percent (i.e. joint influence of grooms and brides).

For high-expense items, the mean influence of grooms at the information search stage was 57.6 percent. It was significantly different from the hypothesized mean of 50 percent (t=4.87, p<0.0005). For high-expense items, the mean influence of grooms at the final decision stage was 57.7 percent. Again, it was significantly different from the hypothesized mean of 50 percent (t=4.78, p<0.0005). The results did not indicate more joint influences for high-expense products throughout the decision process. As a result, H1 was not supported.

To test H2, pair-wise t-tests are conducted to examine whether there is significant difference in the mean influence of grooms between the information search stage and the final decision stage. The results are summarized in the last column in Table 3. All the pair-wise t-tests were not significant at 0.05 levels. There was no significant change in the spousal influence between the information search stage and the final decision stage for all three types of products. As a result, H2 was not supported.

To test H3, the sample was classified into two groups. In the first group, grooms had higher income levels than their brides. In the second group, grooms and brides had same income levels. One-way ANOVA tests were conducted to compare the mean influence of husbands at the final decision stage for these two groups. The results are summarized in Table 4. All three F-statistics were not significant at 0.05 levels, indicating that there was no difference in the spousal influence for couples with different income levels. Grooms with higher income level did not exert greater influence on final decisions of wedding expense.

Again, we classified the sample into two groups. In the first group, grooms had higher educational levels than their brides. In the second group, brides had higher or equal educational levels than the grooms (we only found one couple that the bride had a higher educational level). One-way ANOVA tests were conducted to compare the mean influence of husbands at the final decision stage for these two groups. The results are summarized in Table 5. All three F-statistics were not significant at 0.05 levels, indicating that there was no difference in the spousal influence for couples with different educational levels. Grooms with higher educational level did not exert greater influence on final decisions of wedding expense.

H3 was therefore not supported.

TABLE 2

SPOUSAL INFLUENCE BY PURCHASE DECISION SATE OF WEDDING EXPENSES

TABLE 3

SPOUSAL INFLUENCE BY PURCHASE DECISION STAGE BY PRODUCT TYPES

TABLE 4

DIFFERENCE IN GROOM=S AND BRIDE=S INCOME LEVELS AND SPOUSAL INFLUENCE AT THE FINAL DECISION STAGE

TABLE 5

DIFFERENCE IN GROOM=S AND BRIDE=S EDUCATIONAL LEVELS AND SPOUSAL INFLUENCE AT THE FINAL DECISION STAGE

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION

Spousal role influence varied mainly by type of products and services. There were more husband-dominated families for the decisions on the banquet and the bride price. There were more wife-dominated families for the decisions on jewelry and gown. This was in consistent with Lowrey and Otnes’s (1994) finding that the grooms took more interest in the reception and the significance of the wedding dress to the brides. The stronger influence of the grooms for items with great economic outlay indicated that even though marriages in Hong Kong is considered to be fairly egalitarian, traditional male dominance still prevails in the purchase of high-expense products involved in weddings.

In previous studies, decisions shifted from autonomic at the information search stage to syncratic at the final stage of family consumer goods (Davis and Rigaux, 1974; Putnam and Davidson, 1987; LaTour, Henthorne and Ford, 1993). Such movement was not found in the purchase decisions for all three types of products. Spousal influences were stable throughout the decision making process. The marketing implication is that the two stages can be considered as one. This may be because shopping in Hong Kong is so easy and accessible that division of labor becomes unnecessary.

Spousal role influence on wedding-related purchase decisions did not depend on relative difference in resources and power (income and education) of brides and grooms. The fact that the sample’s income is twice that of the average employees may explain why no impact of income was found. Resources and power did not play an essential role in spousal role influences on wedding purchase decisions. Love rules.

The current study has three limitations. Firstly, the sample was not representative in terms of income levels of the brides and the grooms. Secondly, it was often difficult to isolate the couple from the influence of the parents and the broader families on wedding decisions. We need to bear in mind that the reported spousal influence to certain extent reflects also the spouse’s family influences. Thirdly, recent consumer research indicated that Hong Kong consumers differ from the consumers in Mainland China. So, the current study may not reflect the spousal influence of wedding purchase decisions in Mainland China.

To conclude, Chinese grooms in Hong Kong played a dominant role in the purchase decisions of high-expense wedding-related products and services. There was no indication of more joint influences when the couple moved from the information search stage to the final decision stage. Grooms with higher income and education level did not exert more influence on the final purchase decisions. In Chinese societies, marketer should recognize the importance of the grooms in their advertising and marketing communication campaigns. We suggest two future research directions: firstly, we can replicate the study in different cultures to investigate the influence of cultural dimensions on spousal purchase influences. Secondly, a panel study can be conducted to trace the change of spousal purchase influence in later stages of the family cycle.

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Authors

Kara Chan, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong
Shiu-Fai Chan, Lingnan University, Hong Kong



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2002



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