Analysis of Life Styles For Study in Consumer Behavior


Flora L. Williams (1972) ,"Analysis of Life Styles For Study in Consumer Behavior", in SV - Proceedings of the Third Annual Conference of the Association for Consumer Research, eds. M. Venkatesan, Chicago, IL : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 490-501.

Proceedings of the Third Annual Conference of the Association for Consumer Research, 1972      Pages 490-501


Flora L. Williams, Purdue University

[Assistant Professor of Home Management and Family Economics, School of Home Economics, Purdue University.]


The term life style is used casually to point out differences in the way people live. Life style is assumed to be an important variable for studying consumer behavior. Desired life style determines consumer choice and the choice is a reflection of life style.

The term life styles conveys different meanings in common usage, but should not be ambiguous for research purposes. The purposes of this study were to define life style for operational use in research, to select indicators of life style, to analyze factors that contribute to life style so that changes in consumer behavior can be understood, to describe the factors as to their contributions and limitations for researching life styles.

Before going to empirical data for rigorous examinations of the correspondence between types, one should decide the relevant data and a limited number of complete cases, and whether all the attributes included in the type are needed. Components in life style are conceptually distinct entities. Operationally maintaining this distinction is important in research.


The nature of science requires that, first, observations and then categorizations, comparisons and classifications are made. Research organizes as well as acquires knowledge.

The method for conceptualizing life styles for analysis purposes was primarily-a survey of the literature and research pertinent to the subject. Factors found were studied for commonalities from various sources. Typologies and a theoretical model were developed. Six case studies were selected and revised from about 100 case studies that seemed to be representative of life style types. A panel of judges selected the six for purposes of analysis. These case studies were analyzed using the indicators selected for the operational definitions of life style.


The statement of hypothesis theorized what the components of life style were. Components of life style were described as commodities and services used, the manner in which they are used, satisfactions obtained, pattern of use of all resources available, and attitude about the level of living obtained. The pattern of resource use includes decision making, production in and out of the home, leisure time activity, and types of consumer behavior. These components are those sometimes considered in defining level of living. The hypothesis was used as a benchwork definition for selecting indicators for analyzing life styles. Components as stated were tested for their ability to be used as indicators.


The North Central Regional Research Project, NC90,. entitled "Factors Affecting Patterns of Living in Disadvantaged Families" begun in 1966 and funded by the Cooperative State Research Service of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, hat for one of its purposes: select and/or construct ant evaluate indicators, indices, ant measurements of patterns of living. The data is currently being analyzed.

The factors selected in the "pattern of living" concept for determining contributions to differences in families at a given income level ant family size were:

(1) mobility, geographic and intergenerational (education ant occupation);

(2) attitude toward situation being better or worse off, financial, living conditions, job opportunities, ant opportunity for children;

(3) value orientations, abstractness-concreteness, control-fatalism, equalitarianism-authoritarianism, integration-alienation;

(4) housing, own or rent, number of rooms, hot ant cold pipet water, toilet ant bath, telephone, garbage collection, television, ant newspaper;

(5) transportation, means, distances traveled to work, ant problems;

(6) relatives ant family interaction; ant

(7) resource procurement ant use, sources of income, size of income, financial problems, fixed commitments, ant perceived adequacy of income.

In an article by Emanuel H. Demby entitled "Over-the-Counter Life Style" (1972), the predictive powers of demographic data are questioned. The researcher fount very different attitudes about the amount of money persons earn which affected purchasing power. The factor he found discriminated persons was their ability to visualize experiences beyond the immediate environment and integrate different products into their life style. A method of life style research had been developed called psychographics which "seeks to measure (1) how appropriate to their life styles people's purchases are; (2) how products, political ant social activities relate to the life style ant individual self-concept; ant (3) what is lacking in a person's life-style or self-concept that would produce a desire to buy a product or participate in a given activity."

The importance of attitudes in influencing behavior has been indicated by a variety of studies. A consumer behavior study found that "attempts at persuasion contradicting an individual's predisposition toward a given topic usually will be selectively perceived (Engel, 1972). Selective perceptiOn takes the form of selective exposure (ignoring the stimulus), selective distortion (missing the point of the message), ant selective retention (no conscious recall of the message)." The study reported the following finding:

A company attempted to increase sales of raw berries. Their survey fount market segments of (1) heavy users who valued tradition, (2) light to moderate users who were ambivalent about the role of homemaker, and (3) non-users described as "emancipated women" who avoided products connoting tradition. Advertising tried to persuade the non-users to buy the berries for the traditional sauce but with no success since the product contradicted their basic attitudes. Success was achieved by selling the berry juice for use in mixed drinks.

Certain influences will or will not affect life styles, therefore, depending upon the consumer t S attitude, value orientation, or philosophy which are usually changed very slowly.

Influences upon life style that can be identified for comprehending how consumer behavior is changed are social ideals, educational level, occupation, income, goods available, individual differences, residence and aspirations. Environmental influences, furthermore, include social arrangements such as custom, advertising, governmental regulation and provisions, new events in society. and associations.

Practices of the social group to which individuals and families belong (since basic needs are met in that group) or are considered just above it, become the styles considered by the young child. These influences of social arrangements are somewhat subtle and may not be readily realized by the individual concerned.

Religious or cultural ideals mold styles. Practices of the group to which families belong may dominate the life style so much that a subculture persists. A cult of simplicity may resist the material aspects of living of the society at large. Families may form a commune to achieve their social ideals through cooperation in production and consumption. In striving to find patterns that better fulfill their ideals, alternate styles to the main theme of the American way of life are experienced. Strains of ethnic group behavior are observed in individuals adding to variation in life styles.

Size of income and price of goods at a given time influence life styles as illustrated by the City Worker's Budgets compiled by the Department of Labor. All three budgets provide for "maintenance of health and social well-being, the nurture of children, and participation in community activities." They represent the necessary conventional and social as well as biological requirements of a self-supporting family. But the lower budget family is limited to rental housing without air conditioning. It relies on public transportation and depends on free community facilities for much of its recreation. At the other extreme, the life style for the higher budget families means home ownership for most families, a relatively new car, significantly more and better household appliances and equipment, and a greater amount of paid-for services and entertainment.

Education is a dominant force as it is a means by which life styles are passed on from person to person or newly constructed for the individual. Education not only increases awareness of alternative styles of life, but provides means for changing one's style. A change in what is satisfactory frequently occurs with increased education. An emphasis may be placed more on aesthetic expressions than material goods.

Individual differences account for variations in styles of similar income groups or groups with similar value systems. Age, stage of family life cycle, sex, physical and mental characteristics, abilities, vitality, interests, and the specific knowledge which experiences and the interpretation of their meaning have brought, develop unique styles. Early experiences may teach a child whether or not he can manipulate his environment by how quickly his cries are attended to. Rewards for successful efforts encourage further attempts.

There are other factors such as war, unemployment, geographical conditions and natural forces, political arrangements, government provisions and technological developments that directly influence life styles.

Development of Typologies

Several typologies were collected and developed for analysis of life styles. Typology is the study of types. In research, the type is merely a tool for the ordering of concrete phenomena. It is an imagined entity, created only because through it reality may be more easily understood. The typological structure organizes and sets in words descriptions of those characteristics which certain phenomena have in common. The general form of those phenomena become visible by means of the typological methods which may not have become apparent by other means of measurement. Study and implications may then ensue. The type may be composed of essential characteristics or one fundamental characteristic. Therefore, a type may be a system or a general denominator for a set of phenomena. She type is not just a simple unit but is a multiple of units.

In summary, the type is a "purposive, planned selection, abstraction, combination and accentuation of a set of criteria with empirical referents that serve as a basis for comparison of empirical cases" (McKinney, 1966).

The types of physical and psychological needs have been described by many writers. They are recognized as dominating forces of life style since they are motivation for human activities designed to fulfill goods. A listing of types does not explain the nature of needs. Various needs are not equal in their driving force. One type dominates life style depending on the state of satisfaction of other desires. Maslow suggests that:

"the chief principle of organization in human motivational life is the arrangement of needs in a hierarchy of less or greater priority or potency. The chief dynamic principle animating this organization is the emergence of less potent needs upon gratification of the more potent ones. Physiological needs, when unsatisfied, dominate the organism, pressing all capacities into their service and organizing these capacities so that they may be most efficient in this service. Relative gratification submerges them and allows the next higher set of needs in the hierarchy to emerge, dominate, and organize the personality. Instead of being hunger obsessed, it now becomes safety obsessed. The principle is the same for other sets of needs in the hierarchy, love, esteem, and self-actualization (Maslow. 1954).

Life styles are observed in the arrangements of house design and furnishings. Families may be labeled as: (1) economy-centered, (2) family-centered, (3) freedom or aesthetic-centered, and (4) prestige-centered on the basis of their housing decisions (Beyer, 1965).

A set of values guides behavior and tends to make it uniform so that life styles can be described as typologies. A typology was constructed to study values underlying family decisions of a middle-class sample (Schlater, 1969). The types used for analyzing responses were traditional, social, autonomous and change-prone.

To the traditional homemaker, the husband's position is considered most important, wife's position next and children's last. Children should be taught to behave. Husband's job is very important to the family. Materials such as car, furniture and money are of great importance to the family. Wife should have high standards of task performance. Categorical statements indicate the following of prescriptive behavior. There may be little control of the adult child. Security is more important than achievement or risk. Roles are probably clearly defined. The traditional type emphasizes production, duty, rights and responsibilities, and other-direction.

The homemaker interested in the social interaction perceives the wife's right responsibility as the loving care of her family. She is not free to decide what she will do. She does what her family needs and wants her to do. Husband's job is important to provide things for the family. He should like his job. Materials are important as they contribute to the family as a whole. New furniture and car are not mandatory. There may be categorical statement and conditional ends such as family needs and desires that dictate decisions. Mann decisions are made by the family together. Responses of people are emphasized. The social type emphasizes affection, love, solidarity, loyalty, and other-direction.

For the autonomous-rational homemaker, time is free to be used in ways she sees beneficial to herself and family. The emphasis is on individual independence and growth as well as relative equality in decision making. There are more conditional and logical statements than categorical statements. Consequences of possible choices may be discussed. New car or furniture are seen in terms of its contributions to members of the family. Children's behavior is understood and reasonable control advocated. Wife has freedom to manage as she perceives best. The autonomous type emphasizes growth and development, fairness, impartiality, and responsible inner-direction.

The change-prone homemaker is described as doing what she feels like and would enjoy. In this family the new car and new furniture are desired for the fun of having it. The family would move if the husband wants to because it would be good to have a new experience. There are few categorical statements. Sometimes specific action statements are made. Children's behavior is accepted as self-expressive. Individuality is highly prized. There may be no attempt to control older children. Few prescriptions are handed out. The roles family members hold are probably indefinite and changing. The change-prone type emphasizes the new, the novel, and inner-direction. Little thought is given to consequences.

In more recent research investigating decision-making and value orientations of Guatamalan peasant families, the traditional orientation was described as stability and the type fatalism was added. Families in this other culture could be described by the five types (Baker, 1972).

When an individual's philosophy is known, his life style or consumer behavior may be understood. This includes attitudes toward and habitual evaluations of goods. When individuals have conflicting philosophical perspectives, agreement on resource use is difficult. Some philosophical perspectives which guide activities are: the new is better than the old, the old is better than the new, self-interests and concerns are most important; others' interests and concerns are most important; consequences in light of everyone's interests and concerns are considered; uncritically doing what others are doing is the criteria; values are weighed and related to ideals, religious, and/or moral concepts.

When the value orientation of a person is known, an understanding of the basis for disagreement is possible. Assumptions or perspectives are realized. Open-mindedness toward those with different orientations is encouraged. One may still not accept other's values for himself. He may agree to disagree. An adage is "Don't judge an Indian until you have walked in his moccasins."

There is a wide range of concerns and perspectives which guide behavior in the society. In a mobile society with mass communication there is blurring of these orientations. Dalke described in 1958 various orientations he saw operating in the society.

A religious oriented person has as his ultimate goal to do God's will. Personal development for service to others is important. Wealth and property are not valued highly. Simplicity in living to free the spirit for more important ideals is stressed. In contrast, the nativist oriented person lives for the honor of the national culture and/or state. Wealth and property are valued as an expression of and in service of the nation-state. In the market value orientation, a person's goals are goods, profits, prestige and wealth. His attitude toward wealth is that its accumulation is-the supreme good and a symbol of respectability. The common man oriented person works for the dignity of individuals or workers. A comfortable level of living is regarded as desirable but unlimited accumulation as unsocial. In the humanist value orientation, a person holds as ultimate ends knowledge, creativity and man as the measure of things. Wealth and property are regarded as means for personal and community development. Things are needed as instruments for action and the aesthetic life. Using the scientific method of solving problems is a virtue. Sensitivity to others is important (Dalke, 1958).

Families at different periods of their existence exhibit differences in their values, goals, responsibilities, resources, roles, problems and composition. These different periods have led to the development of the concept of a family life cycle. The family life cycle is an expression that refers to the life span of a family from marriage to the death of one or both spouses. It is based on the assumption that families having children pass through a series of stages characterized by behaviors and responsibilities related to the bearing of children, rearing and launching them into adult pursuits. The concept tries to explain families' behavior and activities that are expected to occur during these stages or phases. The various stages may represent life styles or characteristic patterns of living at particular intervals and are influenced by family composition, age, interest, and activity. Families may or may not follow these patterns exactly; divergence can occur in the individual family.

One description is related to the age of the oldest dependent child. The stages are (1) adjustment, (2) accumulation, (3) grade school, (4) high school, (5) college stage and/or launching, (6) recovery or rediscovery, and (7) retirement. Stages can be adapted for classifying families with more than two generations as (8) extended or (9) families with multiple marriages.

Contributions and Limitations of Factors

Factors chosen for studying life styles have contributions and limitations and, therefore, should be chosen for the specific purpose of the study. The typological study as a method also has limitations.

The scientific value of the constructed type is to (1) identify, (2) simplify, (3) guide initial selection of data, (4) interpret particular situations, (5) have a general standard by which a concrete occurrence is comprehended, (6) generalize concepts by means of which one can extract its empirical versions from different cultural contexts, (7) classify significant, although not merely a class, and thereby differentiate phenomena and set the stage for prediction, and (8) have a point of reference for analysis of social order as it serves as basis for comparison and potential measurement of concrete occurrences. The type does not necessarily refer to the most common form of a phenomena, but usually to the most significantly representative form (McKinney, 1966). The limitations to typological study include the problems that (1) it is still largely in the prequantitative state, (2) not everyone fits into the typological order, (3) the model types represent different portions of families (consumers),(4) lines are not clear cut between types, and (5) some families are mobile and have different characteristics than those that remain in the type.

Values as a factor for analysis of life styles indicate priorities as explanation of consumer behavior. The problem with using this factor is that explicit values may not be the same as a person's implicit values, persons may select from various value systems to have a unique one, and one person's values cannot be used to represent the family's. Basically, most people probably have the same values. The concept of different values refers to differences in rank order, interpretation, degree of emphasis and manifestation. There are several types of values such as cultural, economic, and social. The type will have to be chosen for the given research purpose. Identification of another's values is difficult because an activity may represent several different values and various values for different people. Another problem with value analysis is that frequently persons are described as security-comfort oriented as opposed to those described as achievement-risk oriented. However. the secure person is the one more able to take risks.

Goods already obtained as indicators of life style or level of living may be easier to identify and quantify than other factors. They do reflect past values and income. Therein lies the limitation. Goods are a result of past decision, irrevocable decisions, and what is available in the market. Analyzing a budget of time or money has limitation in that value strength is not proportionately related to expenditures for the same reasons plus the costs of certain goods and activities vary due to their nature.

The family life cycle stages indicate the probable life style of the given consumers in the different stages. However, values probably are the same throughout the stages although the goods and manifestations are different. Also, income and net worth size are generally related to the staRes.

Socio-economic class identified by using occupation and education is useful as a typology but it has the limitation of identifying those that are mobile and blurred class lines. Also, the classification suitable for the unemployed or retired is difficult to determine. The uniformity of goods obtained in our society conceals class membership. The social ideal which stresses equality combined with mass production, the nature of the market system and mobility is responsible for the uniformity of goods obtained irrespective of group membership. The "standard package" (Riesman & Roseborough, 1960) refers to the necessary package of economic goods families perceive as necessary for the American style of life. Attitudes toward the "standard package" vary by class as, also, does the manner in which it is provided. The upper class may level down to accept the package with less strain. If success is achieved, it is played-down when it exceeds the friends'. The lower class achieves it with more effort and runs the risk of losing it with poor management or loss of income. Variations in the package are of subtle quality differences.

Resources and motivations vary by socio-economic class. Concepts vary as do the attitudes toward goods. The future to the middle class may mean a rosy horizon whereas to the lower class it is non-existent so that each moment must be lived fully. Problems vary, also, and must be understood in order to identify means for improving levels of living. Knowledge of alternative ways of living is gained by exploring the differences in life stoles.

Consumer behavior can be analyzed by examining motivations for consumption. Foote suggested that the most constructive developments in the selection of predictors of household decision-making have come from the study of intervening variables such as motives, attitudes, authority and values (Foote, 1961).

Results of a study of the relationship between investment behavior and social class pointed out the limitations of using income alone as a predictor. With income held constant, white collar classes invested more in education, medical care and insurance than blue collar families. Unskilled workers invested in consumer durables. Brown found that when family resources are limited, social class is more important than income in allocation of investment funds. She concluded that white collar families are more concerned with the future than were families of blue collar workers (Brown, 1969).

The financial problems families have experienced were found significantly related to economic well-being, income, and perceived adequacy of income in research analyzing the data from NC90 project. However, some problems were experienced at all income levels. The higher socio-economic families had certain problems more frequently than other families (Unpublished Theses, 1971-72). It was concluded that problems are a function of priorities, management, and income. Also, problems to families at various income and socioeconomic levels have different meanings.

The manner of using goods reflects the standards with which one lives. Standards may be used as basis for comparisons or the criteria for use of resources. Standards are a measure of quality and/or quantity which reflect the reconciliation of resources with demands upon them. The standard of living or goods that make up the standard are those for which the consumer feels deprived when he does not have them. In this sense, standards are motivations for behavior and reflect aspirations and attitude toward goods obtained. The standards are personally identified in this concept rather than being an outside criteria for evaluating life style.

Theoretical Model

The theoretical model attempted to synthesize the concepts suggested in the hypothesized components of life style and descriptions of social classes, by various writers. Activities, attitudes and aspirations are expressed in the typological presentation. The purpose for this typological model is to gain insight into consumer behavior and have points of departure for other sub-level types of life style such as those consumers which might be described as mobile. The theoretical model was found to be more useful in analyzing case studies for consumer behavior in life styles and less ambiguous than some other socio-economic divisions.


The indicators selected to analyze case studies were needs that dominate, problems to be resolved, attitude toward decision-making, standards that dictate, commodities and services already obtained, attitude toward these commodities and services, values that guide and motivate, philosophy that integrates, sources of satisfactions, bases for security, income that limits, resources available that are used or not used, socio-economic class represented, and influences that affect the life stole.

Selection of Indicators

These indicators were selected on the basis: (1) were the commonalities found in the various sources describing life styles; (2) were more specific than the components in the hypothesis; (3) could be operationally defined in specific terms; (4) applied to case studies and found could be mutually exclusive by students who had studied the factors; (5) and involved the dynamics of consumer behavior. These indicators describe in researchable terms the components hypothesized to make up life style: commodities and services used, the manner in which they are used, satisfactions obtained, pattern of use of all resources available, and attitude about the level of living obtained. The indicators were tested in analysis of case studies after students had studied typologies and the theoretical model. Responses could be tabulated and objectively compared. The indicators were useful in analyzing consumer behavior, components that could change consumer behavior, and differences in life styles. Further research is needed to define the quantification of sublevels of the indicators for statistical analysis. Various sublevels could be chosen depending on the unique purposes of the research.



Selection of Case Studies

Case studies to be used for testing the indicators selected for analysis of life styles were collected from over 100 students. The students were asked to write about families they knew. Then they studied concepts involved in life style components and given typologies. This was followed by students applying the list of indicators in analyzing other case studies than their own case study. By comparing the analysis and the case study, four persons on a panel of judges selected the six most representative of socio-economic classes described by patterns of resource use. These final six case studies were further tested by over 100 other students who had not written any case studies but had studied factors involved in life style. The students were able to use the indicators selected for analyzing the life styles in depth. The responses were generally uniform among students and could be tabulated easily, quickly and objectively. This finding may support the validity and reliability of the factors as research indicators.


Individuals and families demonstrate different styles in performing the functions of maintaining their social and economic systems. The styles of living are a result of ideals and norms continued by the economic and social system as a whole. They reflect resource use based on values both habitually developed and consciously acquired. Limitations and opportunities for development of life styles are provided by governmental regulations and provisions. Life styles are controlled, further, by production and consumption activities. They are affected largely by habit but new events in the society alter life styles. Moreover, life styles are a determinant of resource use.

Research on how life styles are developed or changed indicates how consumer behavior is changed. Habit as a result of established ideals and norms; routine consumption; governmental regulations and provisions; income from capital; durable goods and production; and association; and advertising are influences that can be studied.

Development of a life style begins with identification of its components. Life styles are identified, consciously or unconsciously, when: decisions are made, attitudes toward goods are noted; goods are obtained; and future wants expressed. The standard of living is the desired life style.

Influences on life style must be recognized. Aspirations and goals shape the life style. A gap between the standard of living and the level of living provides motivation. If the gap cannot be reduced, certain reactions may follow: aspirations may be lowered or changed; evaluation of methods of reaching them may result in more efficient use of resources, or frustration or rebellion may occur. The individual's personality disposition and the situation determine which reaction may occur.

After knowledge of various value orientations and the means of achieving them is gained, a new life style may be further defined. Then a focus on ultimate goals should be made for a style to be developed. These may be values, life commitments, or a purposeful philosophy. The new life style can be practiced by using resources and goods in day-to-day activities. Attitudes can be adjusted for appropriateness to the ultimate purpose.

An integrated value system is one's philosophy of life. A workable and consistent philosophy enables resources to be used for maximum satisfaction. Predictable behavior is possible.

Since society is complex and culture allows much variety in patterns of behavior, typological structures would seem to help people to understand choices available. Identifying relevant indicators may help avoid over simplification concerning the nature of life styles in consumer behavior.

Terms have to be defined and the scope of research delineated. Several components in life style and indicators have been suggested on which research in consumer behavior can concentrate.


Baker, Georgianne. Abstract of Research Report: Decision-Making and Value Orientation of Guatemalan Peasant Families. Department of Home Economics, Arizona State University, Tempe, AHEA Conference, June, 1972.

Beyer, Glenn H. Housing and Society. MacMillan Company, New York, 1965.

Brown, Kathleen H. Social Class as an Independent Variable in Family Economics Research. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 1969, 3, 127-136.

Dalke, Otto H. Values in Culture and Classroom. Harper and Brothers, New York, 1958.

Demby, Emanuel H. Over-the-Counter Life StYle. Psychology Today, April, 1972, 75-110.

Engel, James F. Marketing View of Consumer Behavior. Paper presented at American Council on Consumer Interests, 1972.

Foote, Nelson, (Ed.) Household Decision-Making, New York: New York University Press, 1961, p. 26.

Maslow, A. H. Motivation and Personality. Harber & Brother, New York, 1954, 107.

McKinney, John. Constructive Typology and Social Theory. Appleton-Century-Crofts. 1966, 14-18.

Riesman, David & Howard Roseborough. Careers and Consumer Behavior. In Norman Bell and Ezra Voyles, The Family. The Free Press, Glencoe, Ill. 1960.

Schlater, Jean D. Investigating Values Underlying Family Decisions. Research bulletin 23, Agricultural Experiment Station, Michigan State University, 1969.

Unpublished theses. Purdue University, 1971-72.



Flora L. Williams, Purdue University


SV - Proceedings of the Third Annual Conference of the Association for Consumer Research | 1972

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