Consumer Research in Norway: a Historical Perspective

ABSTRACT - In order to characterize consumer research conducted in Norway, an explicit perspective is developed to ease comparisons with such research in general. By applying a rather broad definition of consumer research it is noted that a considerable amount of work has been done, mainly by researchers outside the marketing discipline.


Kjell Gronhaug and Sigmund Gronmo (1985) ,"Consumer Research in Norway: a Historical Perspective", in SV - Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, eds. Jagdish N. Sheth and Chin Tiong Tan, Singapore : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 168-172.

Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, 1985     Pages 168-172


Kjell Gronhaug, The Norwegian School of Economics and Business Adm.

Sigmund Gronmo, University of Oslo, and Norwegian Fund for Market and Distribution Research


In order to characterize consumer research conducted in Norway, an explicit perspective is developed to ease comparisons with such research in general. By applying a rather broad definition of consumer research it is noted that a considerable amount of work has been done, mainly by researchers outside the marketing discipline.


Consumption has been an integral part of human life as long as man has been on earth. Research on behavior associated with human consumption is, however, of rather new origin. Nicosia & Mayer (1976) assert that consumer research - "as we know it today - was born" in the mid-fifties (p. 65). As will be seen from the following, however, choice of disciplines and research activities to include in the research field will also impact the- time span of consumer research activities.

The purpose of the present paper is to characterize Norwegian consumer research in a historical perspective. Stouffer (1950) once noted that all research is comparative. Thus in order to fulfill our task, we have to choose characteristics which enable us (and the readers) to make comparisons. The choice of characteristics or concepts will determine the aspects emphasized in any description and thus impact the basis for comparisons.

Point of departure

The key words in the title, i.e. "consumer behavior", "research", "historical" and "Norwegian" may serve as a useful point of departure for our choice of characteristics and the description to follow. In order to proceed a few clarifying comments need to be added:

(1) Consumer behavior subsumes a set of activities, such as buying, using, and disposing (Nicosia & Mayer 1976). Present research on consumer behavior has primarily emphasized activities related to buying, e.g. problem recognition, information search, attitudes towards and evaluations of alternatives (brands). See Arndt (1976) and Sheth (1979) for overviews. in our view this represents a rather limited subset of the field. Aspects such as the outcomes of buying processes, consumption patterns, the impact of various resources, and the impact of regulatory agencies on consumption activities should also be included.

(2) Research may be conceived as production of knowledge. The training of the researchers, their resources, the problems they are confronted with, and the knowledge production system in which they (the researchers) are embedded, including rules, procedures and paradigms, may definitely impact their research output.

(3) Historical implies that the time dimension has to be taken into account in a reconstruction of the past. In order to conduct historical research specific events have to be identified and described, and explanations regarding the relationships between, consequences of - and sometimes causes to - the various events have to be produced. [For historical research related to marketing topics, see Savitt (1980).]

(4) Norwegian represents the national context. Due to factors such as economic organization, political values and dominant interests this context may impact the knowledge production system as well as the research problems focused on.


Based on the above discussion, we will propose the perspective illustrated in Figure 1 to guide our presentation.



Figure 1 is to be read in the following way: Basic conditions include a variety of factors such as economic conditions, political system, interest groups and predominant values, which may impact resources allocated as well as research problems emphasized.

The research society consists of the researchers and can be characterized by basic training, institutional arrangements, values, problems and perspectives, as well as outside influences.

Research is produced to be used. Users may impact the research conducted by funding projects according to their specific interests. From American consumer research it is known that marketing interests have been a predominant force heavily influencing the problems addressed and perspectives chosen (cf. Arndt 1976). As will be seen from the following, the marketing interests have been less dominant here.

Research conducted at one point in time may add to the bulk of knowledge and may impact future research, thus the stripled feed-back arrows.


It is not our intention to give a detailed description of the basic conditions which may have influenced consumer research conducted in Norway till now. However, the following pieces of information may be useful to understand the specifics of the research conducted.

Measured in terms of population Norway is a small country with its four millions inhabitants scattered over a relatively large area.

For centuries farming and fishing were the dominant ways of living. The living conditions were very modest - also reflected in the stream of emigrants to the US, the land of honey and opportunities. The country was occupied during the second World War, causing scarcity of consumer products.

Today the country is fairly affluent, characterized by high average incomes and relatively high equality in distribution of income and weal~h. It is media poor (no commercial TV or radio stations), dominated by small businesses. It is a highly regulated welfare society, ethnically and culturally homogenous. Compared to the US, the government plays a more dominant role in economic life. The fraction of governmental run companies is higher, as is the fraction of governmental initiated and funded research, which also have attributed to macro oriented studies (cf. Arndt 1981).

The research problems focused on, the impact of research users and specifics of the research society will be dealt with below.


Consumer research in Norway may be traced back to the 1850's, to the pioneering studies performed by Eilert Sundt ( 18 17-1875) . Although educated as a theologian, Sundt developed a great interest in empirical studies of everyday life, living conditions and the state of morality among various groups in Norway. In general, the studies were based on combinations of informal interviewing, observation and statistical data. Most of the data were collected by Sundt himself, who traveled around in the country for several years, mainly on foot (Vogt, 1968).

Sundt's discussion of consumer behavior is found especially in the reports from three community studies. The field work of these studies was carried out in 1851, 1855 and 1856, and the reports were published 1858 and 1859. The major purpose of all three studies was to examine the daily life and the living conditions of the working class. One of these community studies was performed in a working class area in the capital of Norway (Sundt, 1858). In this area interview data were collected from all families with children of school age.

The parents in these 294 families were interviewed by a student according to a questionnaire constructed by Sundt. The study covered a number of consumer behavior aspects, particularly concerning housing conditions, such as type, standard and cost of the dwelling, number of rooms, number of persons per room, and availability of kitchen. In the other two community studies data were collected by Sundt himself. He carried out field research during a period of 1-2 months in each community. In addition to informal interviews and observation he made use of data based on various kinds of registers, archives, documents and statistical sources.

In this period also research conducted by historians were directed towards people's living conditions as well as certain aspects of their consumption activities (cf. Broch 1876). Other research activities from this period that should be noted is a variety of statistical analyses emphasizing living conditions and consumption patterns. The Central Bureau of Statistics of Norway, established in 1876 [Systematic statistical registration were also conducted several decades before the establishment of this institution.] has played a very important role in gathering data about living conditions including specific aspects of consumption patterns. A couple of things are noteworthy in this context. First, researchers associated with this institution have contributed to considerable insights as well as to methodological progresses - also noticed abroad. The early contribution of Kiaer (1876) to the development of representative sampling methods is one example (Statistisk Sentralbyra 1976). Based on the "new" methodology a variety of studies conducted by political economists and statisticians were directed towards consumption activities such as eating habits (Helland 1896), housing (Holst 1895), and consumption of alcoholic beverages (Statistisk Sentralbyra 1976). Studies based on household diaries were conducted in 1912/13 (Kristiania kommunes statistiske kontor 1915).

Political economists and statisticians contributed the most to consumer research, at least until the 1960's. Solely the outcomes of consumer decisions were emphasized in this research. This was related, however, to various sociodemographic variables. The research was used as input to improve the living conditions for the inhabitants.

Consumer research with a home economic perspective also has long traditions in this country. The main institute of such research, SIFO (the Governmental institute of consumer research), was established in 1939.

In the early fifties - after the recovery of the second World War, consumers' interests got renewed attention. Forbrukerradet (the Consumer agency) was established in this period (1953), mainly to protect and to increase consumers' influence in the marketplace.

The first marketing research agency, Fakta was established in 1944. In the late forties and early fifties marketing research focusing on the behavior of consumers was conducted, not least due to the pioneering contributions of Holbaek Hansen (1949) (Gronhaug 1982). It should he noted, however, that governmental agencies were the prime customers of such research.

At the Norwegian Fund for Market and Distribution Research, established in 1971, certain aspects of consumer behavior such as consumer problems, consumer participation in the market system, complaint behavior, and impact of consumer policy, have been subject to a considerable amount of research (see Gronmo 1983, 1984 for overview). Since the late sixties a considerable amount of consumer research has also been conducted at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration, heavily influenced, however, by the present American research tradition, emphasizing such aspects as decision-making, perceived risk and evoked set formation.


When looking back we find that most of the previous Norwegian consumer research has been directed towards the outcomes of consumer decision processes. Moreover, the final choices have been related to various sociodemographics. In other words, consumer choices have been regarded as ''determined" by various antecedents, such as economic resources and education, clearly influenced by-underlying political motives to increase consumer welfare and reduce inequalities among consumers.

Moreover, the focus has been on the group or specific social classes in most of the previous research, contrary to the focus on the individual consumer as reflected in American research. In addition, consumption has been viewed as an integral part of life in much of the research conducted, requiring resources, skills - and sometimes governmental interventions to be performed in a satisfactory way (FAD 1981).

The consumer

The predominant unit of observation and analysis in contemporary American consumer research is the individual. In most research conducted in Norway the prime unit of observation has been the household or nuclear family. (Still the nuclear family, often coinciding with the household, is the predominant way of living, even though changes are taking place as in other Western countries.) Moreover, the focus of analysis has often been the social class or a specific consumer segment.

In addition various types of institutions, such as hospitals, schools, ships and prisons have been investigated with emphasis on specific aspects of consumption, such as nutrition.

Products and services

A large fraction of American consumer research has been directed towards choice of brands from private suppliers (producers). The focus for most of the Norwegian consumer research has been on the product group and basic budget allocations. Moreover, public products and services are getting increasingly more attention, not least to make public bureaucracies more responsive to consumers' needs and wants.


The impact of psychologists or consumer psychologists is predominant in contemporary American consumer research. The situation is quite different in this country. The impact of political economists on previous research has been noted above. From 1960 several contributions has been delivered from other social scientists - in particular sociologists and partly from researchers with a public administration background (cf. Holter 1963; As 1966). This specific impact may partly be associated with the Marshall aid program - which besides money included extended visits from some of the finest American social scientists in the fifties. Till now, the fraction of researchers with a psychology background involved in consumer research has been very low compared with the situation in the US (cf. Gronhaug 1985). A few researchers with a business administration background and a more American like research profile, have however, been actively involved in consumer research during the last two decades.

External influences

As noted at the outset of this paper, Norway is a small country as measured in population size. Moreover, it is an open country, very dependent on exchanges and interactions with other countries. Before the second World War the main intellectual influences came from Central Europe - in particular from Germany and England, but also from other European countries. After the war, this has changed. The American influence has increased dramatically. However, this influence is not equally distributed across disciplines and research institutions. Very much of previous consumer research is definitely influenced by European traditions and perspectives. The Scandinavian/European tradition reflected in present research conducted by sociologists could furthermore be explained by the neglect of sociological perspectives in most of the contemporary American consumer research (cf. Zaltman & Wallendorf 1977). For research with a business administration background, the American influence however, is notable.

Interests involved

In American consumer research the influences of private business interests are predominant. Till now private business only to a modest extent has impacted consumer research in Norway. It is, however, not difficult to foresee that this may change in the years to come. As noted previously, the Governmert has been a prime funder of consumer research, which of course has exerted influence on the problems focused on (cf. Figure 1). Main users of the research conducted are governmental agencies and committees, consumer agencies, various organizations, educational institutions, mass media - and to some extent private firms.

Research methodology

Research methods and training vary across disciplines. The predominance of economists, statisticians and social scientists (sociologists) in Norwegian consumer research has also influenced the choice of research methodology. A large fraction of the research conducted is based on large samples. Personal interviews have been used extensively as data gathering device, but household diaries have also been applied. Simple crosstabulations and ordinary econometric methods (regression) have been the main data-analyzing procedures applied. The measurement problems have been devoted modest attention, and most research has been based on single-indicator measures. Experimental studies are very rare.

Research organization

Consumer research is primarily conducted in small, governmental supported institutes and/or by single persons in academia. To be more specific: Home economic studies are conducted by SIFO (the Governmental Institute of Consumer Research). The Norwegian Fund for Market and Distribution, established in 1971, has a small group of researchers, mainly sociologists, who are working with problems related to time and consumer behavior, consumption and welfare, the impact of consumer policy, consumption and lifestyle, etc.

Besides gathering data, the Central Bureau of Statistics of Norway has conducted several studies on consumer expenditures and consumption patterns.

Academic consumer research has mainly been conducted by faculty members/research associates at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration, in most cases as a part-time activity 'In addition to teaching obligations. In addition, faculty members/research associates, e.g. social scientists including economists as well as medical doctors, and nutrition experts - from the universities (Oslo and Bergen) have conducted research related to consumption and consumer problems.


The description and analysis presented above reveal that a considerable bulk of consumer research has been conducted in Norway. Compared to American consumer research, some very interesting differences appear:

- A large fraction of the research has been conducted by researchers from other disciplines than marketing.

- The research has to a large extent been macrooriented.

- The prime research use purpose has to some extent been to plan and implement policies to improve the living condition for the consumers, as well as improve the consumers' strategic position in the marketplace.

- Governmental agencies have been prime funders and users of consumer research, while the business interests till now only to a modest extent are reflected in Norwegian consumer research.

- Psychologists and consumer psychologists are rare in past Norwegian consumer research, while the impact of economists, statisticians, sociologists as well as researchers with their background in medicine and nutrition - and even engineering is noteworthy. The last decades the impact of researchers with a business administration background, strongly influenced by contemporary American research traditions have had an increasing impact on the research activities conducted.


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Kjell Gronhaug, The Norwegian School of Economics and Business Adm.
Sigmund Gronmo, University of Oslo, and Norwegian Fund for Market and Distribution Research


SV - Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives | 1985

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