Cultural Assimilation and Consumer Decision Making

ABSTRACT - This study reports the impact of cultural assimilation on consumer decision making of Muslim families in Windsor, Ontario. This impact is noted by analyzing the effect of the exposure of the Muslim family to North American cultural norms. The results indicate the basic tenets of Gordon's model and Blood and Wolfe's resource theory supported when applied to the cultural assimilation and consumer decision making of Muslim immigrant couples in Windsor, Ontario.


M. R. Haque (1985) ,"Cultural Assimilation and Consumer Decision Making", 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: 219-224.

Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, 1985     Pages 219-224


M. R. Haque, University of Windsor


This study reports the impact of cultural assimilation on consumer decision making of Muslim families in Windsor, Ontario. This impact is noted by analyzing the effect of the exposure of the Muslim family to North American cultural norms. The results indicate the basic tenets of Gordon's model and Blood and Wolfe's resource theory supported when applied to the cultural assimilation and consumer decision making of Muslim immigrant couples in Windsor, Ontario.


The degree of immigrant adaptation to a new culture has long been a topic for scholarly investigation. Researchers have examined such adaptation by looking at a number of behavioral and normative patterns of the immigrants as dependent variables of the overall process of assimilation. Quite often such adaptation has resulted in a change in the conjugal role and power relationships especially with respect to decision-making within the immigrant families.

Of the many racial, religious, and national groups of immigrants to North America, a group that has recently increased in numbers substantially are Muslims from Middle East, North Africa, and some countries of South Asia. Such Muslim immigrants and their descendants, who may better be considered as a religio-ethnic group, are spread over Canada and the U.S.A. and are estimated to number between two and three million. Windsor, Ontario, provides an interesting locale, being literally "between two worlds," to study the impact of immigrant adaptation on family decision-making. This impact may be studied (1) by analyzing the effect on conjugal role and power relationships of the immigrants' exposure to North American mass media (television and magazines), (2) by studying the effect of interaction with North Americans (hypothesized to be holders of equalitarian norms) on family decision-making process, and (3) by studying changes in such familial processes as a result of the immigrants' immersion in the new cultural environment, for example, their length of stay in North America.

The Windsor Detroit area has one of the oldest Muslim communities in North America because of being the center of automobile and other related industries. This has resulted in a sizable population of second and third generation North American Muslims in this part of North America. This also provides an opportunity to study whether succeeding generations of immigrants are more assimilated than the previous ones and whether the degree of assimilation of various generations is also influenced, and if so to what extent, by factors like ecological concentration of the minority community, the degree of religiosity, and the ability to communicate in the dominant language of the larger society.


Ethnicity and the analysis of ethnic groups have long been topics of discussion in both scholarly and popular literature. Terms such as "melting pot" and "cultural mosaic" have been used quite often to describe the ethnically diverse societies of the U.S.A. and Canada respectively. Even in America where study of ethnic groups has had a long tradition of research by sociologists, there seems to be no universal agreement as to what is the ideal form of immigrant adaptation to the larger or host society. Discussion seems to have evolved over the three major ideologies of adaptation or adjustment, that is, "Anglo-Conformity," "Melting Pot," and "Cultural Pluralism."

While Anglo-Conformity has as its goal the desirability of maintaining English institutions, language, and cultural patterns as modified by American experience, the melting pot model has emphasized the emergence of a new and unique culture out of the interaction of so many people of diverse national and ethnic backgrounds. Cultural pluralism, on the other hand, acknowledges and respects the cultural differences of all groups that desire to maintain such differences (Gordon, 1978).

While debate goes on among sociologists as to the relevance of these three models, there still seems to be a deficiency of intensive studies of various ethnic groups in North America. This has been especially true in Canada, where John Porter's concept of "Cultural Mosaic" had traditionally been the overriding ideology shared by large numbers of students of the Canadian society.

In spite of the popularity of the concept of "cultural mosaic," sociologists have until very recently paid little attention to the study of many ethnic groups that make up the ethnically diverse Canadian society. In spite of subscribing to cultural pluralism, it would appear that Canadians have viewed the French Canadians as the country's only major ethnic group worthy of close scrutiny.

As table I indicates, Canada, like the United States and many other societies around the world, has been experiencing a revival of ethnicity, and the more salient feature of this revival of ethnicity has been the increase in the size of nonBritish and non-French ethnic groups as a proportion of the total Canadian population.

Table 2 on ethnic origin of immigrants to Canada, for the period 1900-1965, shows the total number of immigrant arrivals from the world's predominantly Muslim countries and India. It can be safely assumed that a fairly large number of immigrants from these countries, which total 42,974, could be Muslims. Keeping in mind the large influx of immigrants to Canada during the decade 1965-1975, from most of these countries, not covered in this table, and the natural increase through birth, the total number of Muslims in Canada may now be more than 100,000.





With respect to North America in general, Emily K. Lovell, in her study published in 1973, ventured an estimate of one million whereas Ilyas Ba-Yunus, in his article published in 1974, proposed a figure of two to three million which is also supported by Asad Husian (1976). In other words, it seems likely that Muslims in North America number approximately about one percent of the total population.

One of the most significant ways in which the culture of an ethnic group is expressed is through those activities that are identified as family activities. This is because the maintenance of ethnic identification and solidarity ultimately rests on the ability of the family to socialize its members into the ethnic culture and thus channel and control, perhaps also program, future behavior. Consequently, the distinctive family life styles that developed as a result of historical and contemporary social processes tend to reflect the norms and values of the incorporating society. Historically, the family has been a conservative institution and, therefore, has resisted pressures to change its norms and value-systems which have roots in the larger social order of its origin.

Until recently research as far as comparative family studies is concerned was mainly confined to studying families in their native countries and then making comparisons with and/or generalizations about the family structure as it exists in North America. It seems that little has been done to study immigrant families in their new setting in North America (Blood, 1972; Mindel and Habenstein, 1976; Richmond, 1976; Sengstock, 1975) especially from a sociological perspective. The immigrant or ethnic family, therefore, provides an interesting case to study the processes of cultural assimilation. Especially important in this respect will be the role of husband and wife in family purchase decision-making.

An examination of the husband-wife decision-making literature suggests that there has been a slow but pervasive change in the North American cultural norms for interaction in marital relationships. Most writers seem to agree that an equalitarian norm seems to have emerged and gained support. However, there has been little research on the effect the changing norm might have on family interaction. However, in the majority of North American families it would be extremely difficult to identify changes in marital interaction which are attributed to the changing norm in the larger society. An alternative approach to assessing the influence of the equalitarian norm can be obtained by examining marital interaction of recent immigrants to see if there are differences after exposure to the North American norm and ideal of equalitarianism. The present study deals with this issue, that is, cultural assimilation of Muslim immigrants to Canada and its influence on their marital roles in purchase decision-making as consumers of products and services.

Several disciplines have contributed to the development of family decision-making as a research area: sociology, social psychology, social anthropology, consumer psychology, home-economics, economics, marketing, and consumer behavior. One reason for the continued interest by such diverse disciplines in family decision-making is the fact that the social institution of family is perceived as a building block of the entire social structure. As such, from birth until death, most decisions of individuals are anchored to the family. Consequently, family decision-making enjoys a long tradition of research.

Middle East and other areas of North Africa and South Asia would appear to have been and still are societies where historical and religious norms support male-domination in the family. Traditionally, there has been a sharp separation between the roles of men and women, and double standards are quite often applied in work, play and sex. While some modification of the traditional norm of male dominance has appeared to occur with increasing industrialization and urbanization, to a great extent paternal authority remains as it was originally sanctified by Islam, the religion of the majority and in some cases, for example, India, the religion of a large minority (Abdal-Ati, 1977; Ahmad, 1976; De Souza, 1975; Dodd, 1974; el-Daghestani in Lutifyya and Churchill, 1970; Protho and Diab, 1974; Yousseff, 1976).

The Islamic ideal of male-dominance applies to the Muslim families of the above region of the world now settled in North America as a fairly small minority (Barclay, 1976; El-Kholy, 1966; Wasfi, 1971). Thus, it seems likely that this group of Muslim immigrants can provide an excellent opportunity to find out the processes, their nature and operation, that help in the absorption or assimilation of North American cultural norms of equalitarianism in family decision-making. The group of the Muslim immigrant families and their descendants who reside in Windsor, Ontario, Canada is the focus of the present study. The emphasis will be on decisions relating to purchase of products and services and how decision-making role, based on self-reports of who made the decision, relating to these functions of the family can be explained as a consequence of absorption of North American norms of equalitarianism through the process of assimilation.



The following hypotheses were generated for testing in the study:

I. General

Studies of Anthony H. Richmond (1974), Muhammad Siddique (1977), and those of Barclay (1976), El-Kholy (1966), and Wasfi (1971), suggest that some background characteristics such as length of stay in Canada of the Muslim husbands and wives will be related to the couple's more readily accepting norms dealing with a relatively equalitarian relationship in the family leading to more syncratic decision-making. This is because the immigrants' length of stay in the new society is considered as a crucial variable with respect to their assimilation in the new culture. It, therefore, leads to the formulation of the following operational hypothesis:

Operational: (A) Syncratic decision-making will be directly correlated with the length of stay of the Muslim immigrant couples in North America.

II. General

Studies by Anthony H. Richmond (1974), Marie L. Richmond (1976), Muhammad Siddique (1977) on Indian and Pakistani immigrants in Canada, Abdo El-Kholy on Arab Muslims (1966), and those on Lebanese Muslims by Harold Barclay (1976) and Atif Wasfi (1971) suggest that the immigrant family will accept North American norms of equalitarianism in direct proportion to interaction with North Americans and exposure to the North American mass media. Further, practically all the literature on assimilation suggests that relationship and interaction with members of the host society, particularly at the primary group level is the key variable in the assimilation of immigrants. As the mass media=s of television and magazines also carry the themes characteristic of their culture and society, it is expected that a greater exposure to these two variables will result in the acquisition by the immigrants of the new normative and behavior patterns. The following operational hypotheses measure these influences on the Muslim immigrant couples' purchase decision-making:

Operational: (A) Decision-making of the family will tend to be more syncratic as the family has primary group relationships with Canadians and other North Americans. (B) The degree of syncratic decision-making among Muslim immigrant couples will be directly correlated to the degree of exposure to the Canadian and other North American mass media of television and magazines.


Using a cross-sectional survey design, the researcher sampled the Muslim immigrant population of Windsor, Ontario and interviewed 90 married couples.

The nature of the population made the interview seem the most appropriate data collected method. A panel study would have yielded valuable comparative data, but time and financial limitations ruled out this approach. A mail questionnaire would have been cheaper and probably taken less time, but the possibility of low motivation and a high rate of non-returns reduced the desirability of this type of instrument. In addition, it was felt that by using the interview method, the Arabic and Urdu (language of Pakistani and Indian Muslims) interpreters would serve as a means by which rapport could be established with respondents in order to obtain the most information. It was further felt that bilingual Arabic and Urdu interpreters could clarify any ambiguities in the questionnaire, and that an interview would yield the largest amount of substantive information.

The interviews were conducted with the assistance of a number of Arab and Pakistani men and women who were all Muslim immigrants themselves or descendants of Muslim immigrants. They ranged between 20 and 35 years of age, most being students.

As most of the variables are ordinal in nature, non-parametric statistics such as Chi2,t, and two tail tests of significance have primarily been used. When variables were interval in nature, or could be so ordered to acquire interval characteristics, the Pearson product moment correlation has been used in order to facilitate analysis.

In all the analysis, there has been an awareness of the problems of the limited sample size, and an attempt has been made to combine categories where possible so that correlations are based on a sufficient number of cases in each cell.


An examination of the set of hypotheses will reveal that the immigrant's length of stay in Canada, their contact with Canadians and other North Americans, their primary group relationships with Canadians and other North Americans, and the degree of their exposure to mass media (television and magazines) are all treated as independent variables. In other words the purpose of this study is to examine the influence of these variables as agents of assimilation on the familial processes of decision-making by hypothesizing that these processes will acquire an equalitarian dimension as a consequence of the influence of the agents of assimilation.

All hypotheses deal with the processes of purchase decision-making and proposes that syncratic decision-making by Muslim immigrants will be a function of their length of stay in Canada, primary group relationship with Canadians and other North Americans, and exposure to mass media of television and magazines. Table 3 includes the various statistics correlating these variables and a few demographic variables with the purchase decision-making process. As the table shows, none of the correlations are of even modest strength except those with respect to the decision-making in the respondent's country of origin for both the subsamples of husbands and wives (also statistically significant) and their ability in English. The wives' subsample also shows a moderate-to-high positive relationship between purchase decision-making and the number of Canadian and other North American friends. The Chi Square for these relationships is significant at the .00 and .02 levels respectively.



.The first operational hypothesis assumes that syncratic decision-making will have a direct relationship with the respondent's length of stay in Canada. Both Tau B and Gamma measures of association show a poor relationship between these variables in the two subsamples of husbands and wives. The fluency in English does not appear to play any significant role here because when the relationship was controlled by ability in English it does not show any appreciable change. When controlled by occupation some increase was observed in the relationship, but mainly in the wives subsample. The finding is in agreement with the resource theory where the wife's employment contributes to her power in family decision-making. In controlling the original relationship by education, again the husbands' subsample shows a significant increase as one moves from primary to university and post-university levels of education. The same results were obtained when the original relationship was con-rolled by income, that is, a significant increase in the decision-making power of the wives as their monetary contribution to the family increases. As was expected, the original relationship between syncratic decision-making and length of stay in Canada did not improve when controlled by ideology because the presence of equalitarian ideology is poorly related to length of stay in Canada. When the original relationship was controlled by national origin, it acquired a moderate relationship in the wives' subsample. This further confirms the presence of syncratic decision-making by Europeans and North Americans because most of them happen to be wives of Muslim immigrants.

The second operational hypothesis dealt with syncratic decision-making as a function of primary group relationships with Canadians and other North Americans. While the relationship between these two variables is very low for the husbands' subsample, it does approach a moderate level for the wives' subsample with a Gamma of 45. One would expect that respondents at higher-level occupations would interact more with Canadians and other North Americans. The original relationship when controlled by occupation shows a distinct improvement for the subsample of wives. When controlled by education the same improvement was observed. The values of the relationship in both cases acquired their highest Gamma in the wives' subsample.

In line with the assumptions of resource theory when controlled by income a significant increase was observed in the original relationship with Canadians and other North Americans within the subsample of wives. Ability in English and national origin also play a similar role because when controlled by these variables, the wives' subsamples show an appreciable increase in the relationship between the two original variables.

In view of the fact that primary group relationships with Canadians and other North Americans may not be by itself a sufficient measure of interaction, the correlation between this variable and purchase decision-making was also controlled by the frequency of interaction. It was found that the correlation between the two original variables became inverse as the frequency of interaction decreased from frequently to infrequently. On the other hand it can be expected that as the respondents' frequency of interaction with members of their own ethnic group increases, there will be a decline in the syncratic decision-making pattern. This was, however, not the case when decision-making was correlated for primary group relationships with members of the respondent's own ethnic origin and also when this relationship was controlled with the duration of such friendship.

Similar improvement in correlation between syncratic decision-making and primary group relationships with Canadians and other North Americans was observed, however, in the wives' subsample only, controlled by ideology. It was found that the original relationship assumes a moderate to high level when the respondents possess an equalitarian ideology. It, therefore, appears that primary group relationship with Canadians and other North Americans do not by itself influence the decision-making process. It's influence is rather indirect, that is, it first influences the family ideology that eventually results in a more syncratic decision-making process for wives.

The third operational hypothesis assumes a relationship between syncratic decision-making and exposure to mass media of television and magazines. The exposure to magazines has been found to be of no value in explaining decision-making. The only instance where the relationship between these two variables acquire a somewhat predicted direction is with respect to wives' subsample. Controlling by income makes the original relationship acquire the highest Gamma value in the husbands' subsample, whereas controlling by ideology and ability in English makes the original relationship moderately positive in the wives' subsample. Furthermore, when controlled by number of North American personal friends, the original relationship also seems to acquire a high positive dimension in both the subsamples.

The initial relationship between exposure to television and decision-making is also not in the predicted direction within both the subsamples of husbands and wives. The same results were obtained, but for the wives' subsample only when controlled by education and number of Canadian and other North American friends. As has already been stated, these variables act as resources for the wives and as they happen to have higher education and also interact more with Canadians and other North Americans, it results in a greater syncratic decision-making process.

To sum up, the results gained from analyzing the sample data especially for wife respondents seem to indicate gains in decision-making power for the wife when her resources are high in the areas of occupation and income. It had been expected that some of the husband's resources might influence the decision-making power of the wife, especially education. However, none of the resources of the husband correlated positively with decision-making except ability in English. Thus it might be concluded that none of the independent variables has any direct effect on decision-making. On the other hand their effect is observed only through the intervening variables of occupation, income, education, national origin and wives' ability in English. These findings tend to support the assumptions of resource theory as formulated initially by Blood and Wolfe (1960).

It seems that both husbands and wives tend to differ little in their perceptions of their relative power in purchase decision-making. Furthermore, as shown in table 4, both spouses concede that their roles and that of their husband/wife is actually product-related; of the eight products and services used in this study, decision-making for cars and television sets is clearly husband-dominant, with a moderate degree of equalitarian patte rn, whereas groceries are the only area where wives play a dominant role, with a moderate amount of equalitarian decision-making involved as well. The remaining five products and services, that is, home buying or rental, entertainment and vacations clearly show the prevalence of syncratic decision-making and husband-dominance whereas those of home furnishings and major kitchen appliances, while involving syncratic decision-making exhibit a substantial influence by wives. It therefore appears that the decision-making patterns of both of the subsamples reflect the traditional sex-role differentiation between men and women. The husband seems to have greater power in matters that tend to be inside the home; the only exception to this rule involves decisions relating to television sets. However, the overall purchase decision-making pattern does reveal a greater degree of syncratism in the sense that out of eight products and services, five clearly involve syncratic decision-making rather than being husband-dominant or wife-dominant.




It is concluded that the lack of any powerful relationship between the variables and the absence of their statistical significance is because of the unique nature of the sample with respect to its lack of assimilation in the North American culture and the relevance of resource theory in explaining their behavior. Furthermore, the assumed agents of assimilation, that is, length of stay in Canada, primary group relationship with Canadians and other North Americans, and the exposure to television and magazines, as hypothesized in this study, have failed to explain in comparison to resource theory, the familial processes of purchase decision-making.


Abd al Ati, Hammudah (1977), The Family Structure in Islam, American Trust Publications.

Ahmad, Imtiaz ed., (1976), Family, Kinship and Marriage Among Muslims in India, New Delhi: Manohar Book Service.

Ba-Yunus, Ilyas (1974), "Muslims in North America: Problems and Prospects," Al-Ittihad, Vol. 11, No. 4, (Summer), pp. 340-347.

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Lutfiyya, A. M. and Charles W. Churchill, eds. (1970), Readings in Arab Middle Eastern Societies and Culture' Paris: Mouton.

Mindel, Charles H. and Robert W. Habenstein, eds. (1976), Ethnic Families in America: Patterns and Variations, New York: Elsevier.

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Richmond, Marie L. (1976), "Beyond Resource Theory: Another Look at Factors Enabling Women to Affect Family Inter-action," Journal of Marriage and the Family, (May), pp. 257-266.

Sengstock, Mary C. (1975), "Kinship in a Roman Catholic Ethnic Group," Ethnicity, (Vol. 2), pp. 134-152.

Siddique, Muhammad (1977), "Changing Family Patterns: A Comparative Analysis of Immigrant Indian and Pakistani Families of Saskatoon, Canada," Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Vol. VIII , No. 2, (Summer), pp. 179-200.

Wasfi, Atif A. (1971), An Islamic-Lebanese Community in U.S.A., Beirut: Beirut Arab University.

Youssef, Nadia H. (1976), "Women in the Muslim World," in Lynne B. Iglitzin and Ruth Ross (eds.), Women in the World: A Comparative Study, Santa Barbara: Clio Books.



M. R. Haque, University of Windsor


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

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