Consumer Socialization: an Empirical Investigation Into Singapore Adolescents

ABSTRACT - In this study, the influence of three socialization agents, namely family, peers, and mass media, on the acquisition of certain consumer behaviour skills, attitudes and knowledge was examined. The variables, on which socialization agents' impacts were examined, were social and economic motivations for consumption, consumer activism, independence in decision-making, and knowledge relating to consumer affairs, brands, stores, products and prices. The study was carried out in three secondary schools, where 359 adolescents in the age group of 13 to 18 responded to a simple self administered questionnaire. It was found that level of family communications on consumption related matters significantly influenced the development of economic motivations for consumption in the adolescents. The adolescents also learnt to stand up for their rights as consumers from the family. On the peer group, the study found that the adolescents learnt the social motivations for consumption mainly from their peers. The peer group also imparted valuable knowledge to the adolescents about the goods and services in the market place. The research also supported the contention that expressive elements of consumption are significantly influenced by mass media exposure. However, there were important differences in the roles different mass media, namely TV, radio and newspapers played in the consumer socialization process of the adolescents.



Citation:

Subhash C Mehta and Jennifer Lee Lai Keng (1985) ,"Consumer Socialization: an Empirical Investigation Into Singapore Adolescents", 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: 320-325.

Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, 1985     Pages 320-325

CONSUMER SOCIALIZATION: AN EMPIRICAL INVESTIGATION INTO SINGAPORE ADOLESCENTS

Subhash C Mehta, National University of Singapore

Jennifer Lee Lai Keng, National University of Singapore

ABSTRACT -

In this study, the influence of three socialization agents, namely family, peers, and mass media, on the acquisition of certain consumer behaviour skills, attitudes and knowledge was examined. The variables, on which socialization agents' impacts were examined, were social and economic motivations for consumption, consumer activism, independence in decision-making, and knowledge relating to consumer affairs, brands, stores, products and prices. The study was carried out in three secondary schools, where 359 adolescents in the age group of 13 to 18 responded to a simple self administered questionnaire. It was found that level of family communications on consumption related matters significantly influenced the development of economic motivations for consumption in the adolescents. The adolescents also learnt to stand up for their rights as consumers from the family. On the peer group, the study found that the adolescents learnt the social motivations for consumption mainly from their peers. The peer group also imparted valuable knowledge to the adolescents about the goods and services in the market place. The research also supported the contention that expressive elements of consumption are significantly influenced by mass media exposure. However, there were important differences in the roles different mass media, namely TV, radio and newspapers played in the consumer socialization process of the adolescents.

INTRODUCTION

Socialization refers to processes by which individuals learn to participate effectively in the social environment. Brim (1966) defined it as ''the process by which individuals acquire the knowledge, skills and dispositions that enable them to participate as more or less effective members of groups and the society." In this study , the focus is only on a limited aspect of socialization, namely consumer socialization, which can he defined as the process by which young people learn the skills, knowledge and attitudes relevant to their effective functioning as consumers. Specifically, the study examines the influence of three major socialization agents, namely family, peers, and mass, media on the acquisition of certain consumer behaviour skills, attitudes and knowledge of the adolescent consumers. The dependent variables chosen for investigation of the impacts of these three sources were social and economic motivation for consumption, consumer activism, adolescents' independence in decision making and their knowledge of consumer affairs, products, brands, stores and prices. the study was carried out in three schools of Singapore where 359 adolescents in the age group of 13 to 18 responded to a simple self-administered questionnaire.

HYPOTHESES

The study set out to provide a test of the following five specific hypotheses

Hypothesis I

There is a positive relationship between the level of intra-family communications with the adolescents and the degree to which the adolescents hold economic motivations for consumption.

As an agent of socialization, the family plays a significant role in the acquisition of consumer skills by the children. Early sociologists had often contended that young consumers learnt basic 'rational' or 'goal oriented' aspects of consumption from their parents (Parsons et.al. 1953; Riesman and Roseborough 1955). A number of recent studies have supported this contention. It has been shown that parent-child communications about consumption predict fairly well the child's knowledge of prices of products (Moore and Stephens 1975). Similarly, Ward and Wachman (1973) argued that parental 'general goals' often included teaching their children about price-quality relationships. Also, Moschis and Churchill (1979) found a significant link between family communications about consumption and the extent to which adolescents hold economic motivations for consumption. The present study, thus , attempts a confirmation of the same hypothesis in a different cultural setting.

Hypothesis 2

There is a negative relationship between the level of intra-family communication about consumption and the adolescents' degree of independence in buying decisions.

This is an exploratory hypothesis based on the belief that in the absence of adequate communications within the family about consumption related matters, the adolescents would be given greater independence in decision-making and would have to find their own ways in making purchase decisions.

Hypotheses 3 and 4

H3: The more the adolescents communicate with their peers about consumption matters, the higher will be their social motivations for consumption.

H4: The more mass media exposure the adolescents have, the greater will be the degree to which adolescents hold social motivations for consumption.

Sociologists Riesman and Roseborough (1955) pointed out that children primarily learnt consumption 'necessities' from their parents but 'affective' consumption from their peers. In a similar vein, Parsons et.al. (1953) suggested that children learnt 'rational' aspects of consumption from their parents but 'expressive' elements from peers and mass media. Similarly Bandura (1971) argued that children learn through observation and limitation of television advertising how to attach social meaning to material goods. Moschis and Churchill (1979) also came to the same conclusion that television and peers taught young people the 'expressive' elements of consumption. Hypotheses 3 and 4 were, thus, in line with these earlier findings and were included to test their validity in the Singapore context.

Hypothesis 5

There is a positive relationship between the overall socialization of the adolescent consumers and their (a) consumer activism (b) consumer affairs knowledge (c) market knowledge (Brands, Products, Stores and Prices).

The overall consumer socialization of the adolescent encompasses his total interactions with family, peers and mass media. It is natural that greater these interactions, the more informed the adolescent should become on consumer affairs and consumption matters. He may also be more inclined to ensure that he gets full 'value' from his purchases and thus be more 'active' as consumer. While the basic contention of this hypothesis is simple, the relative contribution of socialization sources is speculative and the study attempts to provide empirical evidence in that direction.

METHODOLOGY

Sample Profile

The sample for the study consisted of 359 adolescents between the age group of 13 to 18, drawn from three English medium secondary schools in Singapore. 61.3% of the adolescents were in the age group of 13 to 15, the remaining being from 16 to 18 age group. 60% of the sample was female, making the males somewhat under-represented. The sample consisted of primarily Chinese children who formed 85% of the total. The rest was Indians, Malays and from 'other' races. 20% of the sample was from families where principal wage earners had monthly incomes up to S$1000. The income level of principal earners for 39% of the sample was between S$1000-2000, and for another 41% above S$2000. 45% of the sample had working mothers. The adolescents were divided into three social classes based on a composite variable formed from income, education and occupation of the principal wage earner in the family, giving equal weights to the three variables. 38% of the respondents were classified into the lowest social class group, 36','. into middle group and 26% into upper social class group.

Variable Operationalization and Basic Data 1 & 2

[The paper presents only a few items as illustrative examples. Complete version can be obtained from the authors on request.]

[The difference between means were tested at P <.01 for all the variables reported here.]

To meet the objectives of the study, a number of variables required operationalization. Measurement procedures had to keep in mind the characteristics of the respondents, many of them being in their early teens. Items had to be simple, relevant and interesting. The length of the questionnaire had also to be within the limited attention span of the children. The measurement procedures of the various variables are discussed below.

Family Communications

The extent of adolescents' communications with the family members on consumption related matters was measured by 11 items, each measured on a 5-point never/very regularly scale. A few of these items were:

1. I help my parents buy things for the family.

2. My parents tell me what I should look for in different products.

3. My parents and I talk about things we see or hear advertised.

4. Whenever a major buying decision is being made in our family, I am involved in the decision.

The correlations of these eleven individual items with the composite score ranged from .42 to .69, all of them being highly significant (P < .01). Overall mean of family communication measure, for the entire sample, was 27.31 (standard deviation of 5.9) on a scale of 11 to 55. The overall level of family communication can be termed as 'average'

The level of family communication with adolescents was significantly but negatively correlated with age and positively correlated with social class of the family. Analysis of variance indicated that higher social classes (28.45) had significantly more family communications than lower social classes (26.22). Also mean of females (28.09) was significantly higher than males (26.02).

Peer Communications

Adolescents level of communications with peers was measured by 7 items on a 5-point never/very regularly scale. Some of these items were:

1. My friends and I talk about the things we see or hear advertised.

2. 1 ask my friends for advice about buying things.

3. When I see a friend with something new, I try to gather information from him about the new product.

The correlations of these 7 items with the composite ranged from .62 to .80. The overall mean score on peer communications was 18.03 (standard deviation 4.8) on a scale of 7 to 35. Analysis of variance indicated that there was a positive association of peer communication with age and social class. There was, however, no difference between the means of males and females on this variable.

Media

Interactions with media were measured separately tor television, radio and newspaper by asking the respondents average number of hours per week spent on each of these media, when -the school term was on. Overall mean of T\/ viewing was 13.68 hours per week with a high standard deviation of 8.2. Average time spent on TV viewing went down significantly With age. There was, however, no difference between means of males and females or that of different social classes.

Average time spent on radio was 4.35 hours per week, radio listening significantly increasing with age. Differences between males and females or among social classes were not significant.

Of all media types, time spent on newspapers by the adolescents was the least, averaging 3.46 hours per week (standard deviation 1.01). Newspaper reading went up with age. Males (3.75 hours) spent significantly more time than females (3.25) on newspapers. Social class association was negative, upper classes spending significantly lesser time (3.33) on newspapers than lower classes (3.67).

Economic Motivation For Consumption

Tn all 7 items, measured on a ~-point disagree/agree scale, were used to get a score for adolescents' economic motivation for consumption. Some of these items were:

1. I don't mind paying more for the sake of convenience (Reversed).

2. I prefer to buy products which are on special offer.

3. I would not buy things in expensive stores if same goods are cheaper in other stores.

The correlations of these 7 items With the composite ranged from .40 to .50. The overall means score was 21.79 (standard deviation 2.6) on a scale of 7 to 35. There were no significant differences in the means of different age, sex or social class groups.

Social Motivation For Consumption

In all, 6 items were used to measure this variable. A few examples of these items, measured on a 5-point scale were:

1. 1 buy many things with the hope that they will impress other people.

2 1 think others judge me as a person by the kinds of products and brands I use.

3. When I choose my clothes, I look at the style rather than the materials with which they are made.

The correlations of these 6 items with the composite ranged from .46 to .62. The overall mean was 11.34 (standard deviation 2.8) on a scale of 6 to 30. The scores on the social motivation of the adolescents were, thus , much lower than their economic motivation. Higher social class (11.95) showed significantly greater social motivation for consumption than lower social class (10.59). Differences between males and females or age groups were not significant.

Consumer Activism

Consumer activisim of the adolescents was measured by 7 items using a 5-point disagree/agree scale. A few illustrative items were:

1. When I buy a product that turns out to be defective, I can get my money back.

2. I carefully read most of the things they write on packages/labels.

3. When I discover that I have been cheated by a store, I try to forget the incident since nothing can be done about it (Reversed).

The correlations of these 7 items with the composite ranged from .44 to .58. Overall mean was 24.69 (standard deviation 3.4) on a scale of 7 to 3-5. Singapore adolescents, thus, scored quite well on consumer activism. There were significant differences between the males (25.26) and the females (24.22), males showing higher activism. Differences between different age or social class groups were not significant.

Independence in Decision-Making

This variable was also measured by 7 items on a 5-point disagree/agree scale. Examples of these items were:

1. I ask my parents to help me choose what I buy (Reversed).

2. I usually go shopping for things I need on my own.

3.My parents don't interfere with the kinds of things I buy.

Correlations of the items with the composite score ranged from .38 to .61. Overall mean was 20.42 (standard deviation 3.3) on a scale of 7 to 35. Age was positively associated with independence in decision-making, while social class was inversely related. Differences between males and females were not significant.

Consumer Affairs Knowledge

In all 13 items with true/false/don't know response categories were used to measure consumer affairs knowledge of the adolescents. Some of these items were:

1. In order to have an ATM card of a bank, we must maintain an account with the bank.

2. CASE stands for Consumer Association of Singapore.

3. When a person dies, his property is taken over by the government.

Overall mean on consumer affairs knowledge was 8.05 (standard deviation 2.2) where maximum possible score was 13. Age was positively associated with consumer affairs knowledge. Differences between males and females or social class groups were not significant.

Market Knowledge

To measure market knowledge, questions were asked of the adolescents on brands, products, stores and prices. All questions were measured on true/false/don't know categories. Singapore context and relevance to the adolescents were critical criteria used in the choice of items. On price knowledge, only items having one fixed price (postage stamp for Malaysia, petrol price for premium grade per litre) were included.

Brand knowledge had a possible score of 0 to 9. The overall mean was 5.19 (standard deviation 1.8). Age was positively associated with brand knowledge. Also females scored significantly higher (5.34) than males (4.94). There was no difference on brand knowledge between social classes.

Store knowledge had 13 items giving a possible score range of 0 to 13. The overall average was 8.74 (standard deviation 2.2). Age was positively associated with store knowledge. Females once again showed higher store knowledge (9.07) compared to males (8.17). There was no difference between social classes on store knowledge.

Product knowledge scores had a possible range of 0 to 8 and overall mean was 5.31 (standard deviation 1.6). Both age and social class were positively associated with product knowledge. Also males scored significantly higher (5.68) compared to females (5.07).

Price knowledge score had a possible range of 0 to 7. Overall mean came to 4.24 (standard deviation 1.3). Age was positively associated with price knowledge. However, differences between social classes and sex were not significant.

Overall market knowledge was computed from its four components of brand, product, store and price knowledge. Possible scores on overall market knowledge ranged from 0 to 37. Overall mean was 23.55 (standard deviation 4.88). Mean on overall market knowledge varied positively with age, 13-14 group scoring 21.97 while 17-18 group scored 25.97. Social class effect was also significant with lower group obtaining 22.68 and upper social class group averaging 24.42. Difference in the overall market knowledge of males and females was not significant.

TESTS OF HYPOTHESES

The first hypothesis postulated a positive correlation between family communication level of the adolescents and their economic motivations for consumption. The pearson correlation of .09 between the two was significant at .05 level. The hypothesis was thus supported though not very strongly. A stepwise multiple regression [For all stepwise multiple regrssions, the entry criteria was P< .05. All R were significant at P < .01.] on economic motivation scores using family communications, peer communications and three mass medium types, namely television, radio and newspapers, explained 19% of variation in economic motivation scores. Family, TV and peer group were the significant variables, family communications having a positive sign and TV and peer group having negative signs. Thus economic motivations were positively influenced by the family communication while TV and peer group had negative impacts.

The second hypothesis postulated a negative relationship between family communications and degree of independence enjoyed by the adolescents in buying decisions. The correlation between family communications and adolescents'  independence scores turned out to be -.42, which was highly significant.

A stepwise multiple regression on independence scores, with socialization agents as independent variables, explained 46% variation. The order of entry was family communications and peer communications, former having negative sign and later positive sign. The adolescents independence in decision-making was thus negatively associated with family communications and hypothesis was well supported.

The third and fourth hypothesis postulated a positive impact of mass media and peer group communications on adolescents' social motivation for consumption. The correlation between social motivation scores and overall mass media exposures was .11, which was significant beyond .05 level. The correlations of social motivation for consumption with specific media types were, however, mixed. Correlation with TV viewing was .14 and with newspaper reading was -.10, both significant beyond .05 level. Correlation of .07 with radio listening was not significant. Thus, while TV viewing was positively associated with social motivations for consumption, newspapers had negative influence. Radio had no significant impact. Similarly, peer group communication level of adolescents and their social motivation for consumption had a correlation of .27, which was highly significant.

The stepwise multiple regression of socialization agents on social motivation for consumption scores explained 31% variation. The significant variables, in their order of entry, were peer group communication, Tv, family and newspapers, the first two having positive signs and the last two negative. Thus peer group and TV viewing are the primary influence on adolescents' social motivation for consumption, while family and newspaper reading have a moderating influence. Hypothesis three and four were, thus, well supported, though the mass media influence varied by the media type.

The fifth and last hypothesis postulated a positive association between socialization agents and adolescents' consumer activism, consumer affairs knowledge and market knowledge.

On consumer activism, socialization agents explained 20% variation. Family communications was the only significant variable that entered the multiple regression. Family communication level, thus, had the greatest impact on consumer activism of the adolescents.

On consumer affairs knowledge, socialization agents explained 30% variation. Significant variables, in their order of entry into the multiple regression were, newspapers, peer group and TV. Family communications and radio did not have any significant impact on adolescents' consumer affairs knowledge.

On overall market knowledge, peer group communication was the only significant variable that entered the regression and explained 36% of variation. However, on specific aspects of market knowledge, there were important differences in the roles of various socialization agents. Family and peer communications were the two significant variables that explained 32%. variation in brand knowledge. Peer group and TV were the two significant variables that explained 24% variation in product knowledge. Peer group and family communications explained 22% variation in price knowledge. Finally, peer group was the only significant variable that explained 31% variation in store knowledge. Thus the fifth hypothesis was generally supported, though there were important differences in the roles of different socialization agents and also between the different media types.

CONCLUSIONS

The study generally supports the conclusions of earlier researchers on impacts of socialization agents on adolescents' consumption related attitudes, skills and knowledge. In addition it provides some new insights into the roles of different socialization agents and media types. The major conclusions that emerge from this study are:

1. The family communications play an important role in nurturing the 'rational' aspects of consumption in the adolescents. The data indicate significant positive relationship between the amount of family communications about consumption and the extent to which adolescents hold economic motivations for consumption.

2. The family communications also have an important impact on consumer activism of the adolescents. Family is the vital instrument in inculcating in the adolescents a realization of their basic rights as consumers.

3. Family communications appear to overshadow the adolescents' ability to act as an independent consumer.

4. The association between mass media exposure and adolescents' social motivations for consumption is positive and significant but there are important differences between t he three major mass media types . Social motivation for consumption is primarily influenced by TV viewing and newspapers appear to moderate the adolescents' concerns for social and expressive aspects of consumption. Radio does not appear to play any significant role in the adolescents' social motivations.

5. Similarly, peer group communications are also positively associated with adolescents' social motivations for consumption. Family appears to moderate this influence to a certain extent.

6. Newspapers have the major impact on consumer affairs knowledge of the adolescents. Peer group and TV also make some contribution. Family communications and radio do not have any significant impact on consumer affairs knowledge of the adolescents.

7. Peer group communications are the most important source in adolescents' overall market knowledge. While family communications also make some contribution in this, role of mass media is not significant. Except TV, which had a significant association with adolescents' product knowledge, none of the other media had a significant relationship with market knowledge or its specific components like brand, store or price knowledge. Adolescents either ignore advertisements (or commercials) in mass media o r attend to them with very little interest.

8. The study also provides some basic data on the Singapore adolescents who spend an average of two hours a day on TV but their newspaper reading or radio listening is relatively low. Their economic motivation for consumption is stronger than social motivation and they are generally not shy of exercising their -rights as consumers, as indicated by their activism scores. They enjoy a moderate level of independence in their purchase decisions.

REFERENCES

Bandura, Albert, ''Modeling Influences on Children,'' Testimony To the Federal Trade Commission, November 1971.

Brim, Orvile C. , ''Socialization Through the Life Cycle," in Brim O.G. and- S. Wheeler (Ed's) Socialization After Childhood, New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc. 1966.

Moschis, George P. and Churchill, G.A. Jr, ''Television and Interpersonal Influences on Adolescent consumer Learning," Journal of Consumer Research, Vol 6, June 1979.

Moore, Roy L. and L.F. Stephens," Some Communication and Demographic Determinants of Adolescent Consumer Learning,'' Journal of Consumer Research, Vol 2, September 1975.

Parsons, T., R.F. Bales and E.A. Shils, Working Papers in The Theory of Action, Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press, 1953.

Riesman, David and Howard Roseborough, "Careers and Consumer Behavior," in Clark, Lincoln (Ed) Consumer Behavior, Vol 11 New York: New York University Press, 1955.

Ward,Scott L. and DanielB.Wackman, ''Effects of Television Advertising on Consumer Socialization''' Working Paper, Marketing Science Institute, 1973.

----------------------------------------

Authors

Subhash C Mehta, National University of Singapore
Jennifer Lee Lai Keng, National University of Singapore



Volume

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



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