Some Comments on Changing Life Styles Among Single Young Adults

ABSTRACT - The author discusses the paper on single adults by Lawrence Wortzel and the paper on cohabitation by Carl Danziger and Mathew Greenwald.


Kay Satow (1977) ,"Some Comments on Changing Life Styles Among Single Young Adults", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 04, eds. William D. Perreault, Jr., Atlanta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 335-336.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1977   Pages 335-336


Kay Satow, Needham, Harper & Steers


The author discusses the paper on single adults by Lawrence Wortzel and the paper on cohabitation by Carl Danziger and Mathew Greenwald.


U.S. Census Figures show that changes are occurring in the young adult population. While the institution of marriage remains strong, there are trends toward later marriage and an increase in heterosexual cohabitation prior to marriage. The above papers imply that revisions in the early stages of the Life Cycle may be needed to reflect the changing life styles of young single adults. Let us explore the implications for Life Cycle theory a bit further.


The Life Cycle is a classification system that depicts the various stages of family life. While classification systems may vary, Figure 1 lists the major life cycle stages that have been used by marketers.



In this classification system all single young adults who are no longer living with their family of origin are lumped together within the bachelor stage. The bachelor stage as presently defined includes singles who live alone, in pairs and in groups. It includes cohabiters and non-cohabiters. In short it includes all singles who have left home and have not yet married.

Stage in the life cycle has been successfully used as an independent variable for studying consumption patterns and has been found to be a powerful predictor for a variety of durables and nondurables including furniture, TV sets, cars, cereal and detergents. Figure 2 shows some of the purchase patterns that have been found to be associated with the early stages of the life cycle.



Past studies have found that people in the bachelor stage tend to spend what disposable income they have on recreational pursuits. They show little interest in household durables because they view their home as merely a temporary abode - a place to "camp out" while seeking a marriage partner. It is not until the next stage - the newly married stage that good furniture and appliances are purchased, and the home takes on an importance reflected in the many items bought for it (Wells & Gubar, 1966).

The first question I would like to raise is this: Should the life cycle stages be revised by introducing a new stage - the Cohabitation Stage - in between the Bachelor Stage and the Newly Married Stage?

To justify a separate stage for cohabitation several criteria should be met: 1)Cohabiters should constitute a sizable group, and 2)Their consumption behavior should be different from that of other singles.

Are cohabiters a sizable group? While we don't have exact figures the 1970 census figure of 143,000 cohabiters is very small accounting for only one-tenth of one percent of all households in the U.S. Therefore even if we assume an eightfold increase in the number of cohabiters since 1970, the total size of the group is still very small.

Do consumption patterns of cohabiters differ from that of other singles? Although it must be noted that the 50 cohabiting couples studied by Carl Danziger were not a representative sample, his results indicate that cohabiters' purchase patterns fit the behavior associated with the bachelor stage remarkably well. His cohabiters did not pool their finances, did not purchase major household durables or appliances, did not view their home as more than a temporary abode, and did not differ in their attitudes and values from their non-co-habiting peers. In short the cohabiters did not really differ in significant ways from the rest of the bachelor population, except perhaps in the negative respect of spending less and buying less.

What evidence there is therefore suggests that a separate cohabitation stage of the life cycle is not needed and that cohabiters should continue to be included within the bachelor stage.

Larry Wortzel's paper on single adults poses a more serious threat to the bachelor stage of the life cycle as presently described.

He suggests that changing views on being single have made purchase patterns formerly associated with the bachelor stage obsolete for a growing number of young adults. He describes a new breed of single adult - a "liberated" single who sees the bachelor stage as an active growth stage in which personal identity and credentials are sought. As part of this change in attitude, the home is no longer seen as a camping out place but as an expression of self identity. Figure 3 shows the changes that would be required in the life cycle stages to describe the "liberated" single. Not only would the bachelor stage be very different but changes would be required in the newly married stage as well. When the liberated single married it would not be necessary to furnish a household from scratch. Many of the required household durables would have been purchased already during the bachelor stage. Disposable income might then be freed for other uses - perhaps to buy a home or to purchase other household luxury items now associated with later stages in the cycle.



In other words Larry Wortzel's paper suggests that the young single adult population is segmented, and that the behaviors associated with each segment are very different. This raises a host of other questions. What proportion of young single adults fall within each of these two segments? What are the attitudes, activities, interests and media habits associated with each? Are there other segments of the young adult single population each also associated with a distinctive consumption pattern?

Unfortunately none of these questions can be answered. And in fact even the supposition that a "liberated" segment exists is pure speculation. Single adults constitute an understudied group. Large scale studies of life style and purchase patterns have focused on married individuals. There is no empirical data!

It seems likely that segments do exist within the young single adult population. What is needed now is empirical data. There are at least two approaches that might be taken in studying the single adult. One approach would be to identify segments on an a priori basis. The study by Carl Danziger and Mathew Greenwald is an example of this approach in that they compared the behavior of cohabiters with that of non-cohabiters. The danger of such an a priori approach is that there is no guarantee that the segments studied are the largest or most important ones. An alternative approach is that of empirical segmentation. Data is collected from a large representative sample of single adults on a large number of demographic, psychographic, and product purchase and usage items. The data is then subjected to Q Factor Analysis. By this procedure a limited number of segments can hopefully be identified each with a distinctive life style and consumption pattern.

Defining the segments of the young, single, adult population will not be easy. Several barriers exist. One barrier is the difficulty of obtaining a large representative sample of young singles. Another barrier is the fact that the survey questionnaires now used for married family members will require revisions and additions in order to be relevant to all aspects of single adult life styles.

I hope that these papers have stimulated your interest in this area and that next year at the ACR Conference there will again be a paper session devoted to the single young adult in which data from new empirical studies can be presented.


William D. Wells and George Gubar, "Life Cycle Concept in Marketing Research," Journal of Marketing Research, 3(November, 1966), 355-363



Kay Satow, Needham, Harper & Steers


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 04 | 1977

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