Women's Changing Roles -- a Consumer Behavior Perspective


Mary Lou Roberts (1981) ,"Women's Changing Roles -- a Consumer Behavior Perspective", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 08, eds. Kent B. Monroe, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 590-595.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 8, 1981      Pages 590-595


Mary Lou Roberts, Boston University


The multiple, and often conflicting, roles of women today pose significant challenges for marketers and researchers, This paper discusses actual and anticipated changes in women's consumer behavior on the basis of issues raised by studies of women's roles in non-marketing disciplines. Implications for research, marketing strategy, and public policy are discussed.

Change brought about by the continuing evolution in women's roles have affected, and will continue to affect, all aspects of our society. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the actual and anticipated effects of these changing roles on women's consumer behavior. The issues treated herein are those raised by the other five participants in this session. Underlying the multi-disciplinary approach taken in this session is a strong belief that we can better understand and anticipate the effects of women's changing roles on consumer behavior if we make use of knowledge available in the behavioral sciences and economics.

As an organizing framework, I will first treat issues directly observable in current demographic trends and then treat some interpersonal issues.

Four major factors which are evident in demographic data -delayed age of marriage, the decreasing fertility rate, women's employment, and women-headed families - have potential for causing important changes in women's consumer behavior. These factors have both individual and interactive effects.


One implication of this phenomenon is that women (and men, too) are spending more post-school years as single adults than have past generations. As young adult singles they may continue to live with their parents, live alone, live with one or more persons of the same (or with increasing frequency, opposite) gender, or live under the arrangement euphemistically described as co-habitation. Whichever living arrangement, or combination thereof, is chosen, delaying marriage implies a longer period of independence for the young adult.

The individuals who have experienced this protracted period of social and financial independence will bring to their eventual marriages a broad array of consumer skills. These consumer skills will be the result of both their own experience and of exposure to the life styles of other young adults including roommates, co-workers, and friends. Singlehood tends to force the acquisition of non-traditional consumer skills for both genders. For instance, the woman is likely to have purchased and maintained one or more cars and the man is likely to have prepared meals, maintained an apartment, and done the shopping associated with the performance of traditionally female tasks.

Upon marriage, these persons are less likely to model cheer consumption patterns and decision-making processes upon the, probably traditional, patterns of their parents than are couples who lack this lengthy exposure to diverse and, often non-traditional, life styles prior to marriage. Both the nature of consumption-related decisions and the processes by which they are made will be affected. Kohen's statement that "young women will take part in these negotiations with a greater sense of personal identity'' is likely to apply in consumer decision-making as well as in family formation decisions. This sense of identity, reinforced by dual incomes, is likely to result in more autonomous decision-making by these couples.

Extensive pre-marital experience as single consumers may, over time, result in a more flexible approach to the division of household and other consumption-related tasks. Change is unlikely to be rapid, however. The most non-traditional attitudes and behavior should be exhibited by cohabiting couples, since they have chosen a relationship which is not sanctioned by a large proportion of our society. Still, a study of the division of household labor which included cohabiting couples (Stafford, Beckman and Dibona 1977) found that even these couples were dividing tasks in the traditional, gender-linked manner. Even so, some change is becoming apparent. In earlier research dealing with meal preparation by husbands, Wortzel and I speculated that couples today seem increasingly inclined to perform at least the more creative tasks on the basis of personal preference as opposed to traditional gender roles (Robert and Wortzel 1979a). This is likely to become increasingly true as more young persons experience protracted periods of singlehood. While this is promising from the viewpoint of the demands on time of the working woman - and admittedly an over-optimistic one from the viewpoint of current time use research - it is a perplexing one for marketers. It has been difficult enough to select target segments, determine appeals, and accurately portray women as their roles have multiplied. Men's assumption of multiple, non-traditional roles will further complicate the situation. The best approach to take will be a cautious, research-based one, since change is not likely to occur simultaneously either across product categories or across market segments.

Since higher education is related to delayed marriage, another implication is that both partners will bring increased financial resources into the initial years of marriage. This will clearly allow for a more rapid accumulation of a stock of high-quality durable goods as well as for continued high expenditures on personal consumption goods, services, travel, and leisure pursuits.


While the social implications of women's ability to control their fertility cannot easily be overstated, there are also important implications for consumer behavior.

One might start with the proposition that for the majority of American families having a child is now a conscious decision reached jointly by husband and wife. In her introduction to a special issue of the Psychology of Women Quarterly which deals with determinants of fertility, Russo states that "there is overwhelming scientific evidence that we value what we perceive ourselves to have freely chosen" (Russo 1979, p. 12). Therefore both necessity born of women's employment and positive attitudes toward nurturing of children should lead to greater male involvement in child rearing. Marketers should question whether fathers react similarly to mothers with respect to attributes of child care and entertainment products. Will they be more, less, or equally concerned about convenience in use, health and safety aspects, and educational benefits of products, for instance?

It seems clear that promotional activities-for child-related products should reflect increasing male involvement. Advertising themes, media selection and role portrayals may all be affected. Current television advertising for a new brand of disposable diapers can be cited as an example of portraying equal involvement of both parents in infant care.

The high educational level of these parents is likely to increase the size of the market segment which is extremely critical and demanding with regard to child-related products. Their expectations for quality in all types of products will be high. They will expect toys to provide developmental and learning experiences as well as entertainment. The increased financial resources they have accumulated as a result of delayed marriage, coupled with few children as a result of decreased family size, will allow sizeable expenditures on each child. The impact of large numbers of first births as well as many single-child households will increase the economic impact of this "echo baby boom" since higher per-capita expenditures are typical for first-born children (Cardozo and Haefner 1969).

Since many women may be delaying the birth of the first child until careers are well established, most of them are likely to return to the labor force very quickly, if they leave it at all. The resulting segment of well-educated and affluent two-worker families may choose to spend as little time as possible on activities that represent merely "custodial care" of the home or the children. Instead, they will try to devote as much time as possible to activities that provide rewarding family interaction. Products and services which promote interaction between parents and children that is both enjoyable and intellectually stimulating should be especially attractive.


In examining the effects of women's employment, Kohen points out that, while leisure is important to the working woman, it is frequently less fulfilling of them than is their work. In terms of their basic life priorities, this seems quite reasonable. Yet, it also seems reasonable to expect that changes in women's role-related attitudes will be reflected in their leisure pursuits. There is limited support in the literature for this hypothesis (Gentry and Doering undated). There is also the suggestion that women, like men, consider work and leisure to be interrelated and that women, even more than man, enjoy competitive leisure pursuits (Hawes, Blackwell and Talarzyk 1975).

In view of the limited amount of research available, some research questions seem to be in order. It seems clear that the scarce leisure time of the working woman should be highly valued. How does she approach the use of that leisure time? Does she see it as an end in itself or as an integral part of a well-rounded life, i.e., as a way of keeping herself mentally and physically fit to cope with her work and personal activities? If she is married, does she reserve her leisure time for family activities or does she feel that she is entitled to some "time of her own?"

The theme of lack of time for the working woman to call her own recurs frequently in the more popular current literature on women's issues (see Bird 1974, for example). It seems that a majority of working wives correctly perceive themselves to be not only contributing to household income but also spending more tine on household and child care than do other members of the family. They may, therefore, be very open to appeals related to doing something, either active or passive, for their own personal benefit and enjoyment.

In terms of the household consumer behavior that results from women's employment, marketers have more experience, but are not really much closer to developing useful generalizations. The easy hypotheses have tended not to be confirmed by empirical data. Kahne points out that, although economists have hypothesized that purchase patterns for durable goods will be affected by women's employment, Strober and Weinburg (1977, 1980) have not been able to support this hypothesis with empirical data. The seemingly reasonable hypothesis that working women will tend to rely more on convenience foods than non-working women has fared similarly (Anderson 1971, Anderson 1972), although there is contradictory evidence (Editor and Publisher, 1972). Pointing out that sales of one convenience food, frozen vegetables, have actually declined in recent years, Wells sounds a warning that is widely applicable across product categories when he says, "Remember that frozen vegetables represent only one of a number of acceptable ways (emphasis mine) to shorten meal preparation time. The link between the desire to make meal preparation easier and the use of frozen vegetables is neither necessary nor direct (Marketing News 1980). Understanding the various possible approaches to task performance (see Roberts and Wortzel 1979b for an example), will shed considerable light on product and brand choice behavior. Again, a careful research-based approach is necessary, because there is no reason to believe that approaches to task performance will be consistent either across tacks within the same household or across households.

We should not overlook the fact that women's employment is creating for them another role -- customer for business goods and services. There is an easily observable tendency for marketers to fall back on the prevailing mythology about sex differences when dealing with women in business decision-making roles. Hesselbart sounds an important warning when she notes that "women and men in similar jobs have similar values and personalities." We should therefore not expect to find decision criteria and processes differing a great deal between male and female managers. Even in a situation where women do have a special set of problems (business travel is a good example), proprietary research has found no major difference in decision criteria between men and women. This type of woman, however, does appear to be very easily offended by two extremes of marketing behavior. At one extreme is blatant sexuality, usually in promotion, which is counter to her own role-appropriate behavior. At the other extreme is anything which bespeaks a patronizing attitude toward "the little woman." Actually, it may be that marketers of business goods and services have an easier basic task where women are concerned than do marketers of consumer goods and services; they should simply treat every role incumbent in the same manner.


Both Elkstrom and Kahne point out that single women are disproportionately represented in the labor force and Kohen adds that one out of every six families is headed by a woman. Given current rates of divorce and of chosen singlehood, these trends seems likely to continue.

Expected differences in consumer behavior suggest that we should be looking at three different groups of currently single women:

Single women without families who are less than 55 years old (3 million in 1978).

Single women without families who are 55 years or older (7.3 million in 1978).

Single women who are family heads (5 million in 1978) (U.S. Department of Commerce 1978).

From 1970 to 1978, the moot rapidly growing group of never-married women was the 25-34 age range (14% of all never-married women). Age alone makes them a prime market for consumer goods, as does the fact that they are the best-educated of the women in this age bracket. In spite of the size of this market, only media catering to the young, single woman have published information which examines it specifically. It is clear that these women have a great deal of buying power, but how are they spending it? Are they buying condominiums or making other types of investments? Do they spend heavily on non-durable goods including clothing and personal care items? Are they especially heavy consumers of travel and entertainment services? The answer to all of these questions is undoubtedly "yes" but we need to understand the budgetary allocations of this segment. We also need to understand their shopping attitudes and habits. Are they part of the shrinking group of consumers who regard shopping as a pleasurable activity, perhaps because their free time is not constrained by family responsibilities? Are their shopping attitudes product specific - i.e. they like to shop for clothing and other personal items but dislike to shop for food? Do they mix shopping and entertainment? The basic hypothesis would be that the consumption patterns of this segment differ as a result of their relatively high level of "truly discretionary" income and that their shopping attitudes and behavior also differ from those of other women as a result of their life styles.

The segment of women living alone aged 55 and older presents a very different picture. They are less well educated and have lower incomes than other groups of employed women. In addition, women aged 55 to 64 are less likely to be employed than are any other group under age 65, although it is uncertain whether or not this is true for the single women in this age group.

Because elderly consumers make up a large portion of the market for many goods and services, there are several studies available. However, they tend not to cross-classify their data so that female responses can be distinguished from those of male respondents. One study (Martin 1976) studied fashion shopping behavior among young, middle-aged and elderly women. He found numerous differences between the three age groups with elderly women using more information from both media and sales clerks, shopping fewer stores, and shopping in specialty boutiques less frequently than either of the other two groups. Although there was little inter-group difference, elderly women perceived themselves as being fashion conscious and said they enjoyed shopping. While it is true that one might expect fashion-related behavior to differ widely between generations, different shopping patterns as well as the different information processing patterns discussed by Phillips and Sternthal (1977) suggest that different marketing strategies would be appropriate for the elderly female consumer. Single elderly women, an apparently unstudied group, should continue to increase in importance as a market segment, since woman's life expectancy continues to exceed a man's by almost eight years and the differential is predicted to increase. (U.S. Department of Commerce 1978, p. 11).

The final group of single woman is those who are family heads. As Kahne points out, the vast majority of these families are composed of children, a few include a male who is not defined as the household head, and still others are composed of other adult family members. While there are other similarities, the single meet unifying aspect of these families is their low income level. It is not surprising that Kohen's research has found them to be an especially good market for used goods.

The low level of discretionary income does not make this a particularly appealing market target for most goods. The exception is products specifically designed to stretch the consumer's dollar, such as generic products in the supermarket. Even here, we may be missing out, because a recent study of the market for generics cites greater usage by the upscale customer (Murphy and Laczniak 1979). This highlights the need for consumer information programs which will effectively reach this and other low-income segments. While this is a difficult task, it is one that deserves the attention of both marketers and researchers.

There is, however, another aspect of women-headed families that may prove to be of even greater long-run significance to consumer behavior. It is the consumer socialization of children from woman-headed households. If the alarming projection quoted by Kohen that 40% of all children will spend at least a portion of their formative years in such a household turns out to be true, we may see differences in socialization practices and the resulting behavior of adolescents and young adults,

It is clear that a great deal of learning about sex-role-appropriate behavior occurs in early childhood. However, the literature on single-parent families headed by women (see Herzog and Sudia 1973 for a literature review) indicates that, while absence of the father tends to delay this learning, other role models are used so that by young adulthood there is no discernable difference in internalization of sex roles between children from two-parent and single-parent families. It is not absence of the father per se that causes developmental and social problems in the children of single-parent families. Rather, it is the stress and fatigue engendered by the long hours, lack of dependable child care, and the low salaries of most of these women that lead to problems in the family.

The research to date does not seem to provide strong evidence to suggest that children from woman-heeded families will be more sex-role egalitarian than children from two-parent families. It is more important to note that sex role stereotyping is less prevalent among children of all working mothers (Del Boca and Ashmore 1980), so maternal employment appears to be the key factor.

Kohen's finding that divorced mothers expect a more secure and responsible role from their children does suggest differences in consumption-related behavior in single-parent families with older children and teenagers. These children may shop for themselves and do routine shopping for the family at an earlier age. Time pressure in all families with a working mother, and especially in those with a single parent, suggests that more research attention should be given to assumption of household tasks and to shopping behavior by older children and teenagers.


When considering the effect of changing sex roles on consumer behavior, one of the first concerns of marketers is changing patterns of household task performance. This concern seems to be based on the premise, which to the best of my knowledge has yet to be empirically tested, that persons who are involved in the performance of household tasks will be more influential in product and brand choice for task-related products.

There is ample evidence that both men and women hold increasingly egalitarian attitudes towards women's roles, and as a result, feel that household tasks should be shared. Unfortunately, egalitarian attitudes have not been readily translated into wholesale male assumption of household tasks (Lopata et al. 1980, p. 128). However, there is limited evidence that males are performing some traditionally female tasks (Roberts and Wortzel 1979a). When one of these tasks is grocery shopping, the results, in terms of brand choice, may be quite different than if the wife had done the shopping herself (Newsweek 1979, Progressive Grocer 1980). With the dramatic increase in two-wage-earner families in recent years, the topic of task sharing has relevance for marketers of a wide range of goods and services.

Various theories have been advanced to explain male-female roles in household decision making. Chief among them are the relative power, cultural role expectations, relative investment (Davis 1976) and time-available (Stafford and Dibona 1977) hypotheses. While all provide useful insights, none appears to provide consistent explanatory power with respect to household task sharing (See Wortzel and Roberts forthcoming for an extensive review of the literature on household task sharing).

Both observation and descriptive writing on the subject of household task sharing suggest that there are a variety of processes used in arriving at a, hopefully satisfactory, allocation of household tasks. They range from the marital contract which may specify duties in great detail, through recommended processes for arriving at allocations (see Seiden 1980, for an example) to the ad hoc arrangements which probably exist in the majority of households. The strategies used to allocate household tasks should provide insight into a broad range of family decision-making processes and are therefore well worth study.

At the risk of oversimplifying a complex situation, I would like to propose a paradigm which may be useful in studying household task allocation (Figure 1).



As traditional roles become blurred, attitudes - whether actually positive toward task performance or just less negative than the partner's - are likely to become increasingly important. At the same time, perfectionist standards toward housework may be less important to women, especially working women, who have other inputs to their evaluation of their own self-worth. It is quite possible that a husband may have higher standards than his wife with regard to one or more specific task outcomes. This paradigm, then, applies separately to husband and wife and also to children old enough to assume general household tasks. Task allocation will be the result of the mix of attitudes and standards present within the family.

Other things equal, a positive attitude coupled with high standards should predict that the individual will perform the task. If two individuals in the family fall into this cell, they may share the task, perhaps on a time-available basis. The person(s) who perform(s) this task may actually prefer the type of product that requires more effort (materials to cook or bake 'from scratch' or non self-polishing floor wax, for example). On the other hand a person with a negative attitude but high standard, if (s)he must perform the task, would look for a product which achieves good results with minimal effort. The individual who falls into the positive attitude/low standard cell may be relatively indifferent to the attributes of the product used. The cell which couples negative attitudes with low standards, especially if it is prevalent throughout the family, suggests that the task may not be performed at all. There are two key warnings for marketers: not to assume that standards are uniformly high across the population and not to assume that they are gender-linked.

Hesselbart's distinction between expressive and instrumental tasks is also worth noting. Research has found that child cars is the task husbands are most likely to share (Lopata 1971). Recent interest has centered on other activities such as cooking, which can also be expressive in nature. If husbands are most willing to share tasks which have expressive aspects and if women are less eager to find recognition or self-fulfillment tasks that are essentially instrumental, it suggests a more pragmatic approach to the promotion of products used in routine tasks.

It is also worth returning briefly to the problem of power versus time in the two-wage-earner household. If power is conferred by contribution to the family's income, then working women should indeed have more power in family decision-making. It is easy to hypothesize that women will exercise this power with the result being more joint decision-making. However, we must realize that time spent in income-producing activities is, for most women as well as men, time not spent at home. The trade-off between more power and less time may result in less assumption or sharing of previously male-dominated decisions than one would at first suspect. In fact, one study found more male participation in shopping and financial decisions that had previously been handled solely by wives (Pralle 1980).

Investigating how couples handle two incomes can also give useful insights into more specific consumption decisions. A study of more than 15,000 couples conducted by Family Circle magazine in 1976 and 1977 and quoted by Bird (1979, pp. 155-164) identifies four types of couples based on the manner in which they handle the wife's income:

-- Pin money couples in which the wife's income is hers to save or spend as she chooses

-- Earmarker couples who designate the wife's income for a specific purpose (children's college expenses, down payment on a home, etc.)

-- Pooler couples who combine both incomes, usually in a joint checking account, and spend it without regard to its source

--Bargainer couples who treat income as the property of the person who earns it and negotiate the division of household expenses.

Preferred decision-making strategies are implicit in these categorizations. In addition, the freedom, or lack thereof, which the wife has in spending "her" money is likely to affect both product and brand choice behavior.


One large segment of women has been almost entirely overlooked in our discussion thus far. That segment is the working class woman. This is not surprising. Ekstrom notes that there has been little research on employment decisions of the working class woman. This is true of research on working class woman in general with the classic studies (Rainwater 1959, Komarovsky 1962) predating the women's movement and therefore having limited applicability today. Major studies through 1974 are listed in an annotated bibliography (Samuels 1975), and a journalistic-type study which contains useful insights was published in 1977 (Rowe 1977). However, research which explicitly deals with the consumer behavior of working-class women is virtually non-existent. The most recent study was published in 1973 (Social Research Inc. 1973).

Some of the salient findings about working-class women are:

* Working-class women have been slower than middle-class women in breaking with traditional roles, and have tended to react negatively toward changes which appear to threaten established values.

* For ethnic working-class women, especially, religious institutions tend to reinforce traditional values.

* The working-class woman tends to be part of a tightly-knit social group composed primarily of female kin.

* Although the necessity of working has expanded the social horizons of many working-class women, the traditional female jobs which most of them hold are not intrinsically rewarding.

* These expanded horizons are reflected in the decreasing propensity of working-class women to define family responsibilities, especially child care, as the central focus of their lives. (Peters and Samuels 1976).

* Working class husbands and wives tend to adhere to traditional household roles and to engage in sex-segregated leisure activities, even if wives work.

* Wives' employment is often viewed as threatening by the working class husband whose ability to provide for the family is often the major source of his sense of self-worth (Samuels 1975).

* While feelings of lack of self-worth and competency in dealing with the world outside the home have decreased among working-class women, they have decreased more slowly than have the same feelings among middle-class women. The result is an increasing disparity in feelings of self worth and self-confidence between the two social class groupings.

* Working-class women are more likely than their middle-class counterparts to feel that their adult life is better than their childhood. Since part of the perceived improvement is due to acquisition of desired material goods, working-class women are more positive toward business in general and specific products, and toward the media in general and advertising in particular, than are middle-class women. (Social Research, Inc. 1973).

Taken together, these points emphasize the fact that most of our data about women come from middle-class respondents and is based on middle-class values. Working-class women make up an important market segment for many products and brands. In addition, they may react to some types of advertising appeals very differently from middle-class women (Johnson and Satow 1978). If we could believe that they are soon likely to adopt middle-class attitudes, values and patterns of behavior, their absence from most consumer behavior studies would not be an important omission. However, the S.R.I. study (1973) also indicates that working-class emphasis on upward mobility into the middle class appears for many to be giving way to an emphasis on achieving desired goals within the working-class milieu. The attention of researchers to the working-class market is therefore important and overdue.


For Research

The opportunities for research that are inherent in issues surrounding women's changing roles are so numerous that I shall make no attempt to enumerate them. However, there are some general issues that should be considered. One of these is indiscriminate borrowing of concepts from other disciplines. The patterns of work experience described by Ekstrom are a good example of potential use and misuse. These patterns - career to homemaking, intermittent labor force participation, double-track women, and work-committed women - would seem intuitively to have potential in studies of family financial decisions. However, I see no reason to believe that they would be useful predictors of product or brand choice decisions.

A related problem is indiscriminate borrowing of methodology. Several years ago Green and Cunningham (1975) used Arnott's Feminism scale in a study of husband-wife decision-making and, citing this work, marketing researchers have continued to use it. This scale, which is about ten years old, is composed of ten attitudinal statements. Although the scale appears reliable, attitudes of the general populace continue to shift toward the "liberated" end of the scale, with the result being that the scale does not discriminate well. Since we know that role-related behaviors are not changing as rapidly as are related attitudes, role-orientation scales which have behavioral components should provide more ability to discriminate.

Another possibility is that we should move away from the idea than general role orientations will be good predictors of consumer behavior. Perhaps the concept of androgyny, infrequently used in marketing research to date, will be more useful.

The best solution of all, however, may be to focus on task and product-specific attitudes. They should not only be more powerful predictors of related behavior but will also enable us to avoid the troublesome problems of defining concepts such as "traditional" and "contemporary." Asking parallel questions of all family members will help us to understand the real nature of decision making within the family group.

And finally, all research, whether basic or applied, should recognize the inherent bias toward the middle class view of the world that is apparent in most of our work. Removing this bias will help us to understand the diversity that exists among American women today.

For Marketing

Those who market goods and services to women will be well advised to look beyond the "outputs" of consumer decision-making -- product and brand choice -- and to investigate in depth the processes by which those final decisions are made. The life style choices available to women today are many and varied. Products and services are sought both to implement these life style choices and to reflect them. Understanding how products and services fit into chosen life styles is a necessity if they are to be marketed effectively.

On the basis of research previously cited, it seems clear that we should expect to find few major differences in the purchase of consumer durable goods between families with working and non-working wives. Differences, however, may exist in buying behavior relative to frequently purchased goods and services, which have received less research attention to date. We should look for variations in product quality expected or preferred, in shopping patterns including outlet choices and timing of purchases, and in attitudes and family practices with regard to shopping.

In developing, as well as marketing, products and services we should look at the incompatible demands which often result from women's multiple roles. Any working wife or mother could assure us that these role-incompatible demands are legion. Take, for example, services of all kinds. Every provider of services -- from the washer repairman to the orthodontist -- prefers to work from nine to five on weekdays. Obtaining services at these times is highly incompatible with the demands of most employers. Offering services at times and places convenient to the consumer could be a major coup. The same type of reasoning can be applied to the development and distribution of products which ease the time pressure brought about by the demands of multiple roles.

As marketers we should also look more clearly at the budgetary allocations and decision-making process of non-traditional families, especially the dual-income and the woman-headed family, two rapidly-growing groups. In this respect, we should also carefully evaluate the composition of households in the U.S. over the coming years. The number of households is expected to increase rapidly. Will the increase come primarily from affluent singles a dual-income families or will a large part of it be lass-than-affluent woman-headed households? The demand for all types of goods and services, including consumer durables, will be greatly affected by the composition of households.

In effect, marketers should not look for easy answers to marketing strategy problems based on whether women work or not. The diversity of working, as well as non-working, women is too great for generalizations that will prove useful across broad groups of people and of products. Approaches centered around life styles, decision processes and task orientations should replace a simple working/non-working dichotomy.

For Public Policy

The papers in this session have also raised numerous issues which have public policy implications. Neither time nor the objectives of this session allows for a full discussion of these important issues, many of which relate to the job satisfaction and income-producing ability of women. Only a few can be highlighted here.

Ekstrom noted that numerous women lack the necessary skills to obtain employment that pays well enough to compensate for their absence from the home. Women in families where husbands or other adults are present may be able to generate worthwhile income by adjusting hours so that the husband or other adult can assume child care and other household tasks. Such arrangements can be economically and personally viable, but the behavioral science literature frequently refers to the strains on the marital relationship caused by such arrangements. The group affected most by lack of skills and low income is single mothers. If businesses can upgrade the skills of these women and assist them in finding satisfactory, low-cost child care, they will increase the level of effective demand emanating from a significant segment of our population. In this context, businesspeople may wish to consider the implications of Kahne's statement that consumer needs can be translated into effective demand either through spending of personal income or through social programs.

The possibility of an increasing gap between the incomes of one- and two-wage earner families is interesting, although its implications are less clear. It does seem worthy of continuing attention, however, both from the standpoint of marketing and of employee relations and for its potential in generating public policy issues.


It seems that, both as marketers and as researchers, we have overcome the notion that all woman are or should be homemakers, even though some of the mythology concerning sex differences still pervades many of our activities. We have also come a long way toward understanding that working women do not make up a single, homogenous group, nor are all non-working women alike. It is to be hoped that this session has taken us one step further toward a genuine understanding of women's multiple roles. That step would be the realization that, while change in women's role-related attitudes and behavior is pervasive, it is not occurring with equal speed on all the same dimensions throughout our society.

Only when we, as marketers and researchers, recognize the diversity that exists among women and cheer families in the way they interpret their work, family, and consumer roles will we be able to effectively cope with the changes that are occurring.


[Due to lack of space only a portion of the references cited are listed here. A complete list of references is available from the author.]

Bird, Caroline (1979), The Two Paycheck Marriage, New York: Pocket Books.

Davis, Harry L. (1976), "Decision Making Within the Household," Journal of Consumer Research, 2, 241-260.

Del Boca, Bella M. and Ashmore, Richard D. (1980), "Sex Stereotypes Through the Life Cycle," in Ladd Wheeler, ed., Review of Personality and Social Psychology: 1, Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 163-192.

Herzog, Elizabeth and Sudia, Cecelia E. (1973), "Children in Fatherless Families" in Bettye M. Caldwell and Henry N. Riccuiti, ed., Child Development Research, Vol. 3, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 141-232.

Howe, Louise Kapp (1977), Pink Collar Workers, New York: Avon Books.

Lopata, Helena Z. (1971), Occupation: Housewife, New York: Oxford University Press.

Lopata, Helena Z., Barnewolt, Debra and Norr, Kathleen (1980), "Spouses' Contributions to Each Other's Roles," in Fran Pepitone-Rockwell, ed., Dual-Career Couples, Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 111-142.

Roberts, Mary Lou and Wortzel, Lawrence H. (1979a) "Husbands Who Prepare Dinner: A Test of Competing Theories of Marital Role Allocations." in Jerry L. Olsen, ed., Advances in Consumer Research, 7, 669-671.

Roberts, Mary Lou and Wortzel, Lawrence H. (1979b), "New Life-Style Determinants of Women's Food Shopping Behavior" Journal of Marketing, 43, 28-39.

Samuels, Victoria (1975) "Nowhere To Be Found, A Literature Review and Annotated Bibliography on White Working Class Women," Institute on Pluralism and Group Identity, Working Paper Series, Number 13.

U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of The Census (1980), "A Statistical Portrait of Women in the United States: 1978."

Wortzel, Lawrence H. and Roberts, Mary Lou (forthcoming), "The Cooking, Food Shopping and Eating-Out Behavior of Husbands and Wives."



Mary Lou Roberts, Boston University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 08 | 1981

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Christina Kan, Texas A&M University, USA
Philip M. Fernbach, University of Colorado, USA
John Lynch, University of Colorado, USA

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Ngoc To, University of Houston, USA
Vanessa Patrick, University of Houston, USA

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