The Nature Consumer and Technology

ABSTRACT - This study summarizes some aspects of how well selected industrial groupings of products are addressing the needs of a maturing population. These data are based on the analysis of approximately 750 products. Evaluation criteria were employed to select products that address physiological limitations and personal needs of a mature population.


Frank J. Carmone, Jr., Cheri K. Krauser, and George T. Baker, III (1984) ,"The Nature Consumer and Technology", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, eds. Thomas C. Kinnear, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 553-557.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11, 1984      Pages 553-557


Frank J. Carmone, Jr., Drexel University

Cheri K. Krauser, University of Maryland

George T. Baker, III, University of Maryland


This study summarizes some aspects of how well selected industrial groupings of products are addressing the needs of a maturing population. These data are based on the analysis of approximately 750 products. Evaluation criteria were employed to select products that address physiological limitations and personal needs of a mature population.


According to the 1980 census, 25% of the population is now 50 years of age and over. The median age will rise sharply over the next three decades: in 1980 it was 30 years; in 2000 it is predicted to be 36 years; and in the year 2010, 38.4 years. This 50+ population represents about 60 million adults--one out of every four Americans--and 500 billion dollars in personal income. According to a 1983 Census survey of 65,000 households, members in households headed by those 55-59 years old have the highest after tax income ($7,572), followed by 60-64 year olds ($7,426) and 50-54 year olds ($6,648). Furthermore, after tax per capita income for those members of households headed by those 65+ years old is higher than that for the population as a whole, $6,300 versus $5,964. It is estimated that households headed by individuals 55 and older (ca. 30 million--one in three households) represent at least 28% of the discretionary income in the country today. This amount is nearly double that of households headed by persons 35 and under; households headed by those 25 and under have only 1% of all discretionary income (Allan 1981, Baker et al. 1982). This population represents a growing market that presents not only opportunities for marketers but also problems.

One problem in particular which mature consumers themselves have indicated is the lack of adaptation of products and services to changing physiology (Baker et al. 1982). The time-dependent changes that occur with advancing age manifest themselves as anthropometric, physiological and biochemical alterations in the organism (Shock 1981). These changes in physiological adaptability render the aging individual more susceptible to the stresses of everyday living; however, this mature population can exhibit a high level of physiological and cognitive performance in environments which would ameliorate the changes accompanying biological aging (Baker and Andrews 1981). Much of the built environment in our society is a reflection of products and design that accommodate the physiological and psychosocial needs of a young adult.

Yet with the demographic trend toward an older society, there is a need for an environment responsive to the needs of all ages. Industry has apparently not in any significant manner addressed the older consumers. There is a perception that the older consumer is relatively unimportant, unprofitable, and unworthy of special targeting efforts (Schewe 1983). With increasing public policy and consumer education efforts in their behalf, as well as realization of potential profitability, special efforts must be made by private industry to identify and respond to particular needs and desires of older consumers.

Existing products that address physiological limitations imposed by the normal aging process and personal needs of the mature consumer were identified (Krauser and Baker 1982). Products were selected from items in manufacturers' cataLogs, store catalogs, various retail outlets, contacts with businesses, focus group interviews with mature consumers, and articles and advertisements in newspapers and magazines. Products were classified via three schema: 1) technological area, generated from analysis of focus group interviews held with mature consumers throughout the United States in 1981-1982; 2) physiological limitations categories identified by biomedical researchers; and 3) personal need areas, identified by gerontological research in needs assessments of the elderly. Each product was given a preliminary score on each of six assessment criteria. Classification schema and assessment criteria are discussed in the following sections.

Since development of this data base, a number of questions have been raised. One of which we address in this paper: are there product groupings that are more fully developed than others as defined by the classification schema and the assessment criteria? In other words, are there product areas in which marketers have a differential advantage in that products in these areas are not developed to the extent the market requires? In this paper we report on analysis o' the data base and make recommendations for further research in this area.


In this section we discuss the schema for classifying products by technological group, physiological limitation category, personal needs requirements and, finally, selection and utilization of the assessment criteria.

Technological Groups

The basis of this classification schema was generated from analysis of focus groups held with mature consumers throughout the United States in 1981-1982. This analysis resulted in the following groups shown and defined in Table 1 below.



Groups one-six and eight were originally defined in the focus groups; groups seven and nine were added during product identification to improve ease of classification. It was our experience that products fell easily into one of these categories. For example, electric teakettles obviously fit into group one, while modular housing goes into group six. A few products, such as scissors or foam tubing, satisfy multiple objectives and were not readily placed into a unique group. Therefore, placement of products was a multistep process; all assignments were reviewed by a multidisciplinary project staff before finalization.

Physiological Limitation Categories

These categories relate to physiological limitations imposed by the normal aging process and/or the more common health problems which occur with agent should be emphasized that the process of aging is not a disease but rather a phenomenon which results in a decreased overall physiological capacity of an organism to withstand the stresses of everyday living. From the biomedical literature, including Finch and Hayflick (1977), Strehler (1977), Adelman, et al. (1980), Shock (1981), and Baker (1981), the project staff assembled the categories, shown in Table 2, for the purposes of this project.



Although a few products could be placed into multiple categories, each product was classified into only one category.

Personal Need Areas

These areas relate to chores or tasks that a person performs daily and activities/feeling, that add to the quality of life. Capacity for self care decreases with age; by age 80 more than 1 of every 10 persons has trouble dressing, putting on shoes, bathing, cutting toenails and getting about the house (Shanas, 1977 and Neugarten, 1978). Independence is maintained and enhanced by 3 person's ability to manage basic, everyday tasks that pertain to personal care. Additionally, other personal and social activities that are one step beyond basic care can add to the quality of life. Considering these two parameters, the project staff enumerated and defined the personal need areas shown in Table 3.



As in the physiological limitation category, each item was placed into one area even though a few items could fit into more than one area.

Assessment Criteria

Table 4 lists the assessment criteria used for evaluation of products. These criteria were distilled from a larger list used by the project staff. During the course of project discussion, these criteria were decided upon as being most relevant to the evaluation of products for potential inclusion in the data base; that is, products had to be either currently designed for and/or used by the aged or, in the best estimates of the project staff, adaptable for use by the aged.



The project staff was assisted by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging in defining and scoring criterion two, substitutes/reduces social support services. Criterion four, availability, was able to be defined and scored more objectively than the others. The project staff felt the least comfortable with criterion three, enhances psychological/sociological independence, because this one, more than any other, pertains to a person not 2 product. Criterion five, benefit/cost ratio, was treated as a benefit/price ratio and was scored as follows: low cost was less than $25.00; moderate, $25.00-550.00; and high, above $50.00. Benefit related to the relative scores on criteria one to three: high benefit was a score of 5 or 6 on criteria one to three; moderate, a score of 3 or 4; and low, a score of l or 2.

A product was ultimately included (excluded) in this data base by its overall assessment score, which was developed in the following way: each criterion was scored l to 6, with 1 being the least effective/desirable level and 6 being the most effective/desirable level. The assessment score was the simple sum of the project staff's evaluation of the product on each of the six attributes. This is referred to as a simple compensatory model; that is, low evaluations on some assessment criteria can be compensated for by a larger value on other criteria. The total score was then compared to an arbitrarily selected minimum of 18 (one-half of the maximum score of 36). Generally, products scoring higher than 18 were included in the data base and those scoring less were not.

In summary, products were classified by technological group, physiological limitation and personal need area, with an evaluation given on each of the six assessment criteria; there are 158 products included in this study.

Analysis Procedure

In checking for differences in assessment level for each of the products, stepwise discriminant analysis was used. Three separate runs using the BMDP 7M program for stepwise discriminant function analysis were made. Each run used one of the three schema (technological group,physic logical limitation, personal need area) for the dependent variable; in all runs the predictor variables were the six assessment criteria. (For the purposes of this analysis, the scale of measurement for the assessment criteria was assumed to be an interval scale.) This enabled us to identify assessment criteria whose levels were statistically different across the groups as defined by each schema.


Technological Groups

In using the stepwise discriminant analysis procedure, all six assessment criteria entered the discriminant functions using an F ratio of 1.0. That is, the mean values of the criteria across the nine groups are statistically different. If we can assume that the assessment criteria can be used as a measure of how well a product meets the needs of the elderly, then these results imply that certain technological groups are closer to meeting these needs than others. Table 5 shows the mean values and step 0 level F ratios for this group.



Table 5 indicates that the two best predictor variables, taken individually, are assessment criteria number 2, substitutes/reduces social support services, and assessment criteria number 6, market potential. In terms of these variables, we see that, in general, evaluations were very low for social support services with a range from 1.0 to a maximum of 2.6. On the other hand, market potential ranged from 1.1 to 3.6. Interestingly, group three, communications, was evaluated highest on both of these criteria, while group seven, recreation, was evaluated lowest on both of these criteria. The communications group (3) tends to have higher scores as compared to the average on each of the criteria, and the recreation group (7) tends to be below average except on the first criterion (compensates for physiological limitation) and the fifth criterion, benefit/cost ratio. This difference on the fifth criterion may be explained in part by the fact that the average price in the communications group is approximately $85.00. While in the recreation group it is slightly more than $5.00. Also, this difference could be an artifact of the scoring scale since a low cost/moderate benefit is scored higher than a high cost/high benefit.

Overall, the correct classification of products to groups was 582. from a high of 100% for group 7 (recreation) to a low of 33% for group 2 (clothing). Using a jackknifed classification procedure, the overall correct classification wac 46%.

Physiological Limitation Categories

For this analysis, the eight products in technological group 9 were dropped because catalogs and manuals address not one area but all or a majority of areas in this schema. In addition, categories 1-3 were combined into one group (VHS) because they address similar physiological functions--vision, hearing, speech--all pertaining to communication. Category four (dietary needs) was dropped from the discriminant analysis because it contained five very similar products which scored the same on the assessment criteria, and it could not be reasonably combined into another group. Also categories 6-8 were combined into one category called nobility. This reorganization also enabled us to obtain reasonably equivalent group sizes. The mean values and step O level F ratios are shown in Table 6.



The final discriminant analysis run included only five criteria; criterion three, enhances psychological/sociological independence, did not enter. Criteria five and six, benefit/cost ratio and market potential, taken individually, were the best predictors of group membership in the physiological limitation category. Category "VHS" tended to score above average on almost all criteria. The mobility category and the comfort category tended to be mixed. The highest percentage of products fell into the manual dexterity category, yet at the same time, this group tended to score about "average" on the assessment criteria. The overall correct classification was 59,., with a low of 52% (VHS) to a high of 682 for the mobility category. The correct classification using the jackknifed procedure was 56%.

Personal Need Area

Also for this analysis, the eight products in technological group 9 (catalogs and manuals) were dropped because they addressed all or a majority of the personal need areas. Areas two to four (food and food preparation, dressing and undressing, personal hygiene) were combined into one area, "daily tasks," because they all deal with tasks necessary for daily functioning. Areas five and six, home maintenance and recreation, were combined because both deal with activities that add to the quality of life but are not necessary for daily functioning. The mean values and step 0 level F ratios are shown in Table 7.



The final discriminant analysis run included only five assessment criteria; criterion three, enhances psychological/sociological independence, did not enter. Area one, communication, scored the highest or above average on all criteria which would suggest that personal communication needs are being met better than are other personal needs. On the other hand, home maintenance/ recreation tended to have the lowest values of any personal need area on most of the assessment criteria. There does not appear to be any compelling reason for this area's consistently lower scores. The areas, daily tasks and comfort and security, fell in between these two extremes of needs being met. The percent correct classification was 51% with a range of 455 (comfort and security) to 77% (communication). The correct classification using the jackknifed procedure was 47%.


Bearing in mind some of the limitations of the data--nonexhaustive, highly selective inclusion of products in the data base; arbitrary selection of assessment criteria; and limited controls on product evaluation vis-a-vis the assessment criteria--some conclusions can be drawn from this analysis. Products were classified or grouped by three different schema: technological group, physiological limitation category and personal need area. In technological group and personal need area, one-half or more of the assessment criteria scored the highest on communication. Also, in the physiological limitation category, one-half of the assessment criteria scored the highest on vision/hearing/speech. In other words, no matter how we classified the products, a common thread appeared. That is, the communication industry, more than any other industry, seems to be meeting the needs of the aged, and the communication needs of the aged seemed to be addressed better than other needs. Physiological limitations in vision/hearing/speech, all dealing with communication, seemed to be compensated for better than other limitations. However, it is interesting to note that, in each of these three schema, one of the criteria that did not score the highest was criterion one, compensates for physiological limitations. This would suggest that although the communication industry seems to be meeting communication needs, the physiological limitations could be better addressed.

Conversely, in each of the three schema, at least one-half of the assessment criteria scored the lowest on technological groups, clothing and recreation; physiological limitation, mobility; and personal need area, home maintenance/recreation. This would suggest that clothing, home maintenance and recreation items and items that address decreased mobility are not readily available and these needs are not being met.

These conclusions are not definitive; further research is recommended, specifically in the following two areas: l) a more exhaustive search for products in order to have a better representation of what is available and 2) reevaluation of the assessment criteria to refine the scales and definitions and to translate the psychological/sociological independence parameter into a product oriented criterion.


Adelman, R.C., Roberts, J., Baker, G.T., III, Baskin, S.I., and Cristofalo, V.J., (eds.)(1980), Modern Aging Research, Neural Reulatory Mechanisms During Aging, New York: Alan R. Liss.

Allan, C.B. (1981), "Over 55: Growth Market of the 80's," Nation's Business, 4, 23-32.

Baker, G.T., III (1981), Synposis of Presentations on the Productivity, Profitability and Pride of the Nature Worker, Silver Spring, MD: George Meany Center for Labor Studies.

Baker, G.T., III, and Andrews, D.C., (1981), "Aging and the Built Environment," Racine, WI: First National Research Conference on Technology and Aging.

Baker, G.T., III, Griffith, B.C., Carmone, F.J., Jr., and Krauser, C.K., (1982), Report on Products and Services to Enhance the Independence of the Elderly, College Park, MD: University of Maryland Press.

Finch, C.E., and Hayflick, L., (1977), Handbook of the Biology of Aging, New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Krauser, C.K., and Baker, G.T., III, (1982), "Technology and Aging: A Catalog of Products and Services to Enhance the Independence of the Elderly," Gerontologist, 22, 209.

Neugarten, B.L., (1978), "The Future and the Young-Old," in Aging into the 21st Century: Middle-Agers Today, L.F. Garvik (ed.), New York: Gardner Press.

Schewe, C.D , (1983), "Some Guidelines for Marketing to the Elderly," Advances in Health Care Research Conference Proceedings, 2, 77-80.

Shanas, E., (1980) "Self-Assessment of Physical Functions: White and Black Elderly in the United States," in Second Conference on the Epidemiology of Aging, S. Haynes and M. Feinleib (eds. ), Bethesda, MD: NIH Publications.

Shock, N.W., (1981), "Indices of Functional Age," in Aging: A Challenge to Science and Society, D. Danon, X.W. Shock and M. Marios (eds.), New York: Oxford University Press.

Strehler, B.L., (1977), Time, Cells and Aging, New York: Academic Press.


This project was supported in part by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging. Bell of Pennsylvania, Colonial Penn Insurance Group, GTE Service Corporation, Alcoa Foundation, General Electric Company and the American Association of Retired Persons provided the intellectual and financial support. Special thanks are due to Ms. Susan Nippes and Ms. Gretchen Kocis, Center on Aging, University of Maryland, for their assistance. This data was, in part, presented at the Health Care Conference, Snowbird, UT, April, 1983.



Frank J. Carmone, Jr., Drexel University
Cheri K. Krauser, University of Maryland
George T. Baker, III, University of Maryland


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 11 | 1984

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