Aging, Life Cycles and the Sociology of Time


Elaine Sherman (1990) ,"Aging, Life Cycles and the Sociology of Time", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17, eds. Marvin E. Goldberg, Gerald Gorn, and Richard W. Pollay, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 902-904.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17, 1990      Pages 902-904


Elaine Sherman, Hofstra University

A discussion of the three papers presented in this session could focus on any number of concerns. However, in exploring the "core" of each paper, the underlying dimension of time emerges. The three papers each deal with a variety of interesting consumer behavior related issues in their unique treatment of time. Although their viewpoints are very different, their approaches suggest a variety of implications for future consumer behavior research.

The first paper 'The Antecedents of Cognitive Age" explores a personal and subjective view of the passage of time. Within the past decade, considerable research has examined older adults' self perceptions of their ages ( e,g.Barak and Schiffman, 1980; Underhill and Cadwell, 1983; Sherman, Schiffman and Dillion, 1988). This research uniformly indicated that older consumers perceive themselves to be younger than their chronological ages. In addition, older consumers' subjective ages have found to be inversely related to several other self perceptions including one's self esteem, confidence and feelings of purpose in life (Barak, Stem, and Gould, 1988).

With such a subjective perspective, aging is a form of life passages instead of a chronological milestone. What does it mean to turn "40," or "60"? There is a need to expand our understanding of cognitive age, and to use it as a basis for segmentation since it better reflects an individual's identity and behavior. Cognitive age --suggests that the 65 year old may be more like the 50 year old, and thus time in the chronological sense of the measure is not as good an indicator for understanding consumer motivations.

The second paper "Attitudinal and Leisure Activity Difference Across Modernized Household Life Cycle Categories" empirically evaluates an updated family life cycle model, originally proposed in the consumer behavior literature by Gilly and Enis (1982). The family stages have often been considered similar to life stages of an individual. As the modern family (or household) changes, the traditional stages of the family life cycle increasingly fail to capture accurately and reflect the family life cycle as the same categories did twenty or more years ago. The old distinctions between life periods are blurring in today's society. Only a few decades ago, aging was closely defined with the family cycle. During that time period, when there were fewer children per family, and births spaced closer together, the signal for the emerging of "middle age " was the time when children left home, while the onset of "old age" was commonly acknowledged as the time following retirement.

Today's changing patterns have altered our perceptions of chronological age categories. Thus, we have greater difficulty measuring life periods when 20 and 40 year old women are both having first babies. In the past, empty nesters were often regarded as those family members in their late forties. Today, yuppies often postpone having children, and now have a child in their late thirties and forties. With these changing cycles, it is important to reflect how the traditional family life cycle categories will be affected by these older parents, who are often the same age as their contemporaries who are often already empty nesters, and who sometimes are grandparents. Furthermore, those in the later stages of the family cycle are living longer, healthier lives and are even marrying and remarrying up through their seventies.

For consumer behavior, these changes have implications from both a research and a strategy point of view. A surprising finding of the Danko, and Schaninger research is that "delayed full nest" wives, do have very traditional values. They defined "delayed full nest" wives as those women having their first child after age- 35 as well as those having additional children after age 35. These women also reported high non-work related time pressures. Not surprisingly, single parents also reported strong patterns of work and time pressures. The relationship of time pressure, work related stress, and family time will continue as important areas of exploration in the coming decade. Additional insights on these issues will be explored subsequently in this commentary.

The third paper by Kaufman and Lane(1989) presents a sociological paradigm that can be used to conceptualize consumer time phenomena. This paradigm incorporates perceptions of time, as well as the interaction between individual's time and their membership in groups. The authors suggest that time constraints pervade language and other aspects of consumer behavior. They recommend a systematic review of existing time paradigms to establish some common understanding of time studies or a "chronosophy" as suggested by Fraiser(1981). Using the chronosophical process, the authors proceed to review potential contributions of a sociological time paradigm and introduce us to a rich vocabulary of time concepts which can be incorporated into consumer research. The authors conscientiousness and attention to detail need to be commended.

While the general topic of time has been addressed in all three papers, a closer examination of some of the specific issues raised by the authors in this session needs to be addressed.


The authors, Chua, Cote and Leong build on research in the gerontology literature which has examined the relationship of aging and life satisfaction. The relationship between the predictors of successful aging(i.e life satisfaction, higher levels of activity, closer family relationships, good health and western culture are explored. Although the concept of cognitive age is interesting and important in our attempt to understand the older consumer,the paper raises several questions. Firstly, one problem was the use of the convenience sample of 301 "elderly' Singaporeans with a self administered questionnaire. Cultural differences are often particularly acute dealing with perceptions relating to such concepts as perceived age. For example, what does it mean to be 55 or older in Singapore compared to a comparable chronological age in the US? Furthermore, can any generalizations be made from the results found in this research? Differences in the cultures regarding age perceptions may make it precarious to do so. An illustration of these differences relates to the age of retirement in these two countries. Since in Singapore 55 is the official government age to retire, there can be major perceptual differences between older people in these two countries based on this factor alone. As the authors acknowledge, the age range, cultural orientation and non-random nature of the sample prevents broad generalizations as they relates to aging. One cultural phenenomena that may make the results less generalizable to the the authors suggestions that the lack of association between family relationships and cognitive age might be due to the strength of family relationships in Singapore, which vary little across families. None of the family life factors were related to the age differential, so their third hypothesis was not supported.

Other problems refer to the methodology used in this research. For example, although the authors attempt to measure life satisfaction, they define it as "the type of gratification that an individual's life circumstances make available to a person " is a nonconventional approach to measurement. One might wonder why some well established means of life satisfaction or well being such as Neugarten's (1961) measure was not used. The measurement of cognitive age was not clearly defined.

I agree with the authors that future research needs to focus on various relationships such as that between cognitive age and life satisfaction. Previous research by Sherman, Schiffman and Dillon, (1988), and Sherman and Forman (1988) both indicated positive relationships between life satisfaction and cognitive age. Further investigation of our knowledge of subjective age perceptions continues as an important avenue for research in the coming decade.


Danko and Schaninger's paper explored attitudinal and leisure activity differences across modernized family life cycle model, using the Gilly Enis model to empirically test perceptions of sex role norms, work and time pressure attitudes, traditional values and leisure activities. Our changing demographics certainly present a strong argument for the need for this research. The research suggest differences across sex roles norms and various attitudinal and leisure activities by gender. Their findings indicate the need for future research to use women as head of household and compare these findings with men as head of household. Also using women's ages, instead of men's would suggest shifts in terms of the leisure activities of various stages of family life cycles. Other research issues might be to distinguish between those having their first children and those merely continuing to have children.

Furthermore, various categories need closer exploration. Although newlyweds, bachelors and single parents were categorized, it would be interesting to examine the views of other groups such as noncustodial parents, and true childless couples. In addition, future research which might compare the attitudes of those in second marriages with those in a first marriage and the attitudes of those who marry later with those who married earlier. Other interesting directions might be to explore attitudes and activities by types of career patterns of those who married later and those women who return to" work" and those who return to establish new careers with more education and training. The influence of other variables-such as social class would be an interesting area for future investigation. The attitudinal and leisure activities explored in this research are interesting for giving us a gestalt perspective of life style patterns and suggesting new directions for future research.


Kaufman and Lane's paper presents an absorbing review of the time paradigms in other disciplines and how they can be incorporated into consumer research. The authors suggest that this in depth consideration of time paradigm in other disciplines must precede the incorporation of concepts, terminology and measurement techniques into consumer research. The concept of time has often been characterized in a traditional economic framework. This mathematical or economic approach does not allow the subjective aspects such as the need of the individuals which may be interacting with other time phenomena. A "Chronosophy" approach which is an interdisciplinary and normative study of time.

Their point is well taken. Similar cross discipline analysis in other areas of consumer behavior, such as the two other areas of this session, aging and the family might be fruitful. This paper presents important avenues for consumer research and marketing strategy. While the authors suggest certain areas, others that come to mind for future research include the relationship of roles or the conflict from multiple roles and their relationship with time synchronization. An analysis of various family roles and the changing time perspective would be interesting(i.e. single families, and dual working families).

Another area would be the relationship of time studies and the consumer decision processes. For example, how does it relate to information uncertainty and consumer satisfaction? If the level of expectations and realized outcomes affect consumer satisfaction, does consumer perceptions of the time involved in various consumer behavior activities affect their satisfaction?

The authors discuss the important implications of their paradigm for retailers. For example, the new opportunities created by the inability of consumers to standardize their schedules to existing market institutions which has led to the initiation of special week-end and late night shopping hours, automated teller machines and round-the clock repair services. Further in-depth investigation of the associations between shopping time and its relationships to other time perspectives such as "social time" can be beneficial. Future research might compare the changing perceptions of time in the last five years and perhaps some speculation about future perspectives of time. Most importantly, consumer researchers need to explored how times concepts relate to consumer needs and fulfillment. The authors research in this area points out the many avenues for future research. For example, consumer "self time', such as age perceptions, consumer "interacting time", such as household roles and consumer's "cultural time', such as holiday celebrations and other events suggest potential areas for building richer time constructs and linking them to consumer decision analysis. Implications of these findings include incorporating gender perceptions and the extension of research (Schroeder, 1989) of the expectations behavior based on time use information. A variety of interesting directions for future research have emerged from this session.


Barak, B,and Schiffman L. (1980). "Cognitive Age: A Nonchronological Age Variable," Advances in Consumer Research, 8, 602-6.

Barak, B., Stern, B. and Gould, S. (1988). "Ideal Age Concept: An Exploration," Advances In Consumer Research, Vol.15,53-58.

Fraiser, J.T. (1981). The Voices of Time, University of Massachusetts Press.

Gilly, M. and Enis, B. (1982). "Recycling the Family Life Cycle:A proposal for redefinition,'' Advances in Consumer Research. Vol. 9,271276.

Neugarten,B ., Havighurst, R., and Tobin, S .(1961 ) The Measurement of Life Satisfaction, Journal of Gerontology, Vol .11 1,134-143.

Sherman, E., Schiffman, L. and Dillon, W.(1988). "Age/ Gender Segments and Quality of Life Differences", Marketing: A Return to Broader Dimensions", American Winter Educator's Conference, 319-321.

Schroeder, J. (1989), "What Time Means to Others: Expectations of Behavior Based on Time Use Information'', Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 16, 354-358.

Underhill, L. and Cadwell, F.(1983),"What Age Do You Feel, Age Perception Study," Journal of Consumer Marketing, 1, 18-27.



Elaine Sherman, Hofstra University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17 | 1990

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