Attitudinal and Leisure Activity Differences Across Modernized Household Life Cycle Categories

ABSTRACT - An updated family life cycle model, originally proposed in the consumer behavior literature by Gilly and Enis (1982), is empirically evaluated. The model produces strong significant differences across men's and women's sexrole norms, work and time pressure attitudes, self-fulfillment attitudes, traditional values, and leisure activities. Further, this model results in less than one percent of the sample classified as "other," and incorporates individuals into new classifications reflecting changing demographic trends as called for by researchers in multiple disciplines. Suggestions for future research and potential model modifications are also discussed.


William D. Danko and Charles M. Schaninger (1990) ,"Attitudinal and Leisure Activity Differences Across Modernized Household Life Cycle Categories", 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: 886-894.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17, 1990      Pages 886-894


William D. Danko, State University of New York

Charles M. Schaninger, State University of New York


An updated family life cycle model, originally proposed in the consumer behavior literature by Gilly and Enis (1982), is empirically evaluated. The model produces strong significant differences across men's and women's sexrole norms, work and time pressure attitudes, self-fulfillment attitudes, traditional values, and leisure activities. Further, this model results in less than one percent of the sample classified as "other," and incorporates individuals into new classifications reflecting changing demographic trends as called for by researchers in multiple disciplines. Suggestions for future research and potential model modifications are also discussed.

The family life cycle has been a widely studied construct in the marketing and consumer behavior literature (Arndt 1979; Gilly and Enis 1982; Murphy and Staples 1979; Wells and Gubar 1966). Over the past two decades, there have been calls for updating or modernizing our definitions of the family life cycle, mainly due to demographic shifts such as later age at marriage, an increase in working wives, postponed child bearing, and increased divorces (Gilly and Enis 1982; Glick 1977; Murphy and Staples 1979). In the marketing and consumer behavior literature, two recently proposed updated models attempt to capture some of the aforementioned changes and trends (Gilly and Enis 1982; MurPhy and Staples 1979).

Changing Values and Demographics

Yankelovich (1981) attributes new demographic trends such as staying single, postponing marriage, postponing or forgoing childbearing, having fewer children, as well as separation and divorce, to changing values, and the "search for self-fulfillment.'' Nearly 80% of the population is now engaged in this search, associated with a shift away from traditional values, greater individualism, greater concern with self improvement, careers, and creative life styles, and more modem sex role norms. That 17% of the population who evidence what Yankelovich terms the "strong form", are much more likely to lead alternative life styles and to forgo, postpone or depart from traditional family life cycle progression. They tend also to be younger, higher socioeconomic status, experience greater time and work pressures, and are more health conscious. This tends to result in different consumption patterns (e.g., greater use of yogurt, imported wines, herbal teas, fresh fruit, restaurant meals, lesser use of high calorie, high cholesterol foods). It also results in different leisure activity patterns: more frequent participation in active exercise such as tennis, skiing, jogging, and dance; as well as more frequent social entertainment such as dining out, going to bars, concerts, movies, and travel. Thus, we would expect similar profiles for postponed, foregone, or nontraditional family life cycle stages, including younger and middle aged bachelors, newlyweds, delayed fullnest households, and childless couples.

Scanzoni (1975, 1982, 1983) also concludes that our society has become more individualistic then collectivistic or familistic. He views these changes as evolutionary, and as due to rapidly increased women's education and labor force participation, as well as more modern sex role norms. Scanzoni (1975) empirically demonstrates that women's education and sex role modernity lead to women's work force participation, to greater autonomy, independence, and achievement, and to delayed or non-progression through traditional life cycle stages. He suggests that marriages in which both spouses hold sex role modem norms are even more likely to evidence nontraditional lifestyles and life cycle progression, while those with a modem wife and traditional husband are likely to become divorced if they can't effectively resolve their conflict. The implications of Scanzoni's work for non-traditional family life cycle stages are quite consistent with those of Yankelovich (1981).

Duvall and Miller (1985) discuss new forms of transitions/departures from traditional family life cycle progressions, and- also discuss role transitions which must occur at different stages due to forming a new dyad, having a first child, having children enter school, empty nest transitions, divorce, etc. Wells and Gubar (1966) and Reynolds and Wells (1977) review some of the consumption and leisure activity differences associated with traditional progression through life cycle stages. Presence of young children at home generally curtails the more external and socially active leisure activities which characterize bachelors, newlyweds, and childless couples, and results in an increase in home and family oriented activities.

Major Family Life Cycle Models

Three major family life cycle models (Gilly and Enis 1982; Murphy and Staples 1979; Wells and Gubar 1966) have been used by marketing/consumer behavior researchers. Each of these models is described and briefly compared next.

The models differ in the number of categories assigned. The Murphy-Staples and Gilly-Enis models each use 13 groups, while Wells-Gubar has 9 groups. All three models incorporate at least a portion of the singles category. Wells-Gubar includes older divorced and widowed; Gilly-Enis includes bachelors, widowed, divorced, and separated of all age groups. The Murphy-Staples model adds categories for young and middle aged divorced, both with and without children, distinguishes between middle aged married without dependent children and middle aged married without children, and adds a category for middle aged divorced without dependent children. Middle and older aged bachelors, single parents, cohabitating couples, and young and middle aged widow(er)s are all classified as "other." The Gilly-Enis model adds categories for middle-aged and older bachelors (which include both childless and non-custodial divorced and widowed individuals), for young, middle aged, and older single parents (whether never married, divorced, or widowed), for childless middle aged couples (treated the same as empty nest), and for delayed full nest (middle aged. child under 6). Further, cohabitating couples are treated as married in all couple unit designations. Another distinction among the models is the age cutoff. Wells-Gubar uses one age cutoff, 45, to distinguish between older and younger families. Both Gilly-Enis and Murphy-Staples use an age cutoff at 35 for middle aged, and of 65 for older couples. The Gilly-Enis model, however, uses age of female head of household for age cutoffs, based upon the rationale that most (traditional) women stop active childbearing by age 35.

In the marketing/consumer behavior literature, Wagner and Hanna (1983) compared the Wells-Gubar and the Murphy-Staples models as well as multiple regression models incorporating income and family composition variables in an examination of aggregate family clothing expenditures. Fritzsche (1981) compared the same two models on their ability to predict energy consumption profiles. Both studies had to substantially modify their operational definitions of the Murphy-Staples model, resulting in their testing a model closer to the Gilly-Enis model. Due to the limited nature of the dependent consumption expenditure variables examined, we know very little about how modernized life cycle categories differ.

The high incidence of households classified as "other," is also problematic. The Wells-Gubar model assigns 28 percent as "other," Murphy-Staples 19 percent, Gilly-Enis less than 1 percent. In this paper, we focus on the Gilly-Enis model in part because it classifies a much lower percentage of other, but also because it results in meaningful consumption profile differences across categories. Schaninger and Danko (1989) compared these three models, as well as several others in greater depth. They found that the Gilly-Enis model outperformed the other models, and demonstrated a higher percentage of variance explained as well as stronger significance across a variety of consumption related areas. Danko and Schaninger (1989) provide a detailed examination of specific consumption differences for this model, including food and beverages, dollar value of major durable acquisitions, major and minor appliance ownership, and use of services.

The purpose of this paper is to empirically test the Gilly-Enis model across the attitudinal constructs developed previously (sex role norms, work and time pressures, strong-former attitudes, and traditional values), as well as leisure activities, for both men and women. We hypothesize that both men and women, in stages indicative of delayed or non-progression through traditional life cycle stages (young and middle aged bachelors, single parent women, childless newly weds, and delayed fullnest households) will be more sex role modern, report greater work and time pressures, score higher on strong former attitudes, and have less traditional values. We also hypothesize that such households will report greater participation in more active leisure activities, as well as more external/social leisure activities then households with children (particularly young children) present.


Questionnaire Development

The questionnaire consisted of eight type-set pages and was mailed using university letterhead. The first segment elicited household descriptors (demographics), food and beverage consumption, use of services, durable goods ownership, and value of select durables. Two additional pages ascertained individual leisure activities, and six-point Likert scaled attitudes regarding topics such as sex roles (Schaninger, Buss, and Grover, 1982), work and time pressures (House and Harkins, 1975; Robinson, 1977), "strong former" attitudes (Yankelovich 1981), and traditional values (Reynolds, Crask, and Wells, 1977; Wells, 1974; Wells and Tigert, 1971; Yankelovich, 1981).

Sample Development

A telephone directory from a widely used test market and top 50 SMSA located in a mid-Atlantic state served as the sample frame. The initial sample was recruited over a four week period via telephone solicitation with three call-backs, using a systematic random sample design.. Of the 2,790 households we attempted to reach, 111 had telephones not in service, and 508 households were unreachable after three attempts. Of the 2,171 households reached, 1,160 (53.4%) agreed to participate, while 1,017 refused. Within four weeks of the mailing, 19 questionnaires were returned as address unknown, 10 were completed partially and deemed unusable, and 307 were usable.

To ascertain possible non-response bias, three additional subsamples of 500 households each (unreachable by phone, refusals, and nonrespondents from the first mailing) were mailed a personalized letter with a questionnaire and cover letter. This resulted in an augmented sample of 137 households (approximately equally distributed across the three nonrespondent groups) and 74 nondeliverables, yielding 444 households with usable returns. This represents a response rate of 31.1% of those who originally agreed to participate, and 17.2% of the original telephone book frame with working phones and reachable by mail. No significant differences were found between our original and augmented sample with regard to family life cycle classifications. Some households were comprised of adults of the same sex, and in some cases an adult son or daughter lived with one of their parents. For individual attitudes and leisure activities on such households, each individual was classified to a family life cycle stage based on their age and marital status. Thus, totals of both women and men may exceed household counts for bachelor categories.



When the total sample (444 households) was compared to 1980 SMSA census statistics, no significant differences were found for proportions of single under 18, or married couples without children under 18, or individuals under or over age 45. To further examine the question of sample representativeness, we compared our sample to March 1986 national census statistics. Overall, our sample's distribution was not significantly different from the census distribution at the .05 level, although it was marginally different at the .10 level. Our sample slightly overrepresented married couples with no children under 18, and underrepresented nonmarried over 65 households. The lack of significant differences between our original and augmented samples, over total sample and 1980 SMSA data, and our total sample and 1986 census data suggests that non-response bias is minimal.

Operationalization Of Family Life Cycle Models

Household classification (single never married, single by divorce or separation, widowed, married couple, or unmarried couple) and the ages of all adults and children in the household were reported by an adult head of the household. The Figure outlines the categories used in the analysis for the Gilly-Enis model.

In their original formulation, Gilly and Enis (1982) developed 14 categories, including "other." The three single parent categories had to be collapsed into one category, as did full nest 2 and 3, to avoid sparseness. Our sample sizes in these original categories were nearly identical to 1986 census data proportions. Full nest 2 and full nest 3 were combined based on the common attribute that all dependent children are over five years of age and on the lack of significant differences across a variety of consumption and expenditure areas as well as leisure activities and attitudes. Thus the model we tested consisted of ten categories, with only 2 households classified as "other."


For men's and women's attitudes and leisure activities we choose to apply separate single factor models (MANOVA's for attitudes, and Pearson Chi squares for leisure activities). While a two factor design (FLC stage by sex) could have been employed, we were not concerned with testing for sex differences, and had to drop male single parents (n=4) due to sparseness, thus resulting in different degrees of freedom for men's and women's tests.


Individual Attitudes

Men's and women's sex role norms, work and time pressures, strong former aspirations, and traditional values, were strongly and significantly related to family life cycle stages, as shown in Tables 1 and 2.

Among women, newlyweds, young bachelors, and single parents held the most modern sex role norms, while older bachelors followed by older couples and childless couples were most traditional. Middle age bachelors held more modem views toward wife's career importance, while fullnest 1 households held more modem views towards sharing household responsibilities if a wife works. Surprisingly, delayed fullnest wives were more traditional than fullnest 1 wives. Single parents reported the strongest pattern of work and time pressures, while older couple wives and older bachelors (as expected) demonstrated an opposite profile. Delayed full nest wives reported the highest non-work related time pressures. Strong former aspirations were highest among young bachelors and single parents, followed by newlywed women. They were lowest among older bachelor, followed by older couple women, as expected. Older bachelors, followed by older couples, and childless couples, agreed most with traditional values, while young bachelors, followed by newlyweds, demonstrated an opposite pattern. In general, these results are consistent with those hypothesized, although delayed fullnest wives were not more sex role modern nor less traditional than other fullnest wives.

Men's attitudes demonstrated a similar pattern to those of women for older couples and older bachelors. They tended to be most sex role traditional, experience less work and time pressures, have weaker strong former aspirations, and hold more traditional values. Childless couple men demonstrated a similar, but weaker profile. Newlywed, followed by full nest 1 men, were most sex role modem and strong former oriented. Young bachelors held relatively modem norms toward a wife working but not toward wife's career importance or sharing responsibility. They also held relatively high strong former aspirations and less traditional values. Delayed full nest husbands, contrary to our expectations, were not more sex role modern and did not hold less traditional values. They did, however, score highest, followed by fullnest 1 and fullnest 2-3 households, on work and time pressures, reflectingthe conflicting demands of work and family (children) obligations.

Overall, most of the patterns were in the direction hypothesized for men and women's attitudes. The finding of more traditional sex role norms and values for delayed full nest couples compared to full nest 1 couples, probably reflects age effects. It may also reflect the inclusion of couples who continued to have children with couples who delayed having children. The finding of more modern sex role norms for newlywed and full nest 1 men than for young bachelors suggests that men's sex role norms change after marriage due to negotiation and conflict resolution, as suggested by Scanzoni (1982).

Leisure Activities

Strong Pearson Chi square results were observed for women's and men's leisure activities as shown in Tables 3 and 4.

Not unexpectedly, men and women demonstrated different leisure activity patterns across family life cycle stages. Among women, strenuous physical activities, including bicycling, skiing, tennis, and aerobic dance, were lowest among older couples and older bachelors, and highest among younger and middle aged bachelors, and newlyweds. Gardening was most prevalent among full nest 2&3 through older couple women. Volunteer work was most common in delayed full nest, full nest 2&3, and older bachelors. Bars, concerts, movies, and dancing were most popular among young bachelor, single parent, and middle aged bachelor women, with older couples and older bachelors scoring lowest. Probably due to presence of young children, full nest 1 and delayed full nest women reported heaviest usage, and older couples and older bachelors, least usage of rented movies. Dining out was highest among childless, older couple, newlywed, and middle aged bachelor women. Single parents, full nest 1 and delayed full nest households (due to presence of young children) were least likely to dine out. Thus, women's leisure activities demonstrate a pattern consistent with that hypothesized.

A similar pattern to that observed in women was found for physically strenuous activities among men, with lowest participation among older couples and older bachelors, and heaviest participation among young bachelors. Delayed full nest men were most likely to jog and second most likely to exercise on a machine. Middle aged bachelor, newlywed, full nest 1, and delayed full nest men also tended to participate more in such activities then full nest 2 and 3 or childless couple men. Hiking and camping were highest among young bachelors and relatively high among middle aged bachelors. Gardening was lowest among young bachelors, highest among older couples, and high for full nest 2 and 3, childless couple, and older bachelors. External social activities (bars, movies, dancing) were highest among young bachelors. Middle aged bachelors also scored high on dancing, concerts, and movies. Movie rental was highest among couples with young children (full nest 1 and delayed full nest) and lowest among older couples and older bachelors. Going to movies declines after the newlywed stage. Gourmet cooking was highest among young bachelors and newlyweds, and lowest among full nest 2 and 3, childless couple, and older couple men. Dining out (as a stated leisure activity) was highest among childless and older couples, and lowest among delayed full nest men probably reflecting the presence of children. Separate analyses showed that young and middle aged bachelors and newlyweds also eat out frequently at restaurants, although they may not have regarded it as a primary leisure activity. In general, the pattern observed for both men's and women's leisure activities is consistent with that hypothesized.










The Gilly-Enis model proves to be a good predictor of individual attitudes and leisure activities. Because it classifies nearly every household (less than one percent are "other"), it is more applicable for examining today's "family" life cycle than the more widely used Wells-Gubar or Murphy-Staples models. Additional analyses (Dulko and Schaninger 1989) demonstrate that this model is strongly and significantly related to food and beverage consumption, major and minor appliance ownership, dollar value of major household acquisitions (first and second homes, automobiles, RV's, boats, etc.), and to dollar value of home entertainment devices (stereos, TV's VCR's, etc.), and furniture. An understanding of how life cycle stages differ both attitudinally and with regard to leisure activities provides us with a gestalt picture of these lifestyles. When coupled with consumption differences, this information should be of value in creating background themes for advertising specific food and beverage or durable products.

Based on the results reported here, it would appear that the Gilly-Enis model might be a useful predictor for additional areas of research such as family decision making, family interaction/conflict resolution, household division of labor, use of time, or marital satisfaction.

Finally, although we view the Gilly-Enis model as fairly complete, there are a number of potential stages of the family life cycle that might be included in yet another updated version. For example, do second marriage individuals hold different attitudes than those in their first marriage? Do postponed newlyweds differ from those marrying earlier? While the Gilly-Enis model does include a delayed full nest, it encompasses both those having their first child after age 35 as well as those having additional children after age 35. Separate analyses on men's and women's attitudes based on using husband's rather than wife's age, found similar overall results, but resulted in a profile of delayed full nest couples closer to that hypothesized. Use of wife's age, rather than husbands, results in a larger proportion of full nest 1 households and smaller proportion of delayed full nest and older couple households. Use of husband's age, or retirement status might prove to be a fruitful modification. Additional research that incorporates such modifications may further demonstrate that, if properly formulated, the family life cycle construct can be both a valid empirical conceptual tool.


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William D. Danko, State University of New York
Charles M. Schaninger, State University of New York


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17 | 1990

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