Emerging Issues in Demographic Research


Marilyn Young Jones (1993) ,"Emerging Issues in Demographic Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 262-264.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993      Pages 262-264


Marilyn Young Jones, University of Houston - Clear Lake


Rather than review and critique these three interesting papers individually, I will try to extract something valuable from each paper and extend that to the other papers and to consumer behavior research in general (with some emphasis on information processing issues). I think there are several general issues here and will discuss four broad points: 1) the paucity of demographic research, 2) public policy and marketing effectiveness issues, 3) the role of replication in demographic research and 4) the use of consumer-generated terminology for behavioral constructs. The attached bibliography includes all the demographic articles published in the Journal of Consumer Research since December, 1987.


A quick review of the last twenty issues (five years) of the Journal of Consumer Research reveals only ten articles that involve demographic topics directly. That constitutes approximately 4.8% (10/209) of the articles published there. Including those articles that involve demographic topics indirectly, the figure rises to 7.7% (16/209).

Three of those articles directly concerned with demographics involve children's issues. They include such topics as: children's cognitive defenses against advertising (Brucks, Armstrong and Goldberg 1988); category development among children (Roedder-John and Sujan 1990); and script development among children (Peracchio 1992). A fourth article concerns the perception of adolescent role in family decision making (Foxman, Tansuhaj and Ekstrom 1989). There are several other studies which involve either gender or sex issues: the differences in processing strategies of men and women (Meyers-Levy and Maheswaran 1991); the effects of sex roles on judgement (Meyers-Levy 1988); the effects of sex typing on judgments (Schmitt, Leclerc and Dubois-Roux 1988); and gender roles and gift giving (Fischer and Arnold 1990). Stayman and Despande (1989) introduced the notion of perceived ethnicity while others have examined adolescent shoplifting behavior (Cox, Cox and Moschis 1990). These make up the ten articles directly concerned with demographics.

Other articles address issues that are arguably similar to demographic issues: working women/dual earner households and expenditure patterns (Bryant 1988, Rubin, Riney and Molina 1990, Soberon-Ferrer and Dardis 1991), parental style and socializing children (Carlson and Grossbart 1988), and homeless issues (Hill 1990, Hill and Stanley 1990).

Historically, the treatments of demographics in the marketing literature have been descriptive (cf. Venkatesh 1980). The aim has been to describe either the search or purchase behaviors of demographic segments with less reference to the processes that account for these behaviors. Many of the aforementioned studies point to a laudable trend to integrate demographic variables with well-established theories (especially information processing theories). Several, such as those concerning children and most of those concerning sex and sex role, have sought to establish a link between an easily measured or prominent demographic variable and information processing characteristics. The studies presented today reinforce that trend. In particular, Wooten and Galvin's (1992) work on perceived ethnicity uses theories about excitation transfer and contrast and congruity effects to explain how perceived ethnicity relates to measures of advertising effectiveness. Pathak, Kucukarslan, Sirdeshmukh and Segall (1992) demonstrate that the satisfaction processing of "vulnerable" consumers differs from the satisfaction processing of non-vulnerable consumers. Johnson (1992) has related the television orientation of elderly consumers to theory about social activity.

Marketing research has been said to be a search for independent variables. Research in the past fifteen years has often focused on cognitive states (cf. Petty, Cacioppo and Schumann 1983, Johnson and Russo 1984) and affective states (cf. Murry, Lastovicka and Singh 1992)) as key independent variables. Demographic variables, however, have practical appeal because it is easy to collect information about them and they conform to existing ways of reporting media usage.

The studies presented today extend our theoretical knowledge about demographic factors. In earlier work, Stayman and Despande (1989) tested the notion that ethnicity was a perceived as well as a biological state. This introduces the idea that demographic characteristics have psychological subtleties heretofore ignored in the consumer behavior research. Johnson (1992) and Wooten and Galvin (1992) reinforce this finding for age and ethnicity respectively. Johnson (1992) and Wooten and Galvin (1992) also extend that idea to show that a subjective demographic characteristic can influence marketing responses of interest - namely media use (television viewing) and judgment. Similarly, the "vulnerable consumers" (disadvantaged racial/ethnic, age, sex, handicapped and income groups) studied in Pathak et al. (1992) may experience their demographic characteristics in a subjective as well as an objective fashion.

There seems to be a change in the way demographics are approached by researchers. The theoretical range has expanded and emerging applications go beyond simple segmentation.


Recent advances in our understanding of the information processing and demographics suggest we are moving in the direction of greater promotion effectiveness. This raises three concerns in my mind: the application of social marketing, how to police abuses and how to enhance the effectiveness of public service campaigns.

Looking a Pollay, Lee and Carter-Whitney (1992) on targeting cigarette ads to blacks and whites, the issue of the social value of the product emerges. Better marketing techniques are praised when the product is a "good" product but damned when it is a "bad" product. Of course we can not always predict what product will prove to be "bad" product. For example, silicon breast implants were long considered a safe way for women to enhance their physical image. That viewpoint has given way in view of the recently discovered serious health risks.

A second concern is how to police abuses of particular demographic groups. The Uptown cigarette was removed from the market under pressure from black interest groups. The Dakota cigarette encountered some resistance as well. The consumer groups, for whom these brands was specifically created, were deemed unusually susceptable. These are clearly "bad" products and targeted to groups with strong lobbies. Our growing ability to understand and even influence perceptions about demographic membership (such as perceived ethnicity) and processing strikes me as harder to police than simple target marketing. While targeted cigarettes are rather easy to spot by the FTC and/or the special interest groups, media placement intended to raise perceived ethnicity and strengthen ad responses may not. It places an enormous burden on marketers to police themselves. Research firms and ad agencies, in their role as "hired guns," are not free of potential liability for "marketing malpractice."


Johnson (1992) has presented a replication study here. Many successful replication studies have documented the changing character of demographic or cultural groups. This is in keeping with Gergen's (1976) call for replications to track changing social phenomena. Several successful studies have tracked changing behaviors of working women and changes in the practice of marketing ethics. While Johnson (1992) has not addressed how the proclivity of the elderly to use telvision as a social substitute for information and entertainment has changed, this is a characteristic that could be tracked over time. Similarly, there is a role for replication studies for many "vulnerable" consumers. Further, the stimuli that provoke different perceived ethnic states also may change over time.


Popular books on management (Peters and Austin 1985) have advocated the use of consumer generated terminology as a way to better understand consumers (by being sensitive to the problems they want products to solve). One example is "itchy-scratchy eyes." This was found to be the way consumers conceive of contact lens solution problems. It stands in contrast to the chemical orientation that engineers have. I wonder about the extent to which we academic researchers are sensitive to the language used by the consumers we study. The field of cognitive linguistics addresses the notion that people's language reveals the primitive concepts held by the speakers and that this might affect the way they respond to research (Rosa 1992). The Pathak et al. (1992) study reflects this concern. They found that consumers respond differently about their level of satisfaction when the term "bothered" is used rather than the term "satisfied".


The foregoing points suggest that those with an interest in demographics have ample research opportunities in the area. There is clearly room to study the psychological aspects of demographic attributes, replicate previous findings and explore the public policy implications of marketing to vulnerable consumers.


Bearden, William O. and Jesse E. Teel (1983), "Selected Determinants of Consumer Satisfaction and Complaint Reports," Journal of Marketing Research, 20 (February), 21-8.

Brucks, Merrie, Gary M. Armstrong and Marvin E. Goldberg (1988), "Children's Use of Cognitive Defenses Against Television Advertising: A Cognitive Response Approach," Journal of Consumer Research, 14 (4), 471-482.

Bryant, W. Keith (1988), "Durables and Wives' Employment Yet Again," Journal of Consumer Research, 15 (1), 37-47.

Carlson, Les and Sanford Grossbart (1988), "Parental Style and Consumer Socialization of Children," Journal of Consumer Research, 15 (1), 77-94.

Cox, Dena, Anthony D. Cox and George P. Moschis (1990), "When Consumer Behavior Goes Bad: An Investigation of Adolescent Shoplifting," Journal of Consumer Research, 17 (2), 149-60.

Day, Ralph and E. Laird Landon (1977), "Toward a Theory of Consumer Complaining Behavior," in Consumer and Industrial Buying Behavior, A.G. Woodside, J.N. Sheth and P.D. Bennett (eds.), New York: North-Holland, 425-37.

Gergen, Kenneth J. (1976), "Social Psychology, Science and History," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2 (Fall), 373-83.

Hill, Ronald Paul (1991), "Homeless Women, Special Possessions, and the Meaning of "Home": An Ethnographic Case Study," Journal of Consumer Research, 18 (3), 298-310.

Hill, Ronald Paul and Mark Stanley (1990), "The Homeless in America: An Examination of Possessions and Consumption Behaviors," Journal of Consumer Research, 17,(3), 303-321.

Fischer, Eileen and Stephen Arnold (1990), "More than a Labor of Love: Gender Roles and Christmas Gift Shopping," Journal of Consumer Research, 17 (3), 333-345.

Foxman, Ellen R., Patriya S. Tansuhaj and Karin M. Ekstrom (1989), "Family Members' Perceptions of Adolescents' Influence in Family Decision Making," Journal of Consumer Research, 15 (4), 482-491.

Johnson, Rose L. (1992), "Age and social Activity as Correlates of Television Orientation: A Replication and Extension, " in Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothchild (eds.), Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. XX 1993.

Meyers-Levy, Joan and Durairaj Maheswaran (1991), "Exploring Differences in Males' and Females' Processing Strategies," Journal of Consumer Research, 18 (1), 63-70.

Pathak, Dev S., Suzan Kucukarslan, Deepak Sirdeshmukh and Richard Segal (1992), "The Vulnerable Consumer in the High Blood Pressure Drug Market: Bothered but Satisfied," in Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothchild (eds.), Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. XX 1993.

Peracchio, Laura A. (1992), "How Do Young Children Learn to be Consumers? A Script-processing Approach," Journal of Consumer Research, 18 (4), 425-440.

Pollay Richard W., Jung S. Lee and David Carter-Whitney (1992), "Separate, But Not Equal: Racial Segmentation in Cigarette Advertising," Journal of Advertising, 21 (1), 45-57.

Roedder-John, Deborah and Mita Sujan (1990), "Age Differences in Product Categorization," Journal of Consumer Research, 16 (4), 452-460.

Rosa, Jose Antonio (1992), A conversation at the 1992 ACR Conference.

Rubin, Rose M., Bobye J. Riney and David J. Molina (1990), "Expenditure Pattern Differentials Between One-Earner and Dual-Earner Households: 1972-1973 and 1984," Journal of Consumer Research, 17 (1), 43-52.

Schmitt, Bernd H., France Lecherc and Laurette Dube'Rioux (1988), "Sex Typing and Consumer Behavior: A Test of Gender Schema Theory," Journal of Consumer Research, 15 (1), 122-128.

Soberon-Ferrer, Horacio and Rachel Dardis (1991), "Determinants of Household Expenditures for Services," Journal of Consumer Research, 17 (4), 385-397.

Stayman, Douglas and Rohit Deshpande (1989), "Situational Ethnicity and Consumer Behavior," Journal of Consumer Research, 16 (3), 361-371.

Westbrook, Robert A. (1987), "Product/Consumption-Based Affective Responses and Postpurchase Processes," Journal of Marketing Research, 24 (August), 258-70.

Wooten, David B. and Tiffany Galvin (1992), "A Preliminary Examination of the Effects of Context-Induced Felt Ethnicity on Advertising Effectiveness," in Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothchild (eds.), Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. XX 1993.

Zinkhan, George M., Marilyn Jones and Kirk Smith (1991), "The Replication Tradition in Marketing Research," working paper, College of Business Administration, University of Houston.



Marilyn Young Jones, University of Houston - Clear Lake


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20 | 1993

Share Proceeding

Featured papers

See More


Magic Hands? How Hand-Holding Appeal, Food Type, and Contamination Effects Impact Food Advertising Effectiveness

Chun-Tuan Chang, National Sun Yat-sen University
Xing-Yu (Marcos) Chu, Nanjing University
Chun-Chen Tsai, National Sun Yat-sen University
Dickson Tok, National Sun Yat-sen University

Read More


My Money is Yours, but My Time is Still Mine: Inseparability of Consumption from the Self Increases Control and Giving

John P. Costello, Ohio State University, USA
Selin A. Malkoc, Ohio State University, USA

Read More


J7. Alienation from Ourselves, Alienation from Our Products: A Carry-over Effect of Self-alienation on Self-possession Connection

(Joyce) Jingshi Liu, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Amy Dalton, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Read More

Engage with Us

Becoming an Association for Consumer Research member is simple. Membership in ACR is relatively inexpensive, but brings significant benefits to its members.