Consumer Socialization Factors in a Patronage Model of Consumer Behavior

ABSTRACT - The paper proposes that patronage behavior is more strongly influenced by consumer socialization than is brand choice behavior. The paper draws upon theory from sociology and business to make this case. In conclusion it strongly suggests that patronage theory has much to offer strategic planners and is therefore a research area with great potential.


William R. Darden, Donna K. Darden, Roy Howell, and Shirley J. Miller (1981) ,"Consumer Socialization Factors in a Patronage Model of Consumer Behavior", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 08, eds. Kent B. Monroe, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 655-661.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 8, 1981      Pages 655-661


William R. Darden, University of Arkansas

Donna K. Darden, University of Arkansas

Roy Howell, University of Illinois

Shirley J. Miller, University of Arkansas


The paper proposes that patronage behavior is more strongly influenced by consumer socialization than is brand choice behavior. The paper draws upon theory from sociology and business to make this case. In conclusion it strongly suggests that patronage theory has much to offer strategic planners and is therefore a research area with great potential.


Thomas Kuhn, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1970), described the pre-paradigmatic state of a science:

"In the absence of a paradigm or some candidate for paradigm, all of the facts that could possibly pertain to the development of a given science are likely to seem equally relevant. As a result, early fact-gathering is a far more nearly random activity than the one that subsequent scientific development makes familiar. Furthermore, in the absence of a reason for seeking some particular form of more recondite information, early fact-gathering is usually restricted to the wealth of data that lie ready to hand. The resulting pool of facts contains those accessible to casual observation and experiment together with some of the more esoteric data retrievable from established crafts like medicine .... "(Kuhn 1970, p. 15).

It is rather obvious that Kuhn has described the history of marketing science, just as his description applies to physics, biology, etc. Early marketing science was conducted largely by practitioners of a pragmatic bent. Their variables were the ones which seemed most obvious to then, and each seamed as important as the others.

In 1963 Howard presented what was to become the Howard-Sheth Model, the most extensive and well-known system model of consumer behavior (1969). In 1966 Nicosia presented his flow diagram-simulation of consumer behavior and suggested several areas of behavioral research for marketers. The "school phase" of marketing history was established with the presentation of the "multimediation" model of Engel, Kollat and Blackwell, the point at which we now find ourselves (1973).

"Under these circumstances, the dialogue of the resulting books was often directed as much to the members of other schools as it was to nature. That pattern is not unfamiliar in a number of creative fields today, nor is it incompatible with significant discovery and invention" (Kuhn 1970, p. 13).

Kuhn continues by showing that science does not proceed by accretion, the pattern once ascribed to science by historians, but by the production of revolutions in normal science which result in paradigms. " remains an open question what parts of social science have yet acquired such paradigms at all."

In the absence of such a paradigm, marketing can hardly afford to ignore the schools which have developed in the closely related social sciences, since their volume of received knowledge is at least larger than our own.

Paper Objectives

Socialization is not, of course, a new variable in the study of consumer behavior. In terms of "received knowledge,'' socialization receives attention in almost every consumer behavior text either explicitly or implicitly. Engel, et al., (1973) includes such variables as beliefs, attitudes, motives, personality, life style, normative compliance, cultural norms, reference group and family influences, etc., in their model, all of which are the result, in the individual, of the socialization process (Berkman and Gilson 1978).

Most large system models, however, focus on brand choice behavior. For example, Engel et al., use the socialization process to explain brand choice behavior. Yet little has been written on the influence of the socialization process on patronage behavior. In addition, the consumer behavior literature rarely addresses the influence of "adult socialization" on the consumer. There is evidence that adult socialization has great impact on patronage choice behavior under a number of life cycle conditions. Furthermore, there is increasing evidence that patronage choice behavior is a major factor in explaining consumer behavior. Thus the socialization process as it applies to adults may be relatively more important to decision makers than is understanding the socialization process as it applies to adolescents (Ward 1974 and Moschis and Churchill 1978),

The objective of this paper is to present some arguments for research in the areas of adult socialization and patronage choice behavior. In particular, the paper proposes that adult socialization impinges on shopping orientations and store choice criteria, and that this relationship changes as the consumer proceeds through the stages of the family life cycle.

Figure 1 depicts the Patronage Model of Consumer Behavior, which is to be used in this paper to help illustrate the relationships between adult socialization and patronage behavior (Darden 1979).


There are numerous approaches to the study of socialization. The major concepts of the social learning theorists include imitation, shaping, reward and punishment. The developmentalists include the Freudians who are concerned with social repression of psychosexual instincts and the Piaget school with the interactive maturational unfolding of innate mechanisms. The interactionists and phenomenologists are more interested in the interaction between the situation and the role or knowledge which the individual brings to the situation in order to act, rather than react within it.

All schools of thinking, however, are agreed that, no matter what the process of socialization involves, it is an ongoing process. While it is more dramatic to watch a human infant learning its culture, the adult, too, is continually interacting with its culture in a fluid process.

Perhaps one of the first to take note of the importance of adult socialization was Erik Erikson (1950), with his "Seven Stages of Man," in which he called attention to the fact that adulthood is composed of several stages: Young adulthood (where the identity crisis is concerned with intimacy versus role confusion), adulthood (generality versus stagnation) and maturity (ego integrity versus despair). Deviance theorists have long been interested in the socialization of adults into new, deviant roles (Lindesmith 1947). Adult resocialization has long been of interest (Bettleheim 1943) and has recently become of even greater interest (Lindesmith and Strauss 1977). Cumming and Henry (1961) described one of the last stages of adulthood, disengagement, which takes place at the end of life, in expectation of death. Kubler-Ross (1975) and Sudnow (1967) have described the socialization process of death itself.


Yet very little has been written about the normal socialization process as it applies to normal adult human beings going about normal kinds of behavior, such as shopping. There has been interest in job socialization (Salamon 1974; Ritzer 1977), especially, again, into deviant work experiences (Miller 1978). Political theorists have studied the political socialization process, but also with emphasis on involvement in deviant political groups, as has been the case in studies of religious socialization.

The Process of Adult Socialization

How does the process of socialization continue into adulthood? The process is the same as that for earlier stages. For the social learning theorists, then, rewards for correct, acceptable behavior accrue (promotions, engagements, smiles, gold watches, etc.). For the developmentalists, successful resolution of problems at one stage leads to "passage" (Sheehy 1976) into the next "predictable" stage.

For symbolic interactionists, it is perhaps easiest to look at C. H. Cooley's (1902, p. 184) famous "looking glass self" theorem:

Each to each a looking glass

Reflects the other that doth pass.

Thus, the child learns who he is by his interpretation of the reactions to him by others. The process is identical in the adult: the man who wears inappropriate clothing to work, for example, may become embarrassed by the reactions of others to his costume (see Gross and Stone 1964). The teacher who is greeted by polite but blank stares no matter what tack he takes in his lectures may decide that he is not a good teacher. The politician whose speech is received with applause and cheers may decide that he is a brilliant speaker or thinker and continue to run for office. All of interaction is still important to the individual, who may not face a continual identity crisis but is yet continually interested in who he is, whether his announced identity (Gross and Stone 1964) is being received correctly. As has been said anonymously:

I am not who I think I am.

I am not who you think I am.

I am who I think you think I am.

Socialization and Resocialization

Even though the mechanisms of the socialization process are the same in both primary and secondary socialization (Persons 1949), there is a distinction to be made in adult socialization which is rare in the process when applied to children: socialization and resocialization. Socialization refers to the learning of the culture in which one lives. Resocialization involves unlearning one culture and learning a new one. Resocialization is seen in people who move to a new country, in military and other "total" institutions (Goffman 1961), and in other situations in which the originally learned culture has been deemed unacceptable. While resocialization is usually used to refer to rather excrete situations, it may also be applied to the normally expected occurrences of adult living through the life cycle. Thus, a person who becomes a parent for the first time must be resocialized, although, as Brim (1966, p. 234) states:

"It is doubtful that one comes on a role in later life without any fragments at all of relevant socialization; the inexperienced mother may seem to know little, but she knows something, and, even more, she has response elements for the role performance that are not manifest at the conscious level."

Both socialization and resocialization are important in most adults' lives. As Babble (1980) points out:

"Every time you interact with someone, you are being further socialized by that person, and you are socializing him or her. When you buy something in a store, you learn a little more about being a customer, and the salesperson learns a little more about being a salesperson. You may not have noticed it, but your understanding of the role of customer probably changed a little in the process."

But Brim (1966) points out there are some important significant others which affect the adult at various points in the life cycle. Brim discusses four major sources of adult resocialization (our term, not his): (1) Nobility, geographical and social; (2) Variance in customs in society (social change); (3) Changes in the content of socialization, arising from passage into different erases of the life cycle and different institutions; and (4) Where childhood socialization was incomplete.

Geographical mobility is a highly relevant factor in American society today, although there are indications that people are moving less than they did a few years ago. With the great amount of homogenization which has occurred as a result of national chains and mass media (Where can you go in America and not be understood when you ask for a "Big Mac"?), this factor may become even less important, within the society. However, it is still important, as a look at such publications as the Sterns' Roadfood (1978) or Rice and Wolf's Where to Eat in America (1979) reveals.

Social mobility has perhaps been overstressed in American society, since statistics indicate that much leas vertical mobility actually occurs than the American Dream would have us believe (Robertson 1977). However, as there are strong indications that we are becoming a nation of white collar workers (Robertson 1977), and as the number of people with some college education keeps rising (Robertson 1977), social mobility is obviously an important source of adult resocialization. Much resocialization demanded by upward mobility is perhaps accomplished through anticipatory socialization (Merton 1968), and some through the mass media (Playboy, for example, and Mad Magazine; see Winick 1962; and Darden 1976).

Variance in the customs in society, or social change, affects people much more evenly, since most members of a society are subject to these pressures at relatively the same time periods. Babbie (1980: 147ff) gives as examples of such factors war and social movements. These kinds of changes are perhaps more dramatic and more obvious to the participants, although some are much more obviously accepted than others.

Changes in the content of socialization which arise from different stages in the life cycle affect every normal adult in American society, although not continuously. It is expected, for example, that every adult get married, entailing a transformation from one status to another, but this transformation is expected to be performed within a definite period of time (Ritzer 1977). Moreover, it is usually expected that one's peers are undergoing such transformations themselves at relatively similar times, so that they help and give support during the resocialization process.

Brim's fourth category of resocialization factors, those which occur where childhood socialization has been incomplete, are not normally expected of a member of society, and in most cases result in institutionalization. Normal adult socialization, as Babble (1980) points out, is a feature of every interaction with everyone. He points out further that the main sources of such socialization are such agents as formal schools (colleges, vocational and professional schools), on the job training, and the military. One's peers are, as in childhood, the most important agents of socialization for adults, as they are for adult resocialization.


Socialization involves learning the norms of one's society. All human behavior is said to be normative, socialized behavior. Socialized behavior must be meaningful to the individual, and it must be learned in interaction with the individual's environment. The environment includes other actors as well as props, or material aspects of the culture. Most learning is at least as abstract as the concept "many," according to linguists.

Thus, as the behavior becomes more meaningful, the symbolic and cultural aspects become more important in its deter-ruination. Marketers have demonstrated, for example, the greater importance of group influence on more visible product choices than on those less visible (Bourne 1956) (people see your choice in cigarette brands and in part define you by your use of filters or nonfilters, etc., whereas few people see your choice of underwear and shape your identity accordingly). It is our contention that store choice, i.e., patronage behavior, is more highly visible behavior than is brand choice, for many kinds of purchases. One does not simply choose the closest retail outlet, but rather chooses that outlet which fits his image of himself, a store where he is apt to meet other people who are "like him," who are apt to be his friends (Tauber 1972), and where he can find the kinds of products which people "like him" find acceptable. Massey (1973), for example, describes the behavior of many patrons of pornography shops as being furtive and secretive, because they do not want people "like them" to see them there, wishing probably to disavow this aspect of themselves as parts of their announced identities.

As related to Brim's three important sources of adult resocialization, patronage behavior would seem to be very important.

In terms of geographical behavior, it has been found (Andreasen 1968) that people who move to another area establish their patronage habits rapidly.

Social mobility obviously involves a great deal of change in patronage behavior, as people "on the move" try to determine where people "like them" or "like they want to be" do their shopping. Much of this behavior may be exploratory, at least initially.

Variance of customs in society as a result of social change need not have any marketing implications, but most likely does. Certainly, a war can cause disruption in patronage behavior, caused by the absence of products from the marketplace, etc. Social movements probably affect most adults' patronage habits very little, although those convention cities in states which have not adopted the E.R.A. may find a difference of some degree.

Probably the largest amount of patronage behavior to be explained by socialization and resocialization occurs as a result of status changes caused by entrance into different stages of the life cycle, and by different institutions.


Although consumer research to date has virtually equated socialization with young people (as young people are the most common referent for socialization research), it is clear that consumer socialization can and does continue throughout the entire adult life cycle (Brim 1966; Rose 1979; Riley, et al., 1969). We will be concerned here with both adolescent and adult consumer socialization, as it is perceived that socialization to the shopping task and the retail environment is a recurring phenomenon throughout the life cycle. As discussed by Sigel and Hoskin (1977), the relative importance of early socialization as compared to adult socialization is unclear. The persistence-beyond-childhood model of socialization would accord primary importance to the socialization acquired in childhood, while at the other extreme the constant change model, "...while not excluding childhood socialization, argues that adulthood brings the organism into contact with new experiences (new settings, novel events, new responsibilities, changes in biological and social status) which have a powerful socializing impact on the individual" (Sigel and Hoskin 1977, p. 262). The true position is assumed to be somewhere between these two extreme theories.


Human values, overationalized in the patronage model through the Rokeach (1973) paradigm of terminal and instrumental values (reflecting the individual's perception of some end-states of existence and modes of conduct as personally and socially preferable to alternative end-states of existence and modes of conduct) are given a prominent role in the patronage model, reflecting their centrality as constructs in consumer behavior. Values, in the Rokeach (1973) sense, are highly central and quite general, conceptualized as forming the basis for judgments in more narrowly defined situations or with specific referents. Since, in the broad sense, socialization is defined as the transmittal of culture, and since the basis of culture is the norms and bounds of acceptable variations in value systems (Clawson and Vinson 1977), it follows that the development and maintenance of a value system is, for the individual, at least in part a socialization process (Simpson 1977). This socialization may be imparted through agents such as the family, school system, peer group, or mass media in early life, while adult value socialization may be the result of the work group (occupation), geographic or social mobility, or the mass media, in addition to other factors. Rokeach (1973) has found that values differ by age group, social class, gender, and occupation. Darden, et al., (1979) have similarly shown that values are related to shopping orientations, as are the above four variables. While direction of causation is difficult to ascertain for the relationships between social class and values and the relationship between occupation and values (as will be discussed below), it can be seen that values, and thus the socialization process, play an important role in determining shopping orientations, and thus patronage behavior, both in their direct effects and as intervening variables.

Sex Role

It is generally accepted that the acquisition of a sex-role orientation is a socialization process. While the socialization agent is typically the same-sex parent, both one's peers and the mass media play a part in the sex role socialization of the individual through the identificatory process. It is felt that, in this case, one is socialized to a sex-role early in life, although it is possible for an adult to be socialized to some degree by agents reflecting the current cultural sex-role norms. (Bandura 1969). While we will strictly avoid the estrogen/androgen vs. socialization argument here, suffice it to say that at least some of the sex-role variation found between males and females is due to the internalization of social norms of behavior.

The sex-role orientation of the individual with respect to shopping is a strict and important subset of that individual's general sex role orientation; the implications of the sex-role socialization process, given the traditional sex roles in U.S. culture, on patronage behavior are numerous. To a large extent, shopping is considered the woman's domain: men are neither exposed to a shopping role model nor encouraged by their peers to be a "good" shopper. Thus, shopping tends to be a less well internalized role for the male, resulting in major differences in patronage behavior from females, who have traditionally had a strong role model in the shopping context, and thus strong anticipatory socialization to the role.

In addition to placing value on the female's family role of being a "good" shopper, the traditional female sex-role stereotype tends to sanction shopping as a legitimate social/recreational activity in which wives/mothers can engage with their peers while at the same tine being "productive." Similarly, the traditional wife/mother role for which females are prepared through anticipatory socialization embodies fairly narrow life space. Shopping may thus be viewed as a sanctioned vehicle for otherwise deprived social interaction. While both of these conditions suggest different shopping orientations for males and females socialized to traditional sex-roles, and thus different modes of patronage behavior, they also suggest that the female will be more susceptible to adult socialization in the shopping task through peer influence. While this discussion is not exhaustive of the potential impacts of sex-role socialization on patronage behavior, it does indicate the importance of socialization processes in this area.


One key aspect of social learning is "anticipatory socialization" of children and adolescents for work roles in later life (Turner 1971). Similarly, adults tend to be socialized to the work environment by their peers and the organization of the work situation with this close interaction extending the realm of socialization in some cases to roles and orientations beyond the workplace (Lorence and Mortimer 1979).

As Turner (1971) notes, the father's occupation plays a large role in determining the roles to which the adolescent will be exposed, and the nature of the "anticipatory socialization" which will occur, noting the particular impact of having a father who is in an entrepreneurial occupation.

Of particular interest here is the impact of having a parent employed in retailing. Darden, Howell and Powell (1980) have documented the extent of retail work experience in the U.S., indicating that this is not an extremely limited phenomenon, with over 35% of each of three separate random samples reporting having worked in retailing. The effect of having a parent working in retailing on the socialization process would seem to be significant, as would the effect of this unique socialization experience on subsequent patronage behavior.

Even more significant is the socialization experience acquired from working in retailing. Darden, Howell and Powell (1980) produce evidence that retail work experience, viewed as a socialization factor, is related to shopping orientations, attitudes toward retailers and retailing, and retail patronage behavior.


Geographic mobility is one of the primary forces bringing about adult consumer socialization. A move to a new community requires a high degree of resocialization to different customs, subcultures, shopping norms and retail structure. It means, perhaps, a new job with new peers and a new organizational structure. It may mean a new set of roles for which the individual may or may not be prepared. It means the search for new role models. The farther the move (especially culturally), the greater the degree of socialization which must take place (assuming that the individual does not engage in "expedient" socialization, wherein one learns new specific norms and behaviors but fails to internalize them, maintaining primary orientation to former norms) (Bandura 1969).

As noted by Darden, French and Howell (1978), mobile consumers have different general and shopping specific life stages, perhaps as an adaptation to the recurring resocialization process.


When age is employed as a variable in consumer research in general or patronage research in particular, it is recognized that it is in fact a proxy for a number of factors, some of which are reflective of social learning. The multiple influences subsumed under age may affect patronage behavior in different ways; it is thus useful to identify them such that they can, perhaps, be measured explicitly.

In one sense, age serves as a general indicator of accumulated life experience, reflecting the extent, if not the specific nature, of the socialization process.

Age is also a component of the family life cycle, carrying with it unequal probabilities of being married, having children in the home, and the other factors which comprise the FLC, as well as altering the probability of the geographic mobility of the individual.

Age also brings with it differing levels of physical prowess and agility, thus affecting the physical cost of shopping, as well as altering the information processing style of the individual.

Finally, age reflects a cohort with similar socialization experiences based on macro-environmental events and evolution. The age cohort is also likely to reflect similar patterns of socialization based on the role-models, educational philosophy, and media available at various stages of their socialization process. Thus, when one finds that a patronage variable increases or decreases with age, one cannot partial out the cohort effects from the other effects, making inference about what the "younger" people will do when as they grow older impossible from cross-sectional data (Cutler 1977), unless socialization life cycle, individual, and cohort effects are measured separately.


The purpose of this paper has been to use the Patronage Model of Consumer Behavior to demonstrate the impact of consumer socialization on patronage behavior. Some conclusions are listed below:

1. Consumer socialization affects patronage behavior differentially at each stage in the family life cycle.

2. While age is important in the family life cycle, it has additional implications for consumer socialization and its relation to patronage behavior.

3. Modeling, reinforcement and social interaction have significant impact on the Patronage Model of Consumer Behavior shown in Figure 1. For example, Darden, et al., (1980) suggest that retail work experience provides consumer socialization of a technical nature that significantly effects select shopping orientations. For example, chose with high levels of retail work experience are likely to be quality shoppers.

4. Darden, et al., (1978) show that instrumental and terminal values are related to shopping orientations. It seems likely that consumer socialization provides the raison d'Otre for much of this change in values. Thus if consumer socialization changes values, it may indirectly--as well as directly--affect patronage behavior.

The introduction to this paper presented Kuhn's views on the genesis of research direction in a discipline. He stresses that scientific disciplines develop using the data at hand, rather than addressing necessarily the most critical issues. From our discussion it seems likely that patronage behavior is a critical area in marketing that deserves more attention than it has received in the past. Darden (1979) presents several reasons for the neglect of patronage research, all of them supporting Kuhn's theory.

As suggested by Kuhn a discipline can benefit from placing research emphasis in critical areas. The current emphasis on "strategic planning" in marketing could benefit from a comprehensive knowledge of patronage behavior. Strategic planning requires an understanding of the process by which consumers choose stores. Manufacturers and large chain retailers can no longer afford the inefficiency of concentrating solely on brand choice behavior in planning their distribution and promotional strategies.


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William R. Darden, University of Arkansas
Donna K. Darden, University of Arkansas
Roy Howell, University of Illinois
Shirley J. Miller, University of Arkansas


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 08 | 1981

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