Discussant - Family Decision-Making


Effie Hacklander (1980) ,"Discussant - Family Decision-Making", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 07, eds. Jerry C. Olson, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 499-500.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 7, 1980     Pages 499-500


Effie Hacklander, University of Maryland

Changing lifestyles along with changing values have permeated all areas of life. Changing behavior patterns have in all probability influenced the activities associated with family decision-making. The wide spread availability and use of household appliances, smaller sized families, better health, inflation, higher levels of education, and rising material consumption standards are often cited as influences and evidence of changing lifestyle. As the papers presented suggest, it is time for some overhauling of the traditional family decision-making models to more closely match the real world. For example, working wives are no longer a scarce phenomena, as both the Department of Labor and Heffring point out. Married women have traditionally performed homemaker roles in society in exchange for various social rewards. However, as various socio-economic conditions are causing increased monetary pressures, many families are meeting these pressures by having the wife go to work. It is estimated that almost half of the working wives are working almost entirely for financial reasons, although working wives are found in all income levels (National Commission on Working Women). Regardless of income level, when a wife is working she is exchanging part of the homemaker role for a dual role in which she anticipates greater power and influence in view of her contribution to the family coffers. Major role shifts, or role expansions, of this sort indicate situational adjustments in all areas of life. Thus, as Heffring suggests, the use of role classification can focus on changes in interaction and influence patterns within the family. As the various types of papers in this session point out, there are several frameworks for viewing familial roles, modes, and contributions, in terms of who and how purchase and consumption decisions are made.

Grashof and Dixon view the household as the "proper" basic unit for research in consumer behavior. Their definition of the household is couched in terms of a social system with defined role structure and responsibilities. This is followed by a formal discussion of inputs of the system with the conclusion that satisfaction is derived only from consumption. Also "with time and income the concern need only be with allocation of the available quantity." (Grashof and Dixon, p.2). There is a problem with this type of model in that it neglects the idea that money is a commodity, and that for some families nonspending can also be a source from which to derive pleasure. Money is emotionally laden and for some individuals, putting the money in the bank instead of spending it is the household decision that gives satisfaction. This type of "purchase" is not one of the elements of Grashof and Dixon's model, although the output from the system from the point of view of the participants is satisfaction. The idea of money being an emotion laden commodity adheres to the two underlying assumptions stated by the authors where the household has free choice in determining purchases and consumption, and second, that these choices are rational. Choosing not to spend can certainly be a rational household decision. For example, choosing not to purchase a new gas guzzler this year, or choosing to stop smoking. I do not doubt the authors claim that most of the existing research will fit into their model, but with that claim I am disappointed. What starts as an honest attempt to chew on the elephant of consumer behavior research becomes bogged down and quite traditionally oriented when faced with the enormity of the beast.

Some years ago a University of Michigan study, reported by Morgan, traced income dynamics in 5,000 households for five years. The changes in those households, in terms of disequilibrium, were mind boggling, but change must be a major consideration as equilibrium in the household is much less commonly the day-to-day norm than many researchers assume. Since sources of disequilibrium can be grouped conveniently as either economic and/or demographic, the research model used by Beutler and Sahlberg in their presentation seems a viable approach for investigating the family managerial decision process. Although one can spend useless hours arguing over the individual variables used, the essence of economic variables, demographic variables, and expected or anticipated changes fit the equilibrium/ disequilibrium measure of consumer behavior. Measures of what consumers do and of why they do those things are not abundant in the literature (Manchester, 1977; Olshavsky, 1979). In view of this, Beutler and Sahlberg should not be surprised that total household income was not found to impact on planning formality of the family. There are other similar studies where with extensive gathering of, and extensive analysis of the income component, researchers have discovered similar results. Again an indication that conventional theory and analysis may need to be reworked.

Belch, Belch, and Sciglimpaglia, also focusing on family decisions rather than individual decisions, are concerned with how decisions are made rather than only by whom. They are interested in measuring the techniques or styles used by families to re-establish equilibrium. Empirical results indicate that overall very little disagreement occurs among family members during the decision process. Forget (for a moment) the usual arguments about dealing with observations based on people's perceptions of a task, etc. The conflict situation set up for the respondents, indeed the stated purpose of the study, was to consider the amount of conflict that existed in the family during decisions, and the different strategies used to resolve this conflict. In other words, the data deals with what, where, when, how, how much, but not why.

Thus by examination of the four papers in this session we begin to see the enormity of the task facing the consumer behavior researcher. Yet one can also see the emerging framework evolving from considering the several approaches given above. And thus some concluding generalizations:

1) The focus is on family decision-making, not individual decisions.

2) Income analysis is not enough.

3) Equilibrium should not be assumed.

4) Measures of what families do and why they do those things are needed.

5) Societal roles and values, and thus lifestyles are changing.

6) Measures that include an anticipation of future needs or changes are needed.

Although the family is a traditional unit of analysis, traditional forms of studying the family art comprehensive enough to yield appropriate answers to researchers questions.


Olshavsky, Richard W, and Donald H. Grandbois (1979), "Consumer Decision Making--Fact or Fiction?" Journal of Consumer Research, 6, 93-100.

Manchester, Alden C. (1977), "Household Consumption Behavior: Understanding, Measurement, and Applications in Policy-Oriented Research." American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Vol. 59. No. 1, 149-154.

Morgan, J. N. ed. (1974), Five Thousand American-Families --Patterns of Economic Progress, Vol. 1. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan.

National Commission on Working Women, "A Few Facts About Working Women," Center for Women & Work.



Effie Hacklander, University of Maryland


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 07 | 1980

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