The Effects of Activity and Aging on Rural Community Living and Consuming
Miller, Nancy J., Kim, Soyoung, Schofield-Tomschin, Sherry, The Journal of Consumer Affairs
The senior citizen or elderly market is traditionally defined as consumers age 65 years and older (Lambert 1979; Tongren 1988). Forecasts concerning the next century predict the number of Americans entering this particular market segment will dramatically change the face of the nation. Lengthening life spans and the celebrating of 75 million baby boomers' 65th birthday beginning in the year 2011 will result in a great wave of elderly population growth. As the first group of the baby boom generation (born between 1946 and 1964) approaches their fiftieth birthday in the 1990s, several changes in their consumption behavior will continue to affect marketing strategies for years to come. Analysis of age trends provides highly accurate projections for the future that will allow alert marketers to recognize potential opportunities years in advance. The purpose of this study was to explore effects of age and activity level on a cross section of today's and tomorrow's elderly as an effort toward helping society and business adjust to meet the concerns and desires of its older citizens.
Little comparative research presently exists that has investigated whether or not behavioral differences between older consumers and consumers in other age categories are identifiable and measurable. For purposes of comparison we examined the two age groups previously discussed - those baby boomers just entering late middle age or 50-to-64 years old, and those in the senior citizen category of age 65 and older. Tongren (1988) suggested that comparative studies were needed to determine if the behavior of older consumers was affected by their activity level and whether or not these characteristics made them unique in the marketplace when compared with younger consumers.
Most studies of older consumers have focused on their economic status as a determinant of market place behavior with little emphasis on their intrinsic or interpersonal reasons for shopping or the effect of social activity on shopping behavior. Studies often fail to take into account that frequently consumer behavior is an activity that takes place within the context of a community's structure. In both the 50-to-64-year-old and the 65+ groups, consumers are often long-time members of the community with many social and business relationships that influence their patronage behavior (Miller and Kean 1995). Granovetter (1990) considered that economic-based activity was "embedded in" the networks of personal relationships and argued that each directly affected the other. Etzioni (1988) emphasized that the choices people made, including economic choices, were most often based on both the needs of the individual and the needs of his or her collective group or community. His theory proposed that moral commitment interacted with economic factors to influence the overall behavior of individuals within their social environment. Reasons for shopping locally have previously been found to result from attending loyalties (Miller and Kean 1997a); thus, moral, social, and economic variables are all important considerations in studying the patronage behavior of late middle-age and elderly consumers.
Communities vary greatly in size, structure, and location with most research efforts directed toward understanding urban areas. Present calculations indicate one of four Americans who are over age 65 lives in a rural area (Schwenk 1994). Older residents of rural communities are, therefore, an important segment of the American population. Additionally, studies have found that older residents of small communities spend a significantly larger percentage of their resources in the local community market than do younger community members (Henderson and Hines 1990; O'Brien, Hassinger, and Dershem 1994). Clarke and Miller (1990), in analyzing America's rural communities early in this decade, found 14 to 20 percent of the population to be age 65 and older in certain states, such as Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas. More recent figures place Iowa as fifth highest in the nation with 15.2 percent of the state's population age 65 and older (U.S. Bureau of Census 1996).
Research on the current and future older market will have implications for small-sized locally-owned retail establishments who are struggling to maintain a customer base in rural communities (Stone 1995). Lumpkin and Greenberg (1982) and Lumpkin (1985) found consumers age 65 and older shopped more frequently in stores where they were known, and that older consumers depended more on assistance from store personnel than did younger consumers. Lumpkin's (1985) additional research on the elderly found that those who were more actively involved in the community, anti in general more socially active, enjoyed shopping locally, and that they shopped locally because of the merchants' reputation rather than their pricing structure or brand offerings. Understanding the individual's level of social activity in their particular community may explain as much or more about their consumer behavior than their chronological age. The findings from Lumpkin and Greenberg's (1982) and Lumpkin's (1985) studies were based on responses from rural and urban elderly apparel consumers collected in 1980; a current realistic picture of age-related activities for rural elderly and late middle-age consumers is needed.
Though clothing has traditionally been evaluated as one of the three basic necessities, in addition to food and shelter, it ranks lowest in percentage of budget share (Courtless 1995). Recent demographics for those 65 and older suggest that 4.3 percent of their total annual expenditures are for apparel products and services in comparison with a 6 percent national average (Courtless 1995). These figures may suggest to some that apparel consumption would not warrant further investigation; however, clothing has been cited as fundamental to social activity, well-being, and personal satisfaction (Kaiser 1990; Neal, Schwenk, and Courtless 1990).
Products that are used in furnishing the home are also important purchases involved in presentation of the self (Rapoport 1982). A home is often appraised by its users as offering a visible position from which to socially network (Niezabitowski 1987). Rural residents, in general, are known to have strong interests in home-based activities, and they spend heavily on home furnishings (Rural Readers 1992).
The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of aging and social activity on various dimensions of individuals, their rural community membership, and on apparel and home furnishing consumption activities within the rural community trade area. In our study, we asked individuals ranging in age from 50 to 85 years for their attitudes and perceptions about living and consuming in three rural Iowa communities.
AGE AND ACTIVITY LEVELS
It was important to first differentiate those individuals who were in the later part of middle age (50-to-64 years old) from those who would be classified as older age (age 65 and older) to see if differences existed in terms of social and market place exchange. In reviewing past research methodology, Tongren (1988) found research that compared older consumers with younger consumers problematic because multiple threshold ages had been used to describe entry into the older age category. The majority of the 67 articles he reviewed designated age 65 as the threshold for the older market. Tongren proposed age 65 as the entry into older age in light of past research applications and because it coincided with the age of traditional retirement in the U.S. However, he also noted that 8.2 percent of the male population and 2.7 percent of the female population of retirement age still maintained full-time employment and that many still held part-time positions. In examining current options for retirement in today's work environment, an employment status is not easily categorized (Hobbs and Damon 1996). There are various degrees of semi-retirement, there are various ages associated with early retirement, and there are some who have taken full-retirement from a former position but then rejoined the work force in a new position. The various types of retirement suggest that examination of only the consumers' age and work status will provide a somewhat fuzzy explanation and that a more global variable is additionally needed, which is representative of the consumers' behavior over a greater period of time.
Second, it was important to differentiate the late middle-age and older community members by their level of active social involvement in the community. Activity theory has frequently been applied when studying the attitudes of aging individuals. The central premise of activity theory is that when people maintain the activities and attitudes of middle age for as long as possible and then find substitutes for the activities they are forced to give up, they will maintain or increase their overall satisfaction with life (Atchley 1993; Palmore 1968). Therefore, those individuals who have found replacement activities as they age or continue to make new friends, are said to be different than their inactive counterparts. Adapting to aging is a life-long process of gradual selection, not a quick response to retirement from work or a 65th birthday. Selection is required over time in adjusting to changing environmental and physical constraints and in optimizing self-selected activities. Age and activity level, therefore, were not predicted to interact, but a possible interaction effect was tested in the present study. Social and market place relationships in the rural community were examined on the basis of age and on the basis of activity level. It was predicted that upon comparing …
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Publication information: Article title: The Effects of Activity and Aging on Rural Community Living and Consuming. Contributors: Miller, Nancy J. - Author, Kim, Soyoung - Author, Schofield-Tomschin, Sherry - Author. Journal title: The Journal of Consumer Affairs. Volume: 32. Issue: 2 Publication date: Winter 1998. Page number: 343+. © 2009 American Council on Consumer Interests. COPYRIGHT 1998 Gale Group.
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