Academic journal article International Review of Management and Business Research

Children's Influence in Family Consumption Decisions: An Integrative Approach

Academic journal article International Review of Management and Business Research

Children's Influence in Family Consumption Decisions: An Integrative Approach

Article excerpt

Introduction

Consumer socialization is defined as "processes by which young people acquire skills, knowledge, and attitudes relevant to their functioning as consumers in the marketplace" (Ward, 1974, p. 2). After t he initial consumer socialization process many children develop their own opinion and tastes about the products they want to buy (Turner et al., 2006). Contrary to the traditional assumption that parents dominate in family decisions, abundant research has found that children have substantial influence (i.e., influence on their parents) in family consumption decisions. Such academic findings actually parallel the reality in the marketplace. McNeal (1998) estimates that children 4 to 12 years of age influence approximately US$188 billion annually in family related purchases. Thus, children's influence in family consumption decisions is a topic worthy of research attention both theoretically and managerially.

Two theoretical approaches have played leading roles in studying children's influence in family consumption decisions. They are consumer socialization theory and social power theory. The former theory views children as a socializee and parents as a major socialization agent (among others such as schools, peers, and mass media). Under this theory, children are essentially passive learners and the socialization process takes place from parents to children (Peterson and Rollins 1987). Alternatively, the social power theory regards parents and children as partners in an interdependent relationship. Children possess relatively small degree of power over their parents.

To integrate these approaches, this research develops a conceptual model of children's influence based on consumer socialization theory and social power theory and tests the model with samples of children and their mothers.

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Consumer Socialization Theory

Consumer socialization theory stemmed originally from the broader research in socialization that is referred as the process by which individuals develop, through transaction with other people, their specific patterns of socially relevant behaviors and experience (Zigler and Child 1969). Adapting the concept to marketing context, Ward (1974, p.2) defined the consumer socialization as "the process by which young people acquire skills, knowledge, and attitudes relevant to their functioning as consumers in the marketplace."

Under this theory, children are essentially passive learners and the socialization takes place one sided from parents to children (Peterson and Rollins 1987). For an instance, children learn consumption skills and knowledge from parents. Thus, consumer socialization could actually be a dynamic and bidirectional process. Guided by the consumer socialization theory, researchers have found that children's influence is affected by a variety of factors, including family variables (e.g., social class, family size, and family structure), children's characteristics (e.g., gender, birth order, and age), parents' characteristics (e.g., education, occupation, and consumption experiences), parenting style, and family communication patterns.

Family Communication Patterns:

Family communication patterns are instrumental in the amount of influence that children exert on family decision in the present, and the way children will behave as consumers in the future. The socio-and concept-orientations are two patterns of family communication between parent and child. Socio orientation reflects a desire for harmonious interpersonal relationships in the family, and the measures may reflect the parent's efforts to achieve harmony through the emphasis of conformity and control. Accordingly, socio - oriented parents report an interest in telling their children to avoid controversy and arguments. In contrast, concept-oriented parents tend to consider communication a tool to convey and share views. Conflict, controversy, and resolution all can occur through candid discussion. …

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