The Effects of Activity and Aging on Rural Community Living and Consuming

By Miller, Nancy J.; Kim, Soyoung et al. | The Journal of Consumer Affairs, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

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. …

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