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Theme: Theory & Practice
TESTING THE THEORETICAL LINK
BETWEEN COGNITIVE AGE AND
TRAVEL MOTIVES:
A NEW WAY TO SEGMENT THE
AUSTRALASIAN SENIOR TOURISM
MARKET?
Megan Cleaver
Doctoral Student in Marketing
Griffith UniversityGold Coast Campus
Thomas E. Muller
Professor of Marketing
Griffith UniversityGold Coast Campus
Address for all correspondence:
Professor Thomas E. Muller
School of Marketing and Management
Gold Coast Campus, Griffith University
Queensland 9726
AUSTRALIA
Telephone: 61 7 5594 8555
Fax: 61 7 5594 8085
E-mail: T.muller@mailbox.gu.edu.au
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TESTING THE THEORETICAL LINK
BETWEEN COGNITIVE AGE AND
TRAVEL MOTIVES:
A NEW WAY TO SEGMENT THE
AUSTRALASIAN SENIOR TOURISM
MARKET?
ABSTRACT
To test the theoretical link between cognitive age and travel motives, 356
Australian seniors ranging in age between 56 and 93 were interviewed about their
psychological motives for holiday travel, their cognitive age (how old they felt
and what age they would act), their self-rated health, and their personal values.
From a practical standpoint, the study also tried to determine whether the seniors
travel market could be usefully segmented by subjective ageas opposed to
actual age. The results of discriminant analyses point to the strategic usefulness
of defining cognitive-age segments when undertaking tourism product
development for the seniors market.
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INTRODUCTION
Until very recently, Australia's 2.9 million seniors (people aged 60, or over) have
not been the focus of attention among tourism product developers. While older
adult travellers in countries like Canada (Duncombe 1994; Zimmer, Brayley &
Searle 1995), Germany (Romsa & Blenman 1989) and the United States (Javalgi,
Thomas & Rao 1992; Vincent & de los Santos 1990) have been the subject of
empirical research, Australian seniors were largely ignored as a tourism segment
worth studying and exploiting (Presland & Matthews 1998).
Perceptions of their attractiveness as a tourism segment may change, however, as
tourism planners and product developers begin to recognise the increasing
importance of the Australasian population of seniors, including the half-million
seniors in New Zealand. Firstly, the seniors market is projected to grow steadily
over the next forty years, because of the increase in lifespans and the size of the
ageing post-WWII Baby Boom generation (Muller 1996; Statistics New Zealand
1995). Secondly, tourism marketers have yet to fully appreciate that seniors, as a
group, possess a lot of vitality and desire to travel. As a case in point, 49 per cent
of Australians aged 60 or more have no disability or physical impediment to
mobility (Australian Bureau of Statistics 1993).
One way to better serve the senior travel market is to develop a segmentation
scheme on the basis of variables which, theoretically, are likely to influence travel
intentions and behaviours. Once this is done, new products can be developed for
and marketed to specific senior segments by touching on their travel motives,
personal values and lifestyles. This approach to market segmentation has been
termed gerontographics by one researcher of the problems of marketing to older
consumers (Moschis 1992, p. 171).
Leisure motives, personal values, and lifestyles have already been studied in the
context of tourism decisions and preferences. But the theoretical construct of
cognitive age (or subjective age), which is another variable that appears to have
potential for marketing practiceespecially new product development and market
segmentation for tourism segmentshas not yet been explored by tourism market
researchers.
The study of cognitive age and its relationship to travel behaviour and desired
lifestyle among older adults is a new area of inquiry. It has important
ramifications in the design and promotion of tourism products addressing the
needs of the older segment of the Australasian population. It also presents a
tantalising opportunity for contributions to the gerontological and consumer
psychology literaturevia research and theory buildingwith perhaps some
solutions to the economic and marketing challenges posed by the growing number
of 60-plus consumers.
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THE THEORY OF COGNITIVE AGE
Cognitive age is the element of self-concept that reveals how old a person feels,
irrespective of chronological age (Blau 1956; George, Mutran & Pennybacker
1980; Wylie 1974). This perception of one's age indicates how people position
themselves within their life cycles. Cognitive age may contribute, more than
chronological age, to knowing how consumers view themselves and behave
(Wilkes 1992).
Neugarten and Neugarten (1986, p. 42) note that "A person uses age as a guide in
accommodating to the behavior of others, in forming and re-forming the self-
image, in giving meaning to the life course, and in contemplating the time that is
past and the time that is left ahead."
People of all ages assess their cognitive ages as different from their chronological
ages and commonly perceive themselves to be younger than their chronological
age (Bultena & Powers 1978; Markides & Boldt 1983). Apparently, the gap
widens between cognitive age and chronological age, as people grow older.
Middle-aged adults place their self-perceived ages as 5-15 years younger than
their chronological age, while more than half of adults over 60 feel 16-17 years
younger (Underhill & Caldwell 1983). Other studies support the significance of
cognitive age, reporting that 60-75 percent of people aged over 60 feel younger
than their chronological ages (Blau 1956; Bultena & Powers 1978; Markides &
Boldt 1983).
Socio-economic background explains a portion of self-perceived age variance, but
psychological factors also contribute to cognitive age differences (Henderson,
Goldsmith & Flynn 1995). Moreover, younger cognitive age correlates with life
satisfaction and lifestyle (Bultena & Powers 1978; McTavish 1971; Wilkes 1992).
Studies show that older people who are self-confident, outgoing, socially
venturesome, physically active, and influential in dealing with others possess
younger cognitive ages than their less confident, risk-averse peers (Day et al.
1988; Sorce, Tyler & Loomis 1989). Furthermore, people driven to sustain their
independence, and outwardly directed to seek social involvement, are more
satisfied with their lives and enjoy a younger self-image (Gollub & Javitz 1989).
Thus, cognitive age attributes seem to affect buying behaviour. Older people who
perceive themselves to be younger than their chronological age are sophisticated
and discerning shoppers (Age Wave, Inc. 1990). They are comparison shoppers
(Schiffman & Sherman 1991) who actively gather merchandise information and
consider shopping as a recreational opportunity for healthy exercise (Tongren
1988). Stephens (1991) notes that the cognitively younger elderly are affluent and
consequently less averse to consumer experimentation and readily accept new
products and services.
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Another factor which drives human behaviour and, specifically, consumption
patterns and desired lifestyle, is a person's system of value priorities (Feather
1996; Kahle 1996; Rokeach 1973; Schwartz 1996). While the influence on travel
behaviour of both personal values (Muller 1991; Pitts & Woodside 1986) and
lifestyles (Shih 1986) has been studied, the relationship between values and
cognitive age has not been properly explored.
Gerontologist Neugarten's (1968) landmark studies of ageing have established
that, as people approach the latter part of their lifetimes, they reveal a sense of
competence and mastery and a preoccupation with self-utilisation. There is a
tendency to search for self-fulfilling activities and experiences. As older people
contemplate the reality that there is "only so much time left to live," the recurrent
theme in their minds is expressed well by one such person: "It adds a certain
anxiety, but I must also say it adds a certain zest in seeing how much pleasure can
still be obtained, how many good years one can still arrange, how many new
activities can be undertaken . . ." (Neugarten 1968, p. 97). One would therefore
expect not only a shift in value orientation as people reached retirement age, but
also a synergistic effect of values and cognitive age on the decision to travel and
explore the "world" as a tourist.
Finally, the different psychological motives for holiday travel have also been
shown to be a useful tourism market segmentation tool (Ryan & Glendon 1998).
However, the link between travel motives and cognitive age has, to our
knowledge, not been tested. We believe that the theoretical link between travel
motives and cognitive age should be a part of the proposed segmentation approach
for senior tourism markets. If the magnitude of the gap between cognitive and
actual age is related to travel motives, it would be strategically important to know
how cognitive-age segments can be discriminated by the reasons for travel on
holiday. Then, segments can be profiled by such travel motives, and tourism
products as well as marketing communications can be made more appealing and
effective.
THE SCOPE OF THIS STUDY
Synthesising the research evidence reviewed, we hypothesise that the gap between
cognitive age and chronological age is a function of an older person's deep-seated
(psychological) reasons for travel, personal values, state of health and
demographic makeup.
The practical implications of this relationship are noteworthy. If cognitive age
(relative to actual age) is a function of value priorities, travel motives, state of
health and certain demographics, then the strategies needed to attract, serve and
satisfy older tourists might be based on an operationally simpler segmentation
model. As an alternative to a lengthier, more costly assessment of value priorities,
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travel motives, state of health and demographic characteristics, the tourism
marketing strategist might simply
a) Assess cognitive and actual ages;
b) Cluster seniors into various "youthful" and "not-so-youthful" segments;
c) Develop and promote concepts (activities, destinations, services) that would be
perceived by each segment as attractive, i.e., congruent with their self-image
and sense of physical well-being, and in tune with their values, travel motives
and demographic circumstances.
Thus, the purpose of this study was to establish empirically the association
between cognitive age and its hypothesised antecedentsnamely, motives for
travel, personal values, self-assessed health and demographic makeupwithin the
60-plus age segment of the population.
RESEARCH METHOD
A sample of 356 people aged between 56 and 93 was identified for us by the
Office of Ageing, in the Queensland Department of Families, Youth and
Community Care. Interviews were conducted in group settings that varied
between 10 and 30 persons in community halls and seniors citizens' clubs around
Southeast Queensland; they filled out a self-completion questionnaire after
listening to instructions from the researchers.
Cognitive age was measured in two ways: (a) Felt age ("I feel as though I am in
my..."); and (b) Activities age ("While on a travel holiday, the activities I would
choose to experience or enjoy would be those of a person in their..."). For both
questions, 14 half-decades (from early-20s to late-80s or older) were provided as
response categories. These measures are a refinement of the cognitive age scales
developed by Barak and Schiffman (1981) and were adapted after evaluating
Wilkes' (1992) research findings on cognitive age.
The List of Values (Kahle 1996) was used for the nine personal values measures
and respondents rated the relative importance of each on 10-point rating scales.
Holiday travel motives were measured with nine items that were hypothesised to
be good determinants of the gap between cognitive and chronological age. These
items were adapted from Beard and Ragheb's (1983) leisure motivation items, and
were chosen to represent three of their four factor components of leisure motives:
intellectual, competency/mastery, and stimulus avoidance. Given the findings of
gerontologists on how an older person's wisdom, maturity, mastery and
competency are translated into feelings of usefulness and capability, we
hypothesised that the intellectual component of leisure motivations and the
competency/ mastery component are stronger determinants of the gap between
actual age and cognitive age than the stimulus avoidance componentwhich is
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characterised by the need to get away from overstimulating life situations, avoid
social contacts, and seek solitude and calm conditions (Beard & Ragheb 1983, p.
225).
The travel motivation items were presented as "My own reasons for holiday travel
are..." and respondents indicated on a 10-point rating scale whether they agreed or
disagreed with each reason. The items were
1) To experience the fun of discovery (intellectual)
2) To become a more cultured person (intellectual)
3) To learn new things and enrich my life (intellectual)
4) To be a little adventurous (competency-mastery)
5) To find thrills or excitement (competency-mastery)
6) To challenge my physical abilities (competency-mastery)
7) To relax and do nothing at all (stimulus avoidance)
8) To get away from doing too much thinking (stimulus avoidance)
9) To get away from the demands at home and in daily life (stimulus avoidance)
Self-rated overall health was assessed with a 10-point rating scale anchored at
"poor" and "excellent." The demographics measured were year of birth, gender,
and educational attainment category (recoded for analysis as either "high" or
"low").
The magnitude of the gap between actual and cognitive ages was computed for
each person by subtracting cognitive age from actual age. In order to convert the
14 discrete cognitive-age categories (early-20s, late-20s, etc.) into interval data so
that these gaps could be computed, we arbitrarily set each cognitive-age category
at either the 3rd or 7th year of that decade (e.g., early-60s was recoded as 63, and
late-60s as 67). For about eight percent of respondents, the gaps were negative
integers, meaning that they considered themselves older than their chronological
age.
Next, the frequency distribution of gaps was split at the median in order to define
two groups, large gap vs. small gap. For felt age, half the respondents had gaps of
8 years or less, and half had 9 years or more. For activities age, the split was 9
years or less, and 10 years or more. Two-group discriminant analysis served as
the statistical technique. The large-gap / small-gap dichotomy served as the
grouping variable and the discriminating variables were nine travel motives, nine
personal values, subjective health, gender and educational attainment.
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FINDINGS
Two sets of discriminant analyses were performed. We present the results for felt
age first, then follow this with the findings on activities age.
Felt Age
Table 1 gives the main statistics for the analysis of the two groups based on how
old respondents felt. The results are reported for the 221 cases with no missing
data on any of the variables. Seven of the discriminating variables are significant
predictors of group membership (gap between felt age and actual age either large
or small). They are tabled in descending order of strength as discriminators.
TABLE 1 Discriminant Analysis of Two Segments, Based on How Old They
Feel
__________________________________________________________________
Correlation with
Discriminant Significance
Discriminating Variable Function p <
__________________________________________________________________
Self-rated health .550 .0001
To be a little adventurous .364 .005
Security -.300 .01
To find thrills or excitement .296 .01
Fun and enjoyment in life .284 .05
To relax and do nothing at all -.216 .06
To get away from demands at home and in daily life-.215 .06
__________________________________________________________________
TABLE 2 Classification Results for Two Segments, Based on How Old They
Feel
__________________________________________________________________
Predicted Group Membership
No. of ______________________________
Actual Group Membership Cases "Small" Age Gap "Large" Age Gap
__________________________________________________________________
"Small" Age Gap 102 69 33
"Large" Age Gap 119 23 96
__________________________________________________________________
74.7% of original grouped cases correctly classified; C
pro
= .50; C
fair
= .51; z = 7.43
Table 2 reveals how well the derived discriminant function classified the cases
into their respective groups. Against the proportional chance criterion (C
pro
) of
.50, and the fair chance criterion (C
fair
) of .51, the function correctly classified 75
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percent of the cases (see Lehmann 1989, p. 738-739). This performance is very
significantly better than that expected by chance (z = 7.43).
A senior's self-assessed health is the strongest predictor of the magnitude of the
gap between cognitive and actual age. People who give themselves a better health
rating also put a greater distance between their actual age and the age they feel.
Conversely, seniors who rate their own health more poorly tend to feel closer to
their actual age. Also positively correlated with a greater gap between actual and
felt age are the dual motives of travelling to be adventurous and to find thrills or
excitement, and the importance of the personal value, fun and enjoyment.
Note that the two items capturing the stimulus-avoidance component of travel
motivations (getting away from a demanding home environment, and relaxing and
doing nothing) are negatively correlated with the size of the gap between actual
and felt age. Thus, seniors who travel for the purpose of escaping from day-to-
day duties and winding down are more likely to feel their actual age. Also, those
for whom security is important as a personal value tend to feel closer to their
actual age (thus, cognitively older than seniors for whom security is not so
important).
Activities Age
Table 3 highlights the analysis of the two groups based on the age seniors would
act, in terms of chosen activities while on a travel holiday. These results are
based on the 216 cases with no missing data on any of the variables. Seven of the
discriminating variables are significant predictors of group membership (i.e., gap
between activities age and actual age either large or small) and they are tabled in
descending order of strength as discriminators.
TABLE 3 Discriminant Analysis of Two Segments, Based on What Age
They Would Act When Choosing Holiday Activities
__________________________________________________________________
Correlation with
Discriminant Significance
Discriminating Variable Function p <
__________________________________________________________________
Gender .440 .001
Self-rated health .417 .005
Fun and enjoyment in life .326 .05
Security -.280 .05
Being highly regarded by others .271 .05
To find thrills or excitement .237 .065
A sense of accomplishment .235 .065
__________________________________________________________________
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TABLE 4 Classification Results for Two Segments, Based on What Age
They Would Act When Choosing Holiday Activities
__________________________________________________________________
Predicted Group Membership
No. of ______________________________
Actual Group Membership Cases "Small" Age Gap "Large" Age Gap
__________________________________________________________________
"Small" Age Gap 99 71 28
"Large" Age Gap 117 33 84
__________________________________________________________________
71.8% of original grouped cases correctly classified; C
pro
= .50; C
fair
= .50; z = 6.47
Table 4 gives the classification results for the derived discriminant function.
Against the proportional chance criterion (C
pro
) of .50, and the fair chance
criterion (C
fair
) of .50, the function correctly classified 72 percent of the cases.
This performance is very significantly better than the 50% correct classifications
expected by chance (z = 6.47).
Gender is the strongest predictor of group membership. Males have a tendency to
desire holiday activities associated with much younger age groups, whereas
females tend to prefer activities that are seen as closer to their own chronological
age. In other words, females want to act their age while on holiday. The next
strongest predictor is self-rated health. Seniors who feel healthier would choose
the activities of people who are younger than themselves by a bigger margin than
seniors with poorer health.
Once again, preoccupation with security as a personal value is negatively
correlated with the desire to experience or enjoy holiday activities associated with
chronologically younger people. Conversely, seniors for whom the value security
is relatively unimportant tend to want to act much younger than they actually are.
Finally, we detect that a greater gap between actual age and the age one wants to
act while on holiday is associated with the travel motive of finding thrills or
excitement and the importance of the personal values fun and enjoyment in life,
being highly regarded by others, and a sense of accomplishment. Thus, some
seniors want to act younger because they feel it brings some excitement into their
lives or makes life more enjoyable and puts some fun into it. And some want to
act younger because they feel it will raise their status or esteem in others' eyes, or
because they will achieve a sense of accomplishmenteven while on a travel
holiday!
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SUMMARY AND IMPLICATIONS
The aim of this study was to discover whether the size of the difference between a
senior's cognitive age and actual age could be predicted from data on his or her
travel motives, personal values, feeling of physical well-being, and gender and
educational attainment.
We believe that this is still uncharted territory within the science and practice of
marketing. The relationships we studied are important because the theory of
cognitive age is still incomplete and the concept of cognitive age has both
intuitive appeal and marketing implications for practitioners who want to tap the
60-plus market in Australasia. If certain segments of the senior citizen population
think of themselves as considerably younger than their chronological age, the
entire approach to designing and promoting tourism products for the seniors
market needs to be re-examined.
Our findings indicate that certain travel motives and personal values are
associated with a senior's perceptions of how old she or he feels and wishes to act.
We found that the importance attached to the value fun and enjoyment in life is a
reliable predictor that a senior feels at least nine years younger than his or her
actual age. It is also a predictor of those seniors who prefer to experience or enjoy
holiday activities associated with people at least 10 years younger than
themselves. Also, travel motives that reflect a desire to be a little adventurous and
to find thrills or excitement are characteristic of seniors who regard themselves as
at least nine years younger than they are.
On the other hand, seniors who are security conscious and whose reasons for
holiday travel are to get away from domestic duties and find an occasion to relax
and do nothing tend to feel closer to their actual age. Also, women (more than
men) have a tendency to choose and enjoy activities associated more with their
actual age, rather than those of some younger group.
The tourism marketing practitioner needs to keep these issues in mind when
designing concepts for the seniors market. Since tourism products that offer
thrills, excitement, challenges, and opportunities for adventure are likely to be
preferred by seniors who feel and want to act much younger than they are, it gives
the marketer opportunities to develop concepts that reflect a self-image of
youthfulness. Give those seniors who want to act young while on holiday
opportunities to fulfil this desire.
For males, in particular, the tourism product should offer various options to
experience excitement and thrills and to have plenty of fun and some challenge
built into the activities included. The concept also needs to be presented and
promoted as a means of challenging oneself and finding sensory stimulation.
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Since cognitively younger seniors also rate themselves as being quite healthy,
overall, this gives tourism marketers more leeway in assembling tourism products.
In short, it appears that segmentation of the seniors travel market by cognitive age
is a promising and useful exercise when designing products, accessing segments,
and communicating with them.
Further research is needed to establish the validity of our findings, and it looks as
if there are some theoretically exciting and strategically useful relationships to be
tested further. By and large, the seniors we interviewed are the parents of the
Baby Boom generation. If the correlates of cognitive age found in this study are
confirmed in future research, the next stage would be to search for the same
effects within samples of ageing Baby Boomersan attractive market to many
businesses.
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