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Asia Pacific Management Review (2007) 12(1), 63-71

A Study of Life Events, Stress and Coping Strategies among Older Adults
in Malaysia: Implications for Marketers
Fon Sim Onga* and Md. Nor Othmana
a

Faculty of Business and Accountancy, Department of Marketing and Information System, University of Malaya, Malaysia.
Accepted in November 2006
Available online

Abstract
Although the positive relationship between life events and stress has been well researched in the behavioral and social sciences,
the relationship between life events and consumer behavior has scarcely been examined especially in developing economies such as
Malaysia. This paper is an attempt to examine the impact of life events on older adults from the perspective of consumer behavior. It
is based on the theoretical underpinnings that occurrence of life events brings about stress which in turn motivates people to seek
changes in behavior as consumers. The positive relationship posits that the larger the number of life events experienced, the greater
the level of stress experienced and hence the more the changes in consumer behavior. Methodology adopted for the study is the
door-to-door survey method using non-probability quota sampling. Findings support that life events are positively related to changes
in brand preference and consumption-related lifestyles changes in consumer-related lifestyles bring about changes in brand preference. Brand preference changes could also be observed for a limited number of life events examined.

Keywords: Older adults; Life events; Stress; Consumption-related coping strategies; Brand preference changes; Consumer behavior
attitudes, behavior, or lifestyles. These consumptionrelated changes adopted as coping strategies have implications for marketers.

1. Introduction
Marketers have largely concentrated their marketing actions on the younger segments of the population while continuing to treat older adults in ways
similar to the former. They are regarded as a segment of
the larger market. In addition, older adults were viewed
as similar when in reality they are found to be more
heterogeneous in terms of their need patterns (Allyson,
1997; Fry, 1997; Moschis, 1996). Differing needs are
seen as consequences of changes due to the ticking of
the biological clock (MacNeil and Teague, 1987;
Schewe, 1988) and secondly through the experience of
major life events that could serve as markers of life
transitions (Lee, Moschis, and Mathur, 2001; Mathur,
Moschis, and Lee, 2003). The first perspective explains
that biological ageing is likely to alter consumer needs
and the ability to function in the marketplace, giving
rise to opportunities for developing or modifying
products and the retail environment to better suit the
needs and ability of older adults. The second perspective posits that experiencing life events often result in
changes in ones outlook in life that in turn brings about
changes with respect to ones wants, goals, roles, consumption of goods and services (Lee, et al., 2001;
Mathur et al., 2001, 2003). In response to life events,
individuals tend to cope with, or solve problems derived
from the consequences of such events by changing their

Since the 50-somethings experience more


changes in life than in any other decade of life
(Schwarzer and Schwarzer, 1996), it would be interesting to see the effect of life events on older adults
from the perspective of consumer behavior. The majority of research that examines the effect of life events and
its impact on consumer behavior are mostly conducted
in the advanced countries (Lee, et al., 2001; Mathur et
al., 2001, 2003). In developing countries such as Malaysia, research that focuses on the influence of life
events on consumer behavior among older adults is
scarce. Since major life events such as birth, marriage,
death and illness are common to people in both developed and developing countries, it would be interesting
to examine the effects of life events and how people in
developing countries (such as Malaysia) deal with such
occurrences. As the number of older people in Malaysia
is increasing, the potential of the older market is attractive. It is without doubt that marketers have a large
window of opportunity to develop the appropriate
marketing strategies to target the increasingly attractive
market segment of older adults. This study suggests that
marketers could use life events as a segmentation
strategy as well as adopting the theme of life events in

Email: ongfs@um.edu.my

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prolific enterprises in the behavioral and social sciences (Cohen, 1988). Stress is a condition that challenges or threatens personal well-being (Thoits, 1995).
Life events that bring about changes and transitions are
viewed as stressors which create a generalized demand
for readjustment by the individual (Lee, et al., 2001;
Mathur et al., 2001, 2003). Besides acute stress which
may be short-term, chronic stress, a long-term condition
that challenges or threatens personal well-being may
occur (Lazarus and Folkman, 1984; Lazarus and
Delongis, 1983).

their communication strategy or in product/service


positioning.
The major contribution of this paper and the difference between the present paper and that of Lee et al.
(2001) are the following: First, this study is conducted
in a developing country with eastern cultural values
unlike the western culture in which previous studies
were carried out. For consumer researchers, the findings
would provide information useful in theory development; to the extent they replicate those of Lee et al.'s
(2001). For international marketers, the findings should
be useful information for their marketing strategies.
Second, Lee et al. (2001) examined the direct effects of
life events on patronage preferences, whereas this paper
examined changes in brand preferences and consumption-related lifestyles as coping strategies. Third, this
paper seeks to examine if older consumers cope by
changing their brand preferences. Lastly, this study
concentrates on older adults while the study of Lee et al.
(2001) consisted of respondents aged 21-84 with a mean
of 49.9 years (SD = 13.9 years). Because people experience different events at different stages in life, such
as parenthood and retirement, the use of a wide age
range could mask the effects of specific events. In our
study we attempt to minimize the problem of differential effects of age-related events by drawing respondents
from a narrower age group.

Coping refers to thoughts and actions that enable


the individual to handle difficult situations, solve
problems, and reduce stress (Lazarus and Delongis,
1983; Murrell et al., 1988). Coping implies dealing with
an adversity for which numerous ways can be employed
to overcome the person-environment imbalance. According to Schwarzer and Schwarzer (1996) coping
need not be a completed successful act, but an effort
that is made and that a cognitive appraisal of the situation is a prerequisite of initiating coping attempts. Does
coping take place only in stressful situations? Do people
engage in some responses in dealing with positive life
events? Do older adults change their brand preference
as a result of the occurrence of life events? These are
some of the questions that will be addressed in this
paper.
The main objective of this paper is to examine the
effects of life events on older adults in terms of the level
of stress experienced, their changes in consumption-related lifestyle and brand preferences employed as
coping strategies. In addition, comparisons are made
between respondents who experienced life events and
those who did not with respect to chronic stress, consumption-related lifestyle changes, and brand preference changes.

2. Background of the Study


People go through different life events in various
stages of their life span. Major event such as death of a
spouse or a close family member, marriage, a major
illness or accident, divorce, and etc. may take place in
various stages of our life and may require adjustments to
new conditions (Lee, et al., 2001; Mathur et al., 2003).
Some of these events may involve role change or transition that requires further adjustments (Lee, et al., 2001;
Mathur et al., 2001). It is generally agreed that negative
life events are stressful (Andreasen, 1984; Lee, et al.,
2001; Mathur et al., 2001, 2003). However, positive
events could also be stressful (e.g., Block and Zautra,
1981). This may be due to readjustment that results
from the changes caused by the occurrence of life event
or it may be that some positive events are out of our
control, with possible negative impact at a later point.
The nature of life event is subjective, depending upon
the assessment of the individual undergoing the particular event (Chiriboga, 1989). For example, divorce
can be stressful to some but a total relief to others who
are victims of abuse. The occurrence of life event usually evokes, or is associated with some kind of adjustments which are seen in coping strategies adopted by
individuals (Lazarus and Folkman, 1984; Murrell,
Norris, and Grote, 1988). In discussing the relationship
between life events and stress, it is widely acknowledged that the concept of stress is one of the most

3. Hypotheses
Figure 1 shows the direct and indirect effects of life
events on consumer behavior. Based on this framework,
it is hypothesized that the occurrence of life events
produces direct effect as seen in brand preference
changes and indirect effect on consumer behavior
through changes in consumption-related lifestyles and
stress.
3.1 Direct Effect of Life Events
Past research in consumer behavior supported the
notion that life events bring about changes in consumption and lifestyles (Andreasen, 1984; Lee, et al.,
2001; Mathur et al., 2001, 2003). Considering the
household as a consumption unit, many purchase decisions are joint decisions in which the spouse or other
family members play a part. Life events such as marriage and last child moves out of household, which are

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the person lives include divorce, relocation, marriage,


and etc. Past research supported the positive relationship between life events and changes in consumption-related lifestyles (Lee, et al., 2001; Mathur et al.,
2001, 2003). Based on the findings of past research,
hypothesis H2 (a) is developed as follows.

Consumption-related
lifestyles changes
H2(a)

H3(b)

Brand preference
changes

Life events

H2(b)

H2 (a): The larger the number of life events older adults


experience, the greater the propensity to engage in
consumption-related lifestyle changes.

H3(a)

Life events may not only cause people to adjust to


new demands, but also affect them indirectly through
the exacerbation of role strains (Andreasen, 1984; Lee,
et al., 2001; Mathur et al., 2001, 2003). In most cases,
the occurrences of life events bring about stress. Stress
forces an individual to adjust his/her behavior, activities
or attitude in order to cope with the stress, either reducing it or avoiding it. Chronic stress, which is referred
to as environmental, social and internal demands, requires the individual to readjust his/her behavior patterns (Thoits, 1995). Researchers have acknowledged
that life events which could cause an individual to assume a new role can be stressful (Mathur et al., 2003).
The positive relationship between the experience of life
events and chronic stress has been supported (Lee, et al.,
2001; Mathur et al., 2001, 2003). Hypothesis H2 (b) is
developed to test the positive relationship between life
events and stress.

Chronic stress

H1

Figure 1: A Framework of Life Events, Stress and


Consumption-related Lifestyle Changes
markers of life transitions are likely to result in changes
in brand preferences or consumption-related lifestyles.
Illness (e.g. diabetes or high blood pressure) may
result in changes in brand preferences due to dietary
requirements. In addition, other changes that follow the
occurrences of life events such as a reduction in income
upon retirement may result in the individual changing to
cheaper brands. On the other hand, a job promotion may
cause the individual to upgrade to more upscale brands
in line with the improvement in social economic status.
Research in the past showed a positive relationship
between the occurrence of life events and changes in
brand preferences which are viewed as outcomes of
adjustments (Lee, et al., 2001; Mathur et al., 2003).
Because many life events are markers of life transitions
(e.g. retirement, divorce) they are expected to result in
changes in consumer behavior due to the persons need
as a result of the new roles defined by these events (Fry,
1997; Mathur et al., 2003). In other words, the needs for
products or services may remain the same while
changes in brand preferences may be initiated (Fry,
1997; Mathur et al., 2003). Therefore the first hypothesis that relates the occurrence of life events with brand
preference posits that:

H2 (b): The larger the number of life events older adults


experience, the greater their level of stress experienced.
3.3 Direct Effects of Stress and Consumption-related
Lifestyles
In dealing with stress, individuals tend to engage
in changes in attitude and or behavior. The interconnectedness of life events, stress and the circumstances in
which the event took place, triggers a chain reaction that
would require a change in behavior which may include
consumer behavior. The occurrence of a life event
produces stress which in turn may give rise to changes
in brand preferences (Mathur et al., 2001, 2003).
Therefore, it is expected that the larger the number of
life events experienced, the greater the level of stress.

H1: The larger the number of life events older adults


experience, the greater their likelihood of changes
in brand preferences.

In response to the experience of life events, there


may be changes in consumption-related lifestyles which
could cause changes in brand preferences (Mathur et al.,
2001, 2003). For example, a person who has experienced an improvement in financial status or success in
life would engage in certain lifestyle changes to better
reflect his/her current social status. Hence, a change in
consumption-related lifestyles may require a change in
brand preference. Hence, hypotheses H3 (a) and H3 (b)
are developed as follows:

3.2 Indirect Effects of Life Events


The indirect effects of life events work through its
effects on stress and consumption-related lifestyles.
Life events could be seen as providing an opportunity
for changes in consumption-related lifestyles. For example, retirement, a life transition can have an effect on
the way a person lives. Retirees who have a lot of leisure
time may engage in activities that he/she could not do so
previously such as the pursuit of hobby. Other life
events that could cause an individual to change the way

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measure was used as previous research has shown that


an outcome of stress is depression (Cohen, 1988; Norris
and Murrell, 1984). Respondents were asked to indicate
on a seven-point scale about how depressed they has
been during the last 12 months, where 1 = extremely
more depressed than usual to 7 = not at all depressed.
This validation is based on the suggestion of Norris and
Murrell (1984) and Cohen (1988). In this study, chronic
stress and depression were strongly correlated (r = .753,
p = .000) providing evidence of validity. The measure
of chronic stress showed a mean 3.66 (SD 1.70).

H3 (a): The greater the level of stress experienced by


older adults, the greater their likelihood of
changes in brand preference.
H3 (b): The larger the number of older adults consumption-related lifestyle changes, the greater
their likelihood of changes in brand preference.
4. Methodology
4.1 Variables
4.1.1. Life events measurement

Event-experienced stress is the measure of acute


stress adopted in this study. It is the subjective assessment of the stressfulness of a particular life event experienced since different people tend to assess
event-related stress differently. Although it is possible
to speculate that some events are more stressful than
others, assumptions are not universally valid (Andreasen, 1984). Event-experienced stress was measured
using 1 = very stressful and 3 = not stressful at all.
Findings showed mean of 1.99 (SD = 0.38).

A total of 17 major life events were included for


the purpose of this study. While life event scales typically consist of several dozen items, shorter versions of
these scales containing as few as 15 items have been
found to be as effective (Chiriboga, 1989). Life events
that were particularly relevant to older people are included. The respondents were asked to indicate whether
or not they experienced a particular event. As opposed
to past studies that required respondents to recall the
occurrence of an event within a specific time frame, this
study requires the respondents to write down the year in
which the event occurred. Although critics argue that
the ability to recall affects accurate reporting of event
occurrence, past research show that this shortcoming
does not affect the ability to recall major life events
(Chiriboga, 1989; Wallerstein, 1986). Some of the life
events included were birth of the first grandchild, marriage of an adult child, divorce, moved to a different
place, last child moved out of household and serious
injury or major operation (Appendix 1). The mean
number of life events experienced was 2.41 (SD = 1.51).
From a psychometric stand point, the various events are
not expected to be an estimate of a single underlying
construct and therefore, should have nothing in common (Herbert and Cohen, 1996, p.304). Hence we did
not expect our composite measure of life events to display internal validity or consistency because each event
may occur independently from other events and there is
no necessary expectation that the experience of one
event increases the likelihood of another (Herbert and
Cohen, 1996).

4.1.3 Consumption-related Lifestyles


For the purpose of this study, lifestyles refer to
consumption-related lifestyles which reflect a series of
activities that respondents might engage in, in order to
deal with the occurrence of specific life events. A list of
21 activities were included in the study, some adopted
from past research (Lee, et al., 2001; Mathur et al., 2001,
2003) while others were developed based on activities
commonly carried out by Malaysians (Appendix 2).
Examples of consumption-related activities included
include: praying or engaging in religious activities,
reading, Qi-gong/Tai-chi, exercising, gardening, shopping, watching television, volunteering, and etc. Respondents were asked to recall the activities that they
did more often than usual when experiencing a life
event. The number of changes that were reported by
respondents was summed and the mean number of
changes was calculated (mean = 6.01, SD = 6.65).
Similar to the explanation given under the measure of
life events, various coping strategies are not expected to
be an estimate of a single underlying construct and
therefore, should have nothing in common (Herbert and
Cohen, 1996).

4.1.2 Stress
Two measures of stress were used in this study:
chronic stress and event-experienced stress. Chronic
stress was measured using a one-item scale adopted
from Norris and Murrell (1984). Chronic stress refers to
persistent or recurrent demands, which require readjustment over prolonged period of time (e.g. disability
injury, chronic illness) (Thoits, 1995). Chronic stress
was measured by using a seven-point scale adopted
from Lee and Delongis (1983) with 1 = extremely
more stressful than usual to 7 = not at all stressful. In
order to validate this measure, a global depression

4.1.4 Changes in Brand Preference


Brand preference switching was measured by
asking respondents to indicate whether they used a
product and when they last changed their brand preference for a list of 20 commonly used products: In the
last 12 months, In the last 2 years, In the last 3
years, and More than 3 years ago. Two other categories included to capture responses more accurately:
Never changed and Dont know or dont use. A list
of 20 products was generated: some are adopted from
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the Chinese, while the remaining 20% were Indians.


The percentage of Indians was raised to 20% compared
to the National Census of 10% in order to ensure adequate number of Indian respondents. The gender factor
was also taken into account in data collection. The
sample was drawn from 330 Malays, 200 Chinese and
130 Indians from five regions of Peninsular Malaysia:
Penang in the north, Kuala Lumpur/Petaling Jaya in the
central region, Johor Baru in the south, Kuantan and
Kota Baru in the east. Sample were drawn from respondents who were 50 years or older, living in urban
areas. Due to the absence of a mailing list that is representative
of
the
Malaysian
population,
non-probability quota sampling, was the choice.

Andreasen (1984) and Lee et al. (2001) others are


products commonly used in Malaysian households.
Some examples of these items are coffee, soap, shampoo, detergent, soft drinks, canned food, cologne or
perfume, instant noodles, toothpaste, automobile and
motorcycle (Appendix 3). The number of changes in
brand preference that were reported by respondents in
the last 12 months, in the last two years and in the last
three years were summed and mean changes determined
(mean = 7.50, SD = 4.63). Likewise, we did not expect
the various changes in brand preferences to be an estimate of the underlying construct (Herbert and Cohen,
1996).
4.2 The Research Instrument

5. Results

The research instrument is a questionnaire consisting of several closed ended questions. Among the
questions asked are those related to life events, stress,
brand and consumption-related lifestyles and demographic. Question 1 measures life events and
event-experienced stress, the subjective assessment of
the stressfulness of event occurrence. Respondents are
required to fill in the boxes the year in which the event
took place and to indicate the stressfulness of the event
on a three-point scale. This format of response is an
improvement over past studies as it is able to measure
the year in which the event took place unlike past
studies that required respondents to recall the occurrence of life events within a specific time frame such as
in the past 12 months or more than 12 months ago.
Question 2 measures chronic stress and global depression. Subsequent questions measured brand preferences,
changes in consumption-related lifestyles and demographic characteristics. Brand preference changes are
measured with reference to a list of commonly consumed products while consumption-related lifestyle
changes include a list of 21 coping strategies that people
might do in dealing with the occurrence of life events.
The coping strategies include praying, watching television, exercising, buying gifts, buying insurance, shopping, gardening, and so on. Demographic variables
measured are the common socio-economic status questions such as age, race, income, gender, education,
marital status, and employment status.

Data collection yielded 645 sets of usable response, with 478 respondents reporting at least one life
event in the past three year. This paper included only
events that took place in the past three years. Since data
collection was conducted in the early months of 2002,
events that occurred in 1999, 2000, and 2001 qualified
to be included in the time frame of past three years. This
time frame was chosen to capture the events that happened in the most recent past. The remaining 167 sets
reported life events that occurred more than three years
ago were dropped from analyses.
5.1 Demographic Profile
About 44% of them were below 60 years old
while about 37% were in the sixties and the remaining
were in the age group of 70 and above. Females made
up 52.3% of the sample. The Malays made up 45% of
the sample while the Chinese formed about 29% of the
sample. The remaining 26% were Indians. About 18%
of the sample had no formal education while 37% had
only primary school education, while about 30% had
secondary school level of education. Less than 10% of
the respondents had university education or professional qualification. More than half were retired or
unemployed. A small percentage were retired but continued to work either on a full-time or part-time basis.
Monthly income for more than one third of the sample
stayed below RM1,000. About 13% had income of
RM4,000 or more. The majority of the respondents
were married. Table 1 shows the demographic profile.

4.3 The Sample


Data collection was based on a door-to-door
survey using the method of personal interviews as a
high percentage of older people in Malaysia have a low
level of education. Enumerators were given training
prior to data collection. In addition, a pilot test was
conducted on 25 respondents. Feedback from the pilot
test served as inputs to further improve the clarity of the
questionnaire.

5.2 Effects of Specific Life Events on Chronic Stress


The effects of specific life events on chronic
stress and consumer behavior as measured by changes
in consumption-related lifestyles and changes in brand
preference were examined. Life events with sufficient
frequencies (N=30 or more) were analyzed by comparing the responses of those who experienced the event
to the responses of those who had not experienced it.
Table 2 shows the effect of life events on chronic stress

The Malays being the dominant group in Malaysia comprised 50% of the sample, 30% was made up of
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for 13 of the life events that qualified for analyses (with


n = 30 or more).

5.3 The Effect of Specific Life Events on Consumptionrelated Lifestyle and Brand Preference

The events that were commonly experienced


among older adults in Malaysia were marriage of an
adult child (n = 158) followed by death of a close family
member (n = 147) and family members health a lot
worse than before (n = 139). Generally the occurrence
of life events brought about a higher level of chronic
stress for those who experienced the event compared to
those who had not experienced even though significant
difference could be observed for only three events:
financial status a lot worse than usual, major conflict
with family member/co-worker, and serious injury of
operation. These three events were appraised as
stressful since they are closely related to personal
well-being, whether physical and emotional well-being
(Table 2).

A series of t-tests were conducted to test the responses in terms of consumption-related lifestyle
changes and brand preference changes of those who
experienced a particular life event and those who had
not experienced it to see if significant differences existed. Table 3 shows the findings.
5.4 Consumption-related Lifestyle Changes
Out of 13 life events that had sufficient numbers
of responses (n=30 or more), 12 events had produced a
significant difference in consumption-related lifestyle
changes for those who had experienced the event
compared to those who had not. The only event that did
not cause a significant change in consumption-related
lifestyles was moved to a different place. The findings
of this study concurred with the study of Lee, et al.
(2001). For all the 8 events that were common in both
studies, significant differences in changes in consumption-related lifestyles were found between those who
experienced the event and those who had not experienced the event regardless of the stressfulness of events.

Table 1. Demographic Profile of Respondents


Variables

Percentage

Variables
Race

Percentage

228 (47.7)
250 (52.3)
478 (100.0)

Malay
Chinese
Indian
Total
Religion

215 (45.0)
136 (28.5)
127 (26.6)
478 (100.0)

Sex
Male
Female
Total
Age
50 54
55 59
60 64
65 69
70 and above
Total
Employment Status

111 (23.2)
98 (20.5)
90 (18.8)
88 (18.4)
91 (19.0)
478 (100.0)

Islam
Buddhism
Hinduism
Christianity
Others
Total
Marital Status

217 (45.4)
106 (22.2)
102 (21.3)
35 (7.3)
18 (3.8)
478 (100.0)

Retired or not
employed
Retired and employed part-time
Retired and employed full-time
Employed
part-time
Employed full-time
Total
Education

262 (54.8)

Married
Married with
children
Widowed
Single or divorced
Total

64 (13.4)

No formal education
Primary school
Form 3, LCE, SRP
or equivalent
Form 5 / SPM
Form 6 / Diploma
Graduate / Professional Degree
Total

88 (18.4)
173 (36.2)

39 (8.2)
33 (6.9)
74 (15.5)
70 (14.6)
478
(100.0)

The findings of this study strongly supported the findings of past research (Lee et al., 2001; Mathur et al.,
2001).
5.5. Brand Preference Changes
Only four life events had a significant effect on
changes in brand preference: financial status a lot
worse than usual, major conflict with family member
or co-worker, major improvement in financial status,
and retirement. All these four events had resulted in
greater changes in brand preference for those who had
experienced the event compared to those who had not
experienced.

324 (67.8)
78 (16.3)
12 (2.5)
478 (100.0)

However, this study has an interesting finding in


serious injury or major operation for which more
changes in brand preference (marginally significant)
was observed for those who had not experience the
event compared to those who experienced the event.
This could possibly be due to the absence of the mood
or the motivation to engage in changes in brand preference when a person had serious injury or major operation, other than those mandatory changes as requiredfor medical reasons. Another possible reason
could be related to ones mobility as a result of serious
injury.

Income

79 (16.5)
68 (14.2)
31 (6.5)
39 (8.2)
478 (100.0)

Less than RM
1,000
RM 1,000
RM 1,999
RM 2,000
RM 2,999
RM 3,000
RM 3,999
RM 4,000
RM 4,999
RM 5,000
RM 5,999
RM 6,000 or
above
Total

169 (35.4)
118 (24.7)
78 (16.3)
50 (10.5)
23 (4.8)
6 (1.3)

The findings of this study concurred with the


findings of Mathur, et al. (2001, 2003).They also found
four events that had produced significant changes in
brand preference. The four events in their study were:
major conflict with family members, serious injury

34 (7.1)
478 (100.0)

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Asia Pacific Management Review (2007) 12(1), 63-71

Table 2. Effect of Life Events on Chronic Stress


Chronic Stress
Life Event
Experienced
Did Not experience
Sig.
1. Birth of First Grandchild (n=56)
3.79
3.64
ns
2. Chronic illness or condition diagnosed (n=81)
3.96
3.59
ns
3. Death of a close family member (n=147)
3.80
3.59
ns
4. Family members health a lot worse than before (n=139)
3.89
3.56
ns
5. Financial status a lot worse than usual (n=95)
4.23
3.51
p <.001
6. Last child moved out of household (n=93)
3.60
3.67
ns
7. Major conflict with family member or co-worker (n=44)
4.61
3.56
p <.001
8. Major improvement in financial status (n=98)
3.68
3.65
ns
9. Marriage of an adult child (n=158)
3.61
3.68
ns
10. More responsibility for aged relative (n=44)
4.00
3.62
ns
11.Moved to a different place (n=57)
4.05
3.60
ns
12. Retirement (n=34)
3.85
3.64
ns
13. Serious injury or major operation (n=47)
4.38
3.58
p <.003
Note: Table entries are mean values for chronic stress for those who experienced the event and those who did not.

Table 3. Effect of Specific Life Events on Changes in Consumption-related Lifestyles and Brand Preference
Events
1. Birth of First Grandchild (n=56)
2. Chronic illness or condition diagnosed (n=81)
3. Death of a close family member (n=147)
4. Family members health a lot worse than before
(n=139)
5. Financial status a lot worse than usual (n=95)
6. Last child moved out of household (n=93)
7. Major conflict with family member or
co-worker (n=44)
8. Major improvement in financial status (n=98)
9. Marriage of an adult child (n=158)
10. More responsibility for aged relative (n=44)

Consumption-related Lifestyles
Did Not
Sig.
Experience
8.50
5.64
p <.017
8.65
5.43
p <.006
6.79
5.62
p <.047

Experienced

Brand Preference
Did Not
Experience
8.20
7.41
7.06
7.59
7.07
7.69

Experienced

Sig.
ns
ns
ns
ns

8.47

4.96

p <.001

7.36

7.56

8.75
10.30

5.29
4.94

p <.002
p <.001

8.39
8.25

7.28
7.32

p <.037
ns

12.68

5.30

p <.001

10.14

7.24

p <.003

10.67

4.77

p <.001

9.19

7.07

7.60

5.18

p <.005

7.28

7.61

p <.001
ns
ns

10.86
5.48
p <.001
8.05
7.45
11. Moved to a different place (n=57)
6.60
5.90
ns
7.42
7.51
ns
12. Retirement (n=34)
13.26
5.42
p <.001
10.03
7.31
p <.019
13. Serious injury or major operation (n=47)
8.21
5.74
p <.063
6.30
7.63
p <.083
Note: Table entries are mean values for changes in the level of consumption-related lifestyles and brand preferences for those who experienced
the event and those who did not.

tionship between life event and consumption-related


lifestyle showed a positive significant relationship, with

or major surgery, more responsibility for aged rela


tive, and gained a lot of weight. However, contrary
to the findings of this study, Mathur et al. (2001) found
that those who experienced the event serious injury or
major surgery had significantly more brand changes
compared to those who had not experienced the event.
This difference in the findings of the present study and
that of Mathur et al. (2001) could be due to the difference in sample characteristics.

r = .704 at p <.001. Partial correlation controlling for the


effect of stress shows r = .697 at p <.001, again providing support for hypothesis H2 (a). Pearson correlation shows that the number of life events experienced
has a significant positive relationship with chronic
stress (p <.001 with r = .243), lending support to the
hypothesis H2 (b).

5.6 Hypotheses Testing

Testing the indirect effect of life events through stress


shows that the positive relationship between stress and
changes in brand preference was not supported using
the measure of chronic stress (r = -.075, not significant)
and event-experienced stress (r = -.063, not significant).
Hence hypothesis H3 (a) was not supported. However,
the positive relationship between changes in consumption-related lifestyles and brand preference changes was
positive and significant using Pearson correlation test (r
= .222 at p < .000). Controlling for the possible influence of stress and number of life events, partial corre

Table 4 shows the findings. Using Pearson Correlation to test the hypotheses, the relationship between
life events and changes in brand preference was positive
and significant with r = .127 (p <.005). Controlling for
the effect of stress and consumption-related lifestyle
changes, partial correlation yielded r = .117 (p <.010),
providing support for hypothesis H1. This supports the
notion that life events could bring about changes in
brand preferences as a way to cope with the demand
resulting from the occurrence of a life event. The rela
69

Asia Pacific Management Review (2007) 12(1), 63-71

Table 4. Direct and Indirect Effect of Life Events

H1 (a)

H2 (a)
H2 (b)

H3 (a)

H3 (b)

Independent
Variable
Number of
life events

Pearson Correlation
Dependent
Correlation
Variable
Coefficient
Brand preference
.127
changes

Number of
life events
Number of
life events

Consumptionrelated lifestyles
- Chronic stress
- Eventexperienced stress

Chronic Stress

Brand preference
changes

Event experienced
stress
Consumptionrelated lifestyles

Brand preference
changes

Sig.

Partial-Correlation
Coefficient

Partial Correlation
Sig.
Variables Controlled

p <.005

.704

p <.001

.243
.114

p <.001
p <.013

.697
-

p <.001
-

Consumption-related lifestyle
changes, event-experienced
stress and chronic stress
Chronic stress and
event-experienced stress
-

-.075

ns

-.063

ns

.222

p <.001

.188

p <.001

Number of life events and


chronic stress

.117

p <.010

tractive market segment to target as they have the time


and money as well as other resources to be able to

lation was used and the results further supported hypothesis H3 (b) with r = .188 (p < .001).

engage in consumption activities. For example, when


people experience a major improvement in financial
status, findings of this study show that changes in
consumption-related lifestyles are far more intense
than those who did not experience the event. Marketers
involve in the upscale market (e.g. luxury goods and
financial services) could make use of this in their
marketing communications to draw customers to their
products or services. Retirement is another life event
that is a transition that involves changes in consumption-related lifestyles and brand preferences. Marriage
of an adult child is another opportunity for marketers
as this event involves certain changes in consumption-related lifestyles and brand preferences. Buying
gifts, wedding receptions, shopping and renovating
homes are common among households experiencing
marriage. In summary, marketers could consider using
life events as segmentation variables in their market
segmentation strategy. Information gained from this
study could also help marketers in their marketing
communication actions to better target to older people
who might have experience certain life events that may
cause changes in consumption-related lifestyles and
brand preference. For international marketers who are
interested in the growing Malaysian market, much
could be gained by studying changes in consumer
choices preferences due to the occurrence of life
events.

6. Conclusion
This study is a pioneering effort in Malaysia that
attempts to test the effects of life events on consumer
behavior by examining the changes in consumption-related lifestyles and brand preference as coping
mechanisms in dealing with the occurrence of major
life events. The experience of life events brings about
stress and influences consumer behavior. For people
who experience life events, their level of chronic stress
is higher than those who do not experience the event
for some of the events included in this study. In addition, in dealing with the occurrence of life events,
consumption-related lifestyle changes were intensified
as coping mechanisms. Changes in brand preferences
are part of the consequences of coping with life events.
Hypotheses tested support the direct effect of life
events on brand preference changes in which Pearson
product-moment and partial correlations show significant positive relationship. The indirect effect of life
events through stress is not supported while its indirect
effect through consumption-related lifestyle changes is
supported. In other words, people tend to change brand
preferences when they change their consumption-related lifestyles, regardless of the level of stress.
Implications of this study are most obvious for
marketers. Changes in consumption-related lifestyles
and brand preference as coping mechanisms are opportunities for marketers. Knowing that people change
their consumption-related lifestyles due to life events is
useful for marketers to identify life events that are
markers of life transitions so that marketing strategies
can be developed to target at the growing number of
elderly. The next cohort of retirees would be an at-

Considering the newness of this area of research in Malaysia and perhaps developing countries,
it is suggested that the scope of this study be extended
to include younger age groups as control group.
Variables that measure resource capabilities such as

70

Fon Sim Ong and Md. Nor Othman/Asia Pacific Management Review (2007) 12(1), 63-71

income and health status that would affect coping


strategies should also be included in future studies.

Mathur, A., Moschis, G. P. and Lee, E. (2001). Consumer


stress-handling strategies: Theory and research findings. Journal of Psychology and Marketing, (July), 1-36.
Mathur, A., Moschis, G. P. and Lee, E. (2003). Life events and brand

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