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A comparison of consumer decision-making behavior of married and cohabiting couples

Nabil Razzouk, Victoria Seitz and Karen Prodigalidad Capo


California State University, San Bernardino, San Bernardino, California, USA
Abstract Purpose The purpose of this article is to compare the consumer decision-making behavior between married and cohabiting couples. Design/methodology/approach Data were collected from 40 cohabiting couples and 53 married couples in a western state via a self-administered questionnaire. The structure and the instrument used replicated the Gadis et al. study in exploring consumer decision-making processes of married couples. Findings Married couples tended to be more syncratic than cohabiting couples in their decision to purchase forms of savings in this phase, but more autonomic when purchasing alcoholic beverages. Cohabiting couples were found to be more syncratic in their decision making for these products at this phase than married couples. The results, when compared to those of 18 years ago found that men and women of married couples make purchasing decisions separately, while men and women of cohabiting couples made most of theirs together. Implications of the ndings were then discussed. Practical implications Marketers, when attempting to reach married couples today, should focus media and advertising communication efforts on two audiences rather than one since either the husband or wife may be making the decision. The communication strategy used should focus on the joint nature of both processes since cohabiters showed a propensity toward syncratic strategies in all three phases. Advertising and message strategies should focus on how single people of the opposite sex decide on product purchases together since cohabiters are more like single people in their decision-making behavior. Originality/value This study compares consumer decision making among married and cohabiting couples. Keywords Consumer behaviour, Decision making, Marriage, Dual-career couples, Advertising effectiveness Paper type Research paper

An executive summary for managers and executive readers can be found at the end of this article.

Introduction
Most of the literature currently available on household consumer decision-making behavior focuses on the traditional family. Today, they are seen as married, dual-income couples with children or married, single-income couples (usually, with the father working) with children. However in the 1970s a dramatic increase in cohabitation occurred, a trend that had been increasing for over 25 years (Waters and Ressler, 1999). Bumpass and Sweet found that almost half of the US population had been in a cohabiting relationship sometime in their lives by their early 30s (Bumpass and Sweet as cited in Waters and Ressler, 1999). Regardless of whether cohabiters eventually marry or not (as single or divorced people), a distinct difference exists between cohabiters and married people. Cohabiters tend to embrace individualism, as well as ideals of personal autonomy and equity when it comes to each partners contribution to the household (Brines and Joyner, 1999). The emphasis on equality for both partners in a cohabiting relationship is contrary to the emphasis on collectivism among married
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couples. Married couples, for example, are more likely to have joint banking accounts and joint ownership of homes than cohabiting couples (Brines and Joyner, 1999). While studies exist that compare the different dynamics between cohabitation and marriage, few studies focus on comparing the consumer decision-making process of both types of unions. One of a few recent studies to focus on the purchasing behavior of both cohabiting and married couples in the last two decades was Gaidis et al. (1986). However, the structure of the family in America has changed since the time of the Gaidis et al. (1986) study. In families today, more negotiation between husbands and wives occurs in consumer decision making (Clulow, as cited in Belch and Willis, 2002, p. 112). The increased presence of dual-income families has also increased the inuence women have on consumer decision making. It has also generated uncertainty about gender roles and responsibilities (Clulow, as cited by Belch and Willis, 2002, p. 112). Belch and Willis (2002) found that wives gained more inuence overall in every area of consumer decision making since the 1980s. Hence, the purpose of the study was to replicate Gaidis et al.s (1986) study and compare consumer decision making among married and cohabiting couples. In addition, the results of the present study will be compared to those of Gaidis et al. (1986) to determine differences in decision making then and now. This study is essential given that traditional families have the highest average expenditures and ownership of most major appliances, houses, and many other durable goods (Schnaninger et al., as cited in Schaninger and Lee, 2002, p. 26). Moreover, the number of cohabiting couples has increased since 1960 from 439,000 couples to 4.57 million couples today, and it is believed that it will increase in the 264

A comparison of consumer decision-making behavior of couples Nabil Razzouk, Victoria Seitz and Karen Prodigalidad Capo

Journal of Consumer Marketing Volume 24 Number 5 2007 264 274

future as well (Gardyn, 2002, p. 58). This trend makes cohabiting couples also a viable subject for the present study.

home. This of course, does not consider those who cohabit for life and have qualities more in common with married couples (Smock, 2000).

Relevant literature
The dynamics of consumer decision-making behavior for married and cohabiting couples In consumer decision-making research, traditional couples, specically married couples, role specialize in their decision making. In contrast, nontraditional couples such as cohabiters make decisions jointly. McConocha et al. (1993), as in the study done by Granbois and Rosen (1983), found that women made most of the money management decisions among married couples. Also, men in these couples usually made the nancing decisions. McConocha et al. (1993) found that cohabiters, unlike married couples, tended to hold individual accounts and make household money management decisions jointly. The tenuous nature of these relationships made joint decisions necessary to reduce perceived risks in managing assets and liabilities (McConocha et al., 1993). Since both men and women in cohabiting relationships held separate accounts, joint decision making was also necessary since money is coming from two separate sources of income instead of a common one. Sociological research ndings state that role specialization in marriage results from the pairing of people with complementary skills. Traditionally, this role specialization has been seen as men focusing on market work and women on home production (Light, 2004). This same type of specialization can also be seen in the consumer decisionmaking behavior of married couples. Davis and Rigaux (1974) and Belch et al. (1985) found wives to be dominant during the problem recognition and information search stage for traditional female products (household furnishings, appliances, breakfast cereals etc.). Husbands were found to be more dominant in the information search stage for products such as automobiles and television sets. Though role specialization has been a trend in the consumer decision making of married couples in the past, this trend is starting to change. Married couples are becoming more like cohabiting couples in the sense that more joint decisions are being made. Belch and Willis (2002) reported that household purchasing decisions for items such as automobiles, televisions, and nancial planning are moving from being primarily male-dominated decisions to joint decisions. Household decision-making areas that were once dominated by one gender were also becoming more inuenced by the opposite gender. For instance, Zinn found that of 80 percent of men purchased 25 percent of household groceries, while women were taking a larger part in the purchase of insurance, automobiles, and nancial services (Zinn as cited by Belch and Willis, 2002). Though the ways men and women make household purchases in married and cohabiting couples are more similar today, both couples still differ in certain ways. For instance, Smock (2000) did not consider cohabitation as something similar to marriage but as something that is an alternative to being single. If looking at homeownership, only 33 percent of single and cohabiting men own homes versus 80 percent of married men. The planning of the purchase of homes takes great monetary resources and planning. The temporary nature of cohabitation makes it more impractical for these couples to purchase something permanent like a 265 The family life cycle and alternative household consumption behavior Marketers have used and still make use of family life cycle models to explain the consumption behavior of households. These models operate on the premise that the consumer decisions people make are affected by certain stages they have reached in life. The family life cycle model developed by Wells and Gubar is used most often and is believed to work because it demonstrates couples consumer behavior as children age and leave the household (Schaninger and Lee, 2002). Using Wells and Gubars model, Schaninger and Lee (2002) dened different consumption stages as the traditional young newlywed, full nest, empty nest, and solitary survivor stages. However, the model has been criticized for not concentrating enough on other types of households outside of traditional ones. It did not take into account the decline of the average family size, delayed rst marriages, the increase of divorce, lifetime bachelors, and childless families. Both the Murphy, Staples, Gilly and Enis models, as mentioned by Schaninger and Lee (2002), were created to take into account the different consumption habits of nontraditional families (Schaninger and Lee, 2002). For instance, Murphy and Staples (1979) showed that the pattern of consumption for divorced families with children were similar to single parents (Schaninger and Lee, 2002). Both were found not to be heavy patrons of restaurants and consumers of alcohol, but heavy consumers of convenience and junk food. Murphy, Staples, Gilly, Enis, as mentioned by Schaninger and Lee (2002), also gave interesting insight into the consumption behavior of childless couples. Both showed that childless couples deferred ownership of homes and related durable consumer products (Schaninger and Lee, 2002). These couples spent most of their discretionary income on secondary vehicles and durable products associated with their lifestyle. One of the most notable exceptions from both the WellsGubar and Murphy-Staples models was the classication of cohabiting couples by Gilly and Enis (1982) (Schaninger and Lee, 2002). Cohabiters are more similar to single people in terms of consumption patterns due to the more individualistic nature of their relationships. The only similarities that exist are non-consumption related between married couples and cohabiters who eventually plan to marry. Both show similarities in several areas of relationship quality (Smock, 2000). The presence of stepfamilies is a topic of interest in cohabitation. Though most women in the US do not give birth in cohabiting relationships, an estimated 40 percent of children will live in a cohabiting household sometime in their childhood (Bumpass and Lu, as cited by Smock, 2000). An estimated 13 percent of children that claimed to live in single parent families actually lived with cohabiting parents (Smock, 2000). Given the transient nature of cohabiting couples, such relationships with stepchildren are assumed to be more similar to single parent households rather than married couple households in terms of consumer decision making.

A comparison of consumer decision-making behavior of couples Nabil Razzouk, Victoria Seitz and Karen Prodigalidad Capo

Journal of Consumer Marketing Volume 24 Number 5 2007 264 274

Methodology
Sample and data collection Data were gathered from a convenience sample of 40 cohabiting couples and 53 married couples in a western state. Self-selection bias is the limitation of this method of data collection. In the interest of time and convenience, this method was the most appropriate to use. Several advertisements were posted on the internet through craigslist.org, soliciting the participation of married and unmarried couples in this study. Couples were instructed to e-mail their marital status and home addresses to the researchers if interested in participating. Associates of the researchers were also solicited for help in the search for participants for this study. These associates found participants in different cities in both northern and southern parts of this western state. Two surveys were mailed to each participating heterosexual married and cohabiting couple, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope and a cover letter with instructions. The questionnaires were color-coded for male/female (cohabiting couples) and husband/wife (married couples). The male and husband questionnaires were colored blue while the female and wife questionnaires were colored yellow. The cover letter instructed all couples to ll out their individual surveys without consulting their partners. Instrument The structure and the instrument used replicated the Gaidis et al. (1986) study in exploring consumer decision-making processes of married couples. A total of 24 household products were presented to participants in two two-way tables and one four-way table. The tables asked for the nature of acquisition for a product, the condition of a product, and where the product was acquired. Questions for 26 product categories (forms of savings and savings objectives were added) were used to measure the amount of relative inuence of men and women in all couples for the three decision process stages (need recognition, information search, and nal acquisition). These were measured using a modied Likert scale. For each of the 26 items in each of the three decision stages, participants indicated who in the household (male/female partner) had the major inuence (male 1, joint 3, and female 5). Data analysis Data were analyzed using measures of central tendency regarding the nature of acquisition, condition, and, where acquired categories for each product. Moreover, statements were analyzed along two dimensions: where a couple was on the relative inuence scale and proportion of all couples who indicated some degree of shared responsibility in all three decision-making stages. The questions were measured on a modied Likert scale ranging from one to ve to be more discriminating (Gaidis et al., 1986). The scores of each married and cohabiting couples were calculated by computing the mean. Next, the proportion of couples that agreed on shared responsibility was calculated. This was done by nding couples within the married and cohabiting groups whose partners both marked a value of 2, 3, or 4 for each of the questions. Finally, t-tests and Chi-Square analysis were used to determine differences between the groups regarding the decision-making process. 266

Results and discussion


Demographic characteristics of respondents The largest age group for the 53 married couples was 40 years and above, accounting for 43.5 percent of the sample. No respondents were 18 and under among the married couples, and the mean age was between 31 and 35 years old. The largest age group for the 40 cohabiting couples was between 19 and 25, which accounted for 37.5 percent of respondents in this group. The average age was 26-30 years old for males and females. Like the married couples, none of the respondents were 18 years or under. Cohabitation begins at a young age. In fact, one of the most recent estimates on cohabitation by Bumpass and Sweet (1989) showed that about half of Americans cohabited before their early 30s (Ressler and Waters, 1999). Of 52 married couples, a majority had no children at home (53.8 percent of females and 60.3 percent of males, respectively). Most (65 percent) cohabiting couples did not have children. Married couples without children at home were mostly in the empty nest stage, and not necessarily childless. The difference between the number of children between men and women among married couples was most likely due to remarriage and the formation of blended families. Most men and women in married couples each reported an income of $100,000 and above. Most cohabiting men reported their income to be $100,000 and above. The income of the majority of cohabiting women was either between $25,000$39,999 or $100,000 and above ranges. Average income for married couples was $85,000 for men and women. Cohabiting men and women showed different mean incomes, with women close to $59,000 and men $47,000. The mean for estimated household contribution for married males was 61 percent, and for married females was 56 percent. The mean for cohabiting males was 66 percent and cohabiting females 55 percent. A majority of the 53 married couples lived together for more than ve years, while a majority of the 40 cohabiting couples lived together for one to two years. Moreover, most males of married couples had some college education and/or a college degree as their highest educational attainment. Married females mostly had college degrees. Males and females of cohabiting couples both had some college education. The lower education attainment of cohabiting couples compared to married couples may be due to the age of the majority of the sample, which fell in the 19-25 age range. Brines and Joyner (1999) found that women in cohabiting unions are more likely to have higher incomes than their male partners. The results of this study support this nding since cohabiting women earn on average about $55,000 versus cohabiting men who earn an average income of $49,000. Mean relative inuence and proportion of agreement on shared responsibility among married and cohabiting couples Table I shows the mean relative inuence of the 40 cohabiting and 53 married couples in the sample of 26 products in each of the three decision phases. A mean value from 1 to 1.99 indicated male dominance, 2 to 3.99 indicated autonomic activity, and 4 to 5 indicated female dominance. Table II reveals the proportions of agreement on shared responsibility among both married and cohabiting couples for 26 products

A comparison of consumer decision-making behavior of couples Nabil Razzouk, Victoria Seitz and Karen Prodigalidad Capo

Journal of Consumer Marketing Volume 24 Number 5 2007 264 274

Table I Mean relative inuence between married and cohabiting couples


Product Life insurance Concerts, movies, theatre, and entertainment Internet access Housing Forms of saving Other insurance Savings objectives Housing upkeep Food and non-alcoholic beverages Alcoholic beverages Cosmetics and toiletries Non-prescription drugs and rst aid items Living room furniture Computers Household appliances TV, stereo, CD player, DVD player Other household furnishings Female partners clothes Child(ren)s clothes Gardening tools Male partners clothes Household cleaning products Kitchenware Child(ren)s toys Video games Motor vehicle(s) Married couples Problem recognition Search 2.97 2.91 2.63 2.97 2.98 2.90 3.12 2.82 3.07 2.60 3.75 3.35 3.23 2.65 2.91 2.52 3.33 4.00 3.60 2.60 2.48 3.54 3.48 3.38 2.46 2.78 2.88 2.88 2.51 2.85 2.70 2.76 3.05 2.85 3.13 2.66 3.70 3.40 3.24 2.52 2.91 2.39 3.29 4.21 3.78 2.57 2.57 3.47 3.41 3.40 2.47 2.59 Decision 2.92 2.93 2.58 2.90 2.85 2.80 3.00 2.86 3.08 2.77 3.62 3.35 3.04 2.69 2.97 2.65 3.30 4.07 3.67 2.57 2.47 3.39 3.52 3.34 2.44 2.78 Cohabiting couples Problem recognition Search 3.09 2.89 3.11 3.00 3.16 2.94 3.14 2.88 3.16 2.48 3.71 3.49 3.19 2.64 2.97 2.52 3.61 4.15 3.79 2.84 2.20 3.46 3.49 3.38 2.10 2.73 3.16 2.86 2.85 2.98 2.76 2.88 3.17 2.64 3.23 2.59 4.07 3.66 3.25 2.50 3.00 2.47 3.77 4.35 3.73 3.01 2.31 3.45 3.53 3.49 2.06 2.44 Decision 2.94 2.96 2.79 2.89 2.95 2.73 3.20 2.73 3.09 2.78 3.64 3.32 3.10 2.68 3.04 2.70 3.62 4.23 3.57 2.60 2.14 3.36 3.49 3.37 2.29 2.60

across three decision phases. Proportions that exceed 0.50 are seen as syncratic decision making. Proportions under 0.50 are seen as autonomic, male-dominated, or female-dominated decision making. Examining the mean values of Table I against Table II can be used to determine what kind of decision-making strategy is used in these cases. T-tests were conducted to determine signicant differences among mean relative inuence of married and cohabiting couples among selected product categories. Signicant differences were found regarding problem recognition and internet access (t 23:25, p , 0.01), and the search phase of cosmetics and toiletries (t 22:31, p , 0.05). Moreover, signicant differences were found for all three decision phases for other household furnishings; problem recognition (t 22:10, p , 0.05), search (t 23.30, p , 0.01), and decision (t 22:24, p , 0.05). Chi Square analyses was also conducted to determine signicant differences in proportion of shared responsibility of inuence between married and cohabiting couples for the selected 26 product categories and the three decision phases ( p , 0.05). Signicant differences in the problem recognition phase regarding forms of saving (x2 5:33, p , 0.05) and alcoholic beverages (x2 4:90, p , 0.05). In the search phase a signicant difference was found also for alcoholic beverages (x2 9:84, p , 0:01). Married couples tended to be more syncratic than cohabiting couples in their decision to purchase forms of savings in this phase, but more autonomic when purchasing alcoholic beverages. In the search phase, signicant chi-square 267

values were found for alcoholic beverages, cosmetics and toiletries, gardening tools, and kitchenware. Cohabiting couples were found to be more syncratic in their decision making for these products at this phase than married couples. Patterns of inuence among married and cohabiting couples There was a greater tendency towards autonomic decision making among married couples and more syncratic decision making among cohabiting couples (Tables III and IV). This nding was directly opposite of those found by Gaidis et al. (1986). Female inuence across all decision stages for both married and cohabiting couples was small, while male inuence was non-existent for both couples across all decision phases. Accordingly, the decision-making strategy that married people tend to adopt is autonomic through all three stages, with slightly more syncratic behavior in the nal decision phases. Female dominance was present only for female partners clothes (Clothes (Hers)), as shown in Figures 1, 2, and 3 for all decision phases. Other insurance showed the greatest shift between all three phases for married couples. Couples are syncratic in their recognition of need for it, and then autonomic in the information search phase. This may have to do with the husband and wife determining their individual needs in terms of insurance. It then returns to syncratic activity as both make the nal decision to purchase. Cohabiting couples differ in the sense that the problem recognition and search phases tend to be both autonomic and

A comparison of consumer decision-making behavior of couples Nabil Razzouk, Victoria Seitz and Karen Prodigalidad Capo

Journal of Consumer Marketing Volume 24 Number 5 2007 264 274

Table II Proportion of agreement on shared responsibility among married and cohabiting couples
Product Life insurance Concerts, movies, theatre, and entertainment Internet access Housing Forms of saving Other insurance Savings objectives Housing upkeep Food, non-alcoholic beverages Alcoholic beverages Cosmetics and toiletries Non-prescription drugs and rst aid items Living room furniture Computers Household appliances TV, stereo, CD player, DVD player Other household furnishings Female partners clothes Child(rens) clothes Gardening tools Male partners clothes Household cleaning products Kitchenware Child(ren)s toys Video games Motor vehicle(s) Married couples Problem recognition Search 0.40 0.51 0.54 0.61 0.57 0.51 0.53 0.35 0.47 0.43 0.38 0.47 0.48 0.46 0.59 0.43 0.43 0.36 0.32 0.32 0.30 0.38 0.48 0.24 0.38 0.51 0.53 0.51 0.49 0.58 0.50 0.37 0.33 0.43 0.41 0.28 0.25 0.41 0.45 0.36 0.52 0.45 0.44 0.48 0.45 0.33 0.31 0.33 0.31 0.43 0.49 0.50 Decision 0.68 0.53 0.45 0.61 0.46 0.48 0.55 0.58 0.46 0.38 0.45 0.43 0.50 0.44 0.58 0.52 0.54 0.48 0.47 0.41 0.44 0.37 0.41 0.39 0.38 0.70 Cohabiting couples Problem recognition Search 0.28 0.58 0.71 0.61 0.30 0.48 0.47 0.43 0.41 0.69 0.53 0.54 0.68 0.46 0.56 0.57 0.46 0.38 0.43 0.45 0.47 0.54 0.46 0.50 0.53 0.55 0.35 0.39 0.43 0.61 0.38 0.53 0.47 0.33 0.49 0.65 0.46 0.46 0.59 0.46 0.54 0.46 0.62 0.65 0.67 0.61 0.48 0.55 0.60 0.31 0.52 0.61 Decision 0.45 0.59 0.46 0.64 0.69 0.58 0.61 0.44 0.62 0.56 0.49 0.50 0.59 0.53 0.57 0.57 0.55 0.59 0.36 0.48 0.54 0.56 0.54 0.39 0.52 0.71

Table III Patterns of inuence among married couples


Pattern of inuence Male dominant Autonomic Syncratic Female dominant Problem recognition 0 17 8 1 Information search 0 19 6 1 Decision 0 15 10 1 Average 0 17 8 1

Table IV Patterns of inuence among cohabiting couples


Pattern of inuence Male dominant Autonomic Syncratic Female dominant Problem recognition 0 12 13 1 Information search 0 12 13 1 Decision 0 7 19 0 Average 0 10 15 1

syncratic in nature, with decision-making strategy leaning slightly to the syncratic side. The nal decision phase for these couples is characterized by a strong syncratic decision-making strategy. Just as with married couples, the only female dominant product was female partners clothes (see Figures 4, 5, and 6). The one product that showed the greatest change through the phases was forms of saving. 268

Figures 4 and 5 show cohabiting couples as autonomic in their problem recognition and search phases for this product, but highly syncratic in the nal decision phase. As was mentioned, a majority of cohabiting couples hold individual accounts, mostly regular checking and savings. The syncratic activity demonstrated for this product in the nal decision phase supports past research on cohabiters emphasis on

A comparison of consumer decision-making behavior of couples Nabil Razzouk, Victoria Seitz and Karen Prodigalidad Capo

Journal of Consumer Marketing Volume 24 Number 5 2007 264 274

Figure 1 Problem recognition stage: married couples

Figure 2 Search stage: married couples

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A comparison of consumer decision-making behavior of couples Nabil Razzouk, Victoria Seitz and Karen Prodigalidad Capo

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Figure 3 Decision stage: married couples

Figure 4 Problem recognition stage: cohabiting couples

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Figure 5 Search stage: cohabiting couples

Figure 6 Decision stage: cohabiting couples

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equality in the household. This extends to equality in deciding the amount of money each should save.

Conclusions and implications


The results of this study differed greatly from those of the previous study done by Gaidis et al. (1986). In the present study, married couples showed a greater tendency towards autonomic decision making while cohabiting couples were slightly more syncratic in their decision making. This change in decision-making strategies of couples from Gaidis et al.s (1986) study to the current ndings may have to do with changing gender roles for men and women. The stronger presence of women in the workforce today, as opposed to 20 years ago, may have given way to more autonomic decision-making strategies for married couples and contributed to the lack of traditional role specialization in marriage as compared to the past. Today, women are no longer seen as just homemakers and men as just breadwinners. When it comes to decision making for particular products, it becomes necessary to take an eitheror strategy in purchasing products. The autonomic strategy adopted by married couples may be out of convenience since males and females reported equally high incomes and being in the workforce. Husband and wives may not have time to convene to make decisions regarding which product to buy so they may leave it up to either spouse to go through the three phases of decision making. A move towards more syncratic behavior for cohabiting couples in the problem recognition, search, and nal decision phases may be due to their focus on equality in their relationships. Marketers, when attempting to reach married couples today, may want to employ the advertising and message strategies that Davis and Rigaux (1974) recommended for those that use an autonomic strategy in purchase decisions. Media and advertising should focus communication efforts on two audiences rather than one since either the husband or wife may be making the decision. The communication strategy used should focus on the joint nature of both processes since cohabiters showed a propensity towards syncratic strategies in all three phases. Hence, advertising and message strategies should focus on how single people of the opposite sex decide on product purchases together since cohabiters are more like single people in their decision-making behavior. Moreover, ndings also showed a slight trend towards autonomic decision making during the problem recognition and search phases. Marketers must also use the same strategies for autonomic decision making in these phases as suggested for married couples. Predominant male or female inuences were lacking in most product categories except for one, female partners clothes. Among married couples, this was primarily femaledominated. Marketers should continue to appeal to women in these couples for all three search phases. Cohabiting relationships are normally tenuous in nature. The average duration of such relationships is 1.3 years (Waters and Ressler, 1999). Brines and Joyner (1999) found cohabiting relationships to be based on egalitarianism while nding marriage to be collectivist in nature, where both husband and wife pool together complementary resources (in terms of skills and/or income). According to these researchers, cohabiting relationships are three times more likely to terminate their relationship than marriages when inequality 272

existed between the incomes of men and women. Brines and Joyner (1999) found this to be especially true for couples where the woman earned more than the man. Female dominance was also found in this same category among cohabiters, but only in the problem recognition phase. The search and nal decision phases were syncratic in nature. Hence, marketers should continue to appeal to women in this group and communicate to them the need or desire for particular apparel. Moreover, message strategies should focus on joint decision making between male and female cohabiters during the information search regarding female partners clothes and the nal decision to purchase them. Women in cohabiting relationships that reported higher incomes than their male counterparts were found to have a higher chance of dissolution of it compared to married couples (Brines and Joyner, 1999). Marriages where wives earn twice as much as their husbands had only a 1.26 times more chance to divorce compared to traditional marriages (where the husband is the primary breadwinner, and the wife is the primary homemaker) (Brines and Joyner, 1999). The original hypothesis stated that more egalitarian decision-making strategies would be evident among married and cohabiting couples. It was also suggested that womens greater presence in the workforce compared to 20 years ago would inuence this. Ironically, womens presence in the workforce has had an effect on married couples product decision making, but not towards egalitarianism. Instead, a trend towards autonomic decision making was evident in the present study. Cohabiters, unlike married couples, developed a more syncratic strategy for product decision making compared to the Gaidis et al. (1986) study. This move towards syncratic behavior may be due to their greater propensity towards equality than their predecessors in the previous study. Cohabiters are eight percent of the number of married couples in the US (which is estimated to be approximately 60.7 million) (US Census Bureau, 2000). Marketers may want to consider if they are a viable market, especially for companies whose customer base is made mostly of more common-type households. Cohabiters may also be good for companies looking into smaller, untapped segments of the population.

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Corresponding author
Nabil Razzouk can be contacted at: nabil@razzouks.com

Executive summary and implications for managers and executive readers


This summary has been provided to allow managers and executives a rapid appreciation of the content of the article. Those with a particular interest in the topic covered may read the article in toto to take advantage of the more comprehensive description of the research undertaken and its results to get the full benet of the material present. Research into household consumer decision-making has usually focused on the traditional family consisting of married single or dual income parents with children. Many studies have used life cycle models to explain consumption behavior during different life phases within these households such as the arrival of children into the family and the stage when grown-up children leave home. The growth of non-traditional households However, critics point out that such models do not account for less conventional family structures inuenced by factors like late rst marriage, divorce and couples who remain childless. Couples who cohabit have also been largely ignored, despite the fact that the number of cohabiting relationships in the US has increased massively from the 439,000 recorded in 1960. There are now several million cohabiting couples and research has indicated that around half the US population has lived with someone by the time they reach their 30s. Although few studies have compared decision making between married couples and cohabiters, some evidence of distinctions between the two union types has previously emerged. Married people indicated themselves to be more collectivist and inclined to make joint decisions, while those 273

involved in a cohabiting relationship tended to be more individualistic. This is reected in the fact that married couples and cohabiters tend to respectively hold joint and separate bank accounts. But earlier research also highlighted the role specialization common within marriages that stemmed from the tradition of the husband going out to work and his wife looking after the home. This led to norms such as women being responsible for money management and men making decisions about nance. Analysts recognize three stages in the consumer making decision process: problem recognition; information search; and nal decision. Past studies into married couples point to evidence of role specialization within the rst two phases. Domination by husbands was evident in relation to products like cars and TVs, while wives controlled household furnishings, appliances and other areas conventionally regarded as female territory. Razzouk et al. note, however, that gender roles have evolved resulting in both husband and wife exerting greater inuence in many areas once regarded as exclusive property of the opposite sex. That joint negotiation is now more common within these areas has served to blur gender distinctions. Statistics show that most cohabiting relationships will last not much above one year. This transitory nature of such unions has led to the claim that cohabiters behave more like single people in respect of consumer decision making. Unlike married people, they will therefore be unlikely to commit to major purchases such as buying a home. Having separate accounts helps both partners protect their interests but it is pointed out that shared decisions have to be taken because of the need to pool nances. The authors replicate earlier research by studying consumer decision making behavior of 53 married couples and 40 cohabiting couples from different cities within a western US state. Participating couples responded to an internet appeal and were sent surveys to complete independently of each other. Almost half the married couples were aged over 40 and the largest cohabiting group was between 19 and 25. More than half the married respondents did not have children living at home, while 65 percent of cohabiters were childless. The majority of married couples had lived together for ve years and the majority of cohabiters for between one and two. Respondents provided information relating to 26 product categories. The information revealed how and where products are purchased and the circumstances of their acquisition. In relation to each category, the survey also assessed the relative inuence of men and women during the three decisionmaking stages and the amount of shared responsibility. Key ndings Some of the revelations include: . married people make decisions together about savings but act individually when purchasing alcohol; and . during the information search stage, cohabiters act jointly in relation to alcohol, gardening tools, kitchenware, and cosmetics and toiletries. Married couples tend to act separately during all three stages, though there is evidence of more joint decision making within the nal stage. The greatest uctuation in this pattern was noted in the other insurance category, where consultation during the initial stage was again evident when the nal

A comparison of consumer decision-making behavior of couples Nabil Razzouk, Victoria Seitz and Karen Prodigalidad Capo

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decision was taken. In between, couples acted separately and the authors believe this may be down to a need to determine their own individual requirements. The pattern was different with cohabiters, who showed an inclination to both act alone and together during the rst two stages with nal decisions arriving through increased joint input. The main exception was in relation to forms of saving, where partners reached nal decisions together after acting individually prior to that stage. Razzouk et al. relate this to the need for equality to surround household expenditure and that this extends to decisions about how much each partner can save. With both married couples and cohabiters, there was little evidence of decision making being dominated by either men or women except for the female partners clothes category, where female domination existed in both cases. Overall, the study indicated a propensity towards individualistic behavior among married couples, while cohabiters were more inclined to make decisions together. These conclusions contradict ndings from two decades ago and may reect the changing gender roles that have emerged because of the increase in the number of wives who go out to work compared to then. The authors speculate that employment commitments place heavy demands on both marriage partners to the extent that they struggle to nd time for consulting about household purchase decisions. While it arguably becomes unavoidable that one or the other often has to take sole responsibility, the move towards syncratic

behavior in the nal stage may be a reection of the commitment to equality in the relationship. Marketing suggestions Because of this prevailing situation, Razzouk et al. advise marketers to focus their attention on two audiences rather than one in their attempts to effectively reach married couples. That cohabiters seem to behave similarly during the rst two phases provides some scope to use these tactics, although it is recommended that advertisers regard cohabiters more like single people and use strategies appropriate to that market segment. Marketers should continue to target married women in relation to female partners clothes category. There should, however, be some adjustment made to the strategy for cohabiting females because their dominance was mainly evident during the problem recognition stage. Consequently, the message should concentrate on the need or desire for the clothing in question. The authors believe that marketers might ultimately decide that cohabiters may prove a viable segment that exists outside more traditional household types. They also suggest that study ndings could prove useful to small organizations interested in exploiting potential opportunities within smaller unexploited sections of the population. (A precis of the article A comparison of consumer decision-making behavior of married and cohabitating couples. Supplied by Marketing Consultants for Emerald.)

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