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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
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
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
www.emeraldinsight.com/0736-3761.htm
Journal of Consumer Marketing
24/5 (2007) 264274
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited [ISSN 0736-3761]
[DOI 10.1108/07363760710773085]
264
future as well (Gardyn, 2002, p. 58). This trend makes
cohabiting couples also a viable subject for the present study.
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 decision-
making 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
home. This of course, does not consider those who cohabit
for life and have qualities more in common with married
couples (Smock, 2000).
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 Wells-
Gubar 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 264274
265
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.
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 264274
266
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 (x
2
5:33, p , 0.05) and
alcoholic beverages (x
2
4:90, p , 0.05). In the search phase
a signicant difference was found also for alcoholic beverages
(x
2
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
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
Table I Mean relative inuence between married and cohabiting couples
Married couples Cohabiting couples
Product Problem recognition Search Decision Problem recognition Search Decision
Life insurance 2.97 2.88 2.92 3.09 3.16 2.94
Concerts, movies, theatre, and entertainment 2.91 2.88 2.93 2.89 2.86 2.96
Internet access 2.63 2.51 2.58 3.11 2.85 2.79
Housing 2.97 2.85 2.90 3.00 2.98 2.89
Forms of saving 2.98 2.70 2.85 3.16 2.76 2.95
Other insurance 2.90 2.76 2.80 2.94 2.88 2.73
Savings objectives 3.12 3.05 3.00 3.14 3.17 3.20
Housing upkeep 2.82 2.85 2.86 2.88 2.64 2.73
Food and non-alcoholic beverages 3.07 3.13 3.08 3.16 3.23 3.09
Alcoholic beverages 2.60 2.66 2.77 2.48 2.59 2.78
Cosmetics and toiletries 3.75 3.70 3.62 3.71 4.07 3.64
Non-prescription drugs and rst aid items 3.35 3.40 3.35 3.49 3.66 3.32
Living room furniture 3.23 3.24 3.04 3.19 3.25 3.10
Computers 2.65 2.52 2.69 2.64 2.50 2.68
Household appliances 2.91 2.91 2.97 2.97 3.00 3.04
TV, stereo, CD player, DVD player 2.52 2.39 2.65 2.52 2.47 2.70
Other household furnishings 3.33 3.29 3.30 3.61 3.77 3.62
Female partners clothes 4.00 4.21 4.07 4.15 4.35 4.23
Child(ren)s clothes 3.60 3.78 3.67 3.79 3.73 3.57
Gardening tools 2.60 2.57 2.57 2.84 3.01 2.60
Male partners clothes 2.48 2.57 2.47 2.20 2.31 2.14
Household cleaning products 3.54 3.47 3.39 3.46 3.45 3.36
Kitchenware 3.48 3.41 3.52 3.49 3.53 3.49
Child(ren)s toys 3.38 3.40 3.34 3.38 3.49 3.37
Video games 2.46 2.47 2.44 2.10 2.06 2.29
Motor vehicle(s) 2.78 2.59 2.78 2.73 2.44 2.60
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 264274
267
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.
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
Table II Proportion of agreement on shared responsibility among married and cohabiting couples
Married couples Cohabiting couples
Product Problem recognition Search Decision Problem recognition Search Decision
Life insurance 0.40 0.53 0.68 0.28 0.35 0.45
Concerts, movies, theatre, and entertainment 0.51 0.51 0.53 0.58 0.39 0.59
Internet access 0.54 0.49 0.45 0.71 0.43 0.46
Housing 0.61 0.58 0.61 0.61 0.61 0.64
Forms of saving 0.57 0.50 0.46 0.30 0.38 0.69
Other insurance 0.51 0.37 0.48 0.48 0.53 0.58
Savings objectives 0.53 0.33 0.55 0.47 0.47 0.61
Housing upkeep 0.35 0.43 0.58 0.43 0.33 0.44
Food, non-alcoholic beverages 0.47 0.41 0.46 0.41 0.49 0.62
Alcoholic beverages 0.43 0.28 0.38 0.69 0.65 0.56
Cosmetics and toiletries 0.38 0.25 0.45 0.53 0.46 0.49
Non-prescription drugs and rst aid items 0.47 0.41 0.43 0.54 0.46 0.50
Living room furniture 0.48 0.45 0.50 0.68 0.59 0.59
Computers 0.46 0.36 0.44 0.46 0.46 0.53
Household appliances 0.59 0.52 0.58 0.56 0.54 0.57
TV, stereo, CD player, DVD player 0.43 0.45 0.52 0.57 0.46 0.57
Other household furnishings 0.43 0.44 0.54 0.46 0.62 0.55
Female partners clothes 0.36 0.48 0.48 0.38 0.65 0.59
Child(rens) clothes 0.32 0.45 0.47 0.43 0.67 0.36
Gardening tools 0.32 0.33 0.41 0.45 0.61 0.48
Male partners clothes 0.30 0.31 0.44 0.47 0.48 0.54
Household cleaning products 0.38 0.33 0.37 0.54 0.55 0.56
Kitchenware 0.48 0.31 0.41 0.46 0.60 0.54
Child(ren)s toys 0.24 0.43 0.39 0.50 0.31 0.39
Video games 0.38 0.49 0.38 0.53 0.52 0.52
Motor vehicle(s) 0.51 0.50 0.70 0.55 0.61 0.71
Table III Patterns of inuence among married couples
Pattern of inuence Problem recognition Information search Decision Average
Male dominant 0 0 0 0
Autonomic 17 19 15 17
Syncratic 8 6 10 8
Female dominant 1 1 1 1
Table IV Patterns of inuence among cohabiting couples
Pattern of inuence Problem recognition Information search Decision Average
Male dominant 0 0 0 0
Autonomic 12 12 7 10
Syncratic 13 13 19 15
Female dominant 1 1 0 1
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 264274
268
Figure 1 Problem recognition stage: married couples
Figure 2 Search stage: married couples
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 264274
269
Figure 3 Decision stage: married couples
Figure 4 Problem recognition stage: cohabiting couples
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 264274
270
Figure 5 Search stage: cohabiting couples
Figure 6 Decision stage: cohabiting couples
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 264274
271
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 either-
or 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 female-
dominated. 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
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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Nabil Razzouk, Victoria Seitz and Karen Prodigalidad Capo
Journal of Consumer Marketing
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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
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 decision-
making 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
Journal of Consumer Marketing
Volume 24 Number 5 2007 264274
273
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.)
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 264274
274
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