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The family is a major influence on the consumer behaviour of its members. There are many examples of how the family influences the consumption behaviour of its members. A child learns how to enjoy candy by observing an older brother or sister; learns the use and value of money by listening to and watching his or her parents. Decisions about a new car, a vacation trip, or whether to go to a local or an out-of-town college are consumption decisions usually made within the context of a family setting. As a major consumption unit, the family is also a prime target for the marketing of many products and services.


The importance of the family or household unit in consumer behavior arises for two reasons:

1. Many products are purchased by a family unit.

2. Individuals’ buying decisions may be heavily influenced by other family members.

How families or households make purchase decisions depends on the roles of

the various family members in the purchase, consumption, and influence of products. Household products like food and soaps may be purchased by a person but consumed by many, whereas personal care items, such as cosmetics or shaving cream, might be purchased by an individual family member for his or her own consumption. Homes and cars, on the other hand, are often purchased by both spouses, perhaps with involvement from children or other member of the extended family. Visits to shopping malls often involve multiple family members buying clothing and accessories, something with a heavy dose of influence by family member’s children may buy clothing paid for and approved of by parents, whereas teenagers may influence the clothing purchase of a parent. Regardless of how many family members are present when items are being purchased, the other family members play an important role in the purchase. Just because of being mother for two young children, it is her responsibility for buying food for the family and act as an individual in the market. It does not mean that her decisions are not influenced by the preferences and power of other family members. Although marketing communications are usually directed to individuals, marketers should consider the consumption circumstances and the family structure before deciding on specific communication or advertising methods to attract their segment.

What is a Family?

A family is a group of two or more persons related by blood, marriage, or adoption who reside together. The nuclear family is the immediate group of father, mother, and child(ren) living together. The extended family is the nuclear family, plus other relatives, such as grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, and parents-in-law. The family into which one is born is called the family of orientation, whereas the one established by marriage is the family of procreation. In a more dynamic sense, the individuals who constitute a family might be described as members of the most basic social group who live together and interact to satisfy their personal and mutual needs.

What is a Household?

The term household is used to describe all person, both related and unrelated, who occupy a housing unit. There are significant differences between the terms household and family even though they are sometimes used interchangeably. It is important to distinguish between these terms when examining data.  The term household is becoming a more important unit of analysis for marketers because of the rapid growth in nontraditional families and non-family households. Among non-family households, the great majority consist of people living alone. The remaining non-family households include those consisting of elderly people living with non-family members. For example, persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters, friends living together, and same sex


Structural Variables Affecting Families and Households

Structural variables include the age of the head of household or family, marital status, presence of children, and employment status. For example, consumer analysts have enormous interest in whether families have children and how many they have. Children increase family demand for clothing, food, furniture, homes, medical care, and education, while they decrease demand for many discretionary items, including travel, higher-priced restaurants, and adult clothing. Other structural changes affect the types of products that are manufactured. For example, in Japan, high-tech companies have formed a consortium to standardize technology that has been developed to monitor and manage households.

Sociological Variables Affecting Families and Households

Marketers can understand family and household decisions better by examining the sociological dimensions of how families make consumer decisions. Three sociological variables that help explain how family’s function includes

cohesion, adaptability, and communication.

*        ?Cohesion is the emotional bonding between family members. It measures how close to each other family members feel on an emotional level. Cohesion reflects a sense of connectedness to or separateness from other family members.

*        ?Adaptability measures the ability of a family to change its power structure, role relationships, and relationship rules in response to situational and developmental stress. The degree of adaptability shows how well a family  can meet the challenges presented by changing situations.

*        ?Communication is a facilitating dimension, critical to movement on the other two dimensions. Positive communication skills (such as empathy, reflective listening, supportive comments) enable family members to share their changing needs as they relate to cohesion and adaptability. Negative communication skills (such as double messages, double binds, criticism) minimize the ability to share feelings, thereby restricting movement in the dimensions of cohesion and adaptability. Understanding whether family

members are satisfied with family purchase requires communication within the family. To determine how the family makes its purchase decisions and how the family affects the future purchase behaviour of its members, it is useful to understand the functions provided and the roles played by family members to fulfill their consumption needs.


Four basic functions provided by the family are particularly relevant to a discussion of consumer behaviour. These include (1) Economic well-being, (2) Emotional support, (3) Suitable family lifestyles, and (4) Family-member socialization.

(1) Economic Well-Being

Providing financial means to its dependents is unquestionably a basic family function. How the family divides its responsibilities for providing economic well-being has changed considerably during the past 25 years. The traditional roles of husband as economic provider and wife as homemaker and child rearer are still valid. The economic role of children has changed. Today, even if some teenage children work, they rarely assist the family financially. Their parents are still expected to provide for their needs. But some of them get enough pocketmoney to decide their consumption of discretionary items.

 (2) Emotional Support

The provision of emotional nourishment (including love, affection, and intimacy) to its members is an important basic function of the contemporary family. In fulfilling this function, the family provides support and encouragement and assists its members in coping with personal or social problems. To make it easier for working parents to show their love affection and support for their children, greeting-card companies have been marketing cards especially for parent to give to their children. For instance, in most communities, many educational and psychological centers are available that are designed to assist parents who want to help their children improve their learning and communication skills, or generally, better adjust to their environments.

(3) Suitable Family Lifestyles

Another important family function in terms of consumer behaviour is the establishment of a suitable lifestyle for the family. Family lifestyle commitments, including the allocation of time, greatly influence consumption patterns. For example, the increase in the number of married women working outside the home has reduced the time they have available for household chores, and has created a market for convenience products and fast-food restaurants.  Also, with both parents working, an increased emphasis is placed on the notionof “quality time”, rather than the “quantity of time” spent with children and

other family members. Realizing the scarcity of quality family time, Hotels feature a variety of weekend packages targeted to couples and their children.

(4) Socialization of Children and Other Family Members

The socialization of family members, especially young children, is a central family function. In large part, this process consists of imparting to children the basic value and modes of behaviour consistent with the culture. These generally include moral and religious principles, interpersonal skills, dress and grooming standard, appropriate manners and speech, and the selection of suitable educational and occupational or career goals. Socialization skills (manners, goals, values, and other qualities) are imparted to a child directly through instruction and indirectly through observation of the behaviour of parents and older siblings. Marketers often target parents looking for assistance in the task of socializing preadolescent children.


Families use products even though individuals usually buy them. Determining what products should be bought, which retail outlet to use, how and when products are used, and who should buy them is a complicated process involving a variety or roles and actors.

Role Behavior

Families and other groups exhibit what sociologist Talcott Parsons called instrumental and expressive role behaviors.

*        Instrumental roles, also known as functional or economic roles, involve financial, performance, and other functions performed by group members.

*        ?Expressive roles involve supporting other family members in the decision making process and expressing the family’s aesthetic or emotional needs,  including upholding family norms.

Individual Roles in Family Purchases

Family consumption decisions involve at least five definable roles, which may be assumed by spouses, children, or other members of a household. Both multiple roles and multiple actors are normal. Marketers need to communicate with consumers assuming each of these roles, remembering that different family members will assume different roles depending on the situation and product. Children, for example, are users of cereals, toys, clothing, and many other products but may not be the buyers. One or both of the parents may be the decider and the buyer, although the children may be important as

influencers and users.

Family Roles

For a family to function as a cohesive unit, roles or tasks-such as doing the laundry, preparing meals, setting the dinner table, taking out the garbage, walking the dog must be carried out by one or more family members. In our dynamic society, etc. family-related roles are constantly changing.

Key Family Consumption Roles

The roles played by the different family members will vary from product to product. While shopping in the market, a housewife comes across a new variety of juice that she buys for the family. Her decision to purchase does not directly involve the influence of other family members. She is the decider, buyer; but she may or may not be the preparer and is not the only user. In case of products such as television, car, music systems, furniture or any other product which is likely to be used by some or all the family members, the purchase decision is likely to be joint or group decision. There are eight distinct roles in the family decision-making process.

Influences on the Decision Process

How do husbands and wives perceive their relative influence on decision making across the decision stages? And what does this mean for marketers? Joint decisions tend to be made about vacations, televisions, refrigerators, and living room furniture. Autonomic decision-making tends to be present in decisions about categories that include women’s jewelry, men’s leisure clothing, indoor paint and wallpaper, and luggage. By understanding where on this “map” the decisions to buy particular products fall, marketers can being to determine which aspects of specific product to advertise to different household members and which media will reach the influential family member.

Influence by Decision Stage

Spouses exert different degrees if influence when passing through the different stages of the decision-making process. This movement from information search to final decision may be minimal in the case of many low-involvement goods but more pronounced for goods that are risky or have high involvement for the family. Movement is most pronounced for refrigerators, family autos, upholstered living room furniture, and carpets or rugs. Vacations are perhaps the most democratic of a family’s purchase decisions. Separate campaigns may be timed to coincide with specialized interests, especially for products with a long planning cycle.

Influence of employment

In the past, marketers were able to refer to the traditional role structure categories to determine which family member was most likely to purchase a specific product. Although traditional buying roles still apply, husbands in dual-income marriages may be willing to stop at the grocery store to pick up a few items, and working wives may drop the family car at the service station for an oil change. However, contemporary couples are not inclined to shift traditional joint buying responsibilities to only one spouse, but they are willingto shop jointly for major items.

Influence of Gender

As the gender gap narrows, husband and wife decisions are increasingly made jointly. Qualls studied family decisions concerning vacations, automobiles, children’s education, housing, insurance, and savings. Prior studies showed that decisions regarding these products were usually reported as wife or husband dominant. Qualls found overwhelmingly that joint decisions are now the norm for these products, with 80 percent of children’s education and housing decisions made jointly. Increasing resources of women and shift toward egalitarianism are producing more joint decision-making in product and service categories of perceived high risk.

 R.Yuvarani, M.phil Scholar, Periyar University, Salem-11

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