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Family as a consuming and decision making unit is a central phenomenon in marketing and consumer behavior. However, in the recent past, there has been a decline in interest in family as a unit of analysis. Yet, at the same time, the family -- as an institution -- is undergoing a metamorphosis and currently stands at the threshold of significant transformation. In this paper, we argue that the decreased interest in family as a unit of analysis in marketing is largely due to the fact that many interesting propositions about family as a consuming unit remain outside the current perspective of the domain. We re-view the extant literature to demonstrate that much of the research so far has addressed only a small part of the extant do-main, and that several important and interesting research questions remain unaddressed.
Specifically, the dominant themes that have been investigated so far are the relevance of the family life cycle, decision roles and relative influence, conflict resolution, consumption by households with working wives as opposed to those without working wives, and consumer socialization. While it has been argued that consumption patterns vary across stages of the family life cycle, it has also been proposed that these changes can also be explained by differences in in-comes. Similarly, though it has been established that decision roles and relative influence vary across products and stage in decision making, these differences are also due, in part, to differences in the occupational status of wife and sex-role orientation. Conflict minimization has been identified as a dominant agenda driving family decision-making, and the role of children has been found to vary by product category and by the personal resources of the child.
Though these are important developments, research so far has focused mainly on decision outcomes (and to a much lesser degree on decision processes) in family decision making, and several other important research questions have been ig-nored. Family serves as a consuming, producing, distributing, and socializing unit and its interaction with other elements of society is intimate, immediate, and, thus, telling. For example, family policy affects resource allocation and consump-tion patterns in families and the effects of such policies will vary across types of families. Similarly, families will vary in the manner in which they respond to changes in the economy. For example, tele-commuting and the participation by women in commerce because of the Internet alter decision role structures in family decision-making. The family is also at a threshold of a significant metamorphosis, and the rise of cohabiting couples and same-sex couples are only a few of these changes. Consumption behavior among such couples is yet to be explored.
Thus, though family as a consumption unit has received attention in marketing and consumer behavior, the focus has been on a narrow set of issues; as a result, family has seldom been examined as a part of a social system. Enlarging the manner in which family is defined will reveal several important research questions that have not been investigated though they have important implications for how families consume. A comprehensive comparison between current knowledge and possible future directions for family research in marketing is summarized in the Summary Table.