Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Marketing


This research focuses on children's recognition of consumption constellations and considers how such recognition of constellations varies across three age groups. Consumption Constellations are defined as "clusters of complementary products, specific brands and/or consumption activities used by consumers to define, communicate and enact social roles" (Solomon and Buchanan 1991, p. 191). Consumption Constellations are seen as part of the larger concept of Consumption Stereotypes (Belk 1984). Consumption Stereotypes consisting of an owner and a consumption constellation were used in this research and occupational stimuli were used to determine if child consumers could recognise which consumption constellation 'belonged' to which owner.

The Dual component model of Consumption Constellations is offered as explanation, consisting of two elements - the common cultural base of a consumption stereotype and an individually varying component. The two components it is suggested, differ in the ways they are learned and acquired. The common cultural base is learned through indirect or non-experientially learned socialisation agents such as mass media, peers parents/adults (Solomon 1983). The individually varying component is learned through direct/experiential sources. This experiential component makes the enactment of the same social role by two or more individuals within the same cultural context unique.

It was hypothesised that children within a common cultural context would have, as part of the process of consumer socialisation, some knowledge of the common consumption stereotype (and therefore of consumption constellations). It was hypothesised that even young children below the age of seven (Piagetian pre-operational developmental group) would have some understanding at the base cultural stereotypical level of such ownerproduct groupings that are non-experientially learned. Further it was hypothesised that older children having more direct experience in consumption matters and knowing more people, would be able to describe more Alternative Non-Stereotypical Constellations in their description of the same occupational/social roles.

Three age groups of children comprised the sample. Five-six year olds, eight-nine year olds and eleven-twelve year olds were chosen, equally distributed over three socioeconomic classes and the two genders. Since the consumption stereotypes are assumed to exist in a culturally common context, the sample was a culturally homogeneous one. The children's age and their occupational/social role familiarity were operationalised the independent variables and differences in the children's recognition of Stereotypical consumption constellations (SCCS) and their ability to describe Alternative non- Stereotypical Consumption Constellations (ASCCS) were used as dependent variables to assess differences across the age groups. The main Piagetian Developmental Stage based differences hypothesised were supported by the results. However, some interesting departures from the Piagetian stages were observed, especially in the preoperational group of children.

This research makes contributions to the Consumption Stereotyping literature in two distinct ways. It identifies and establishes some baseline information about when understanding and recognition of Consumption Constellations occurs in young children. The second distinct contribution is in the area of research task design. The use of a nonverbal/ pictorial task sets guidelines about tailoring research tasks to suit young children's cognitive abilities.

This thesis reports on the background literature to the research, describes the methodology employed, discusses the results, the limitations of the study and proposals for future research are presented.