Consumer decision making and aging: Current knowledge and future directions

Authors: Carolyn Yoon, University of Michigan; Catherine A. Cole, University of Iowa; Michelle P. Lee, Singapore Management University

Publication: Journal of Consumer Psychology

Year: 2009

Focus Area: Decision making, Aging

Relevance: Understanding of the effects of age on consumer decision making is necessary to understand what leads older consumers to accept fraud and what methods can be used to aid their fraud resistance.

Summary: This article serves as a survey of research on decision making and aging, outlining a range of conclusions, their pragmatic implications, and questions for future research.  Older consumers are not well understood, and are often oversimplified.  Understanding the effects of age must be longitudinal; one group of people in their 70s will have different tendencies than another, later generation in its 70s, in part due to different sets of shared defining experiences (e.g., Baby Boomers vs. Depression era).

Older consumers are more likely than younger consumers to:

  • respond to emotional material, personal information, familiar names and big brands
  • forget the source of information (and thus misremember a fact as true, for example)
  • use rules of thumb, intuition, or “common sense” to make decisions
  • make poor decisions under time pressure, later in the day, or when accompanied by references to negative elder stereotypes
  • delegate decision making to others (either younger consumers or by using default options)

The article also contains many practical tips for marketers interested in targeting an older audience, as well as recommendations for further areas of research.

Author Abstract: We review existing knowledge about older consumers and decision making.  We develop a conceptual framework that incorporates the notion of fit between individual characteristics, task demands and the contextual environment.  When the fit is high, older consumers use their considerable knowledge and experience to compensate for the impact of any age-related changes in abilities and resources.  When the fit relatively low, older consumers feel increased need to adapt their decision making processes.  We discuss these consumer adaptations and propose a number of research questions related to the processes underlying them in order to contribute to a better understanding of how they can lead to more effective consumer decision making for older adults.  We further consider some pragmatic implications of the adaptations for marketing management and public policy.

Full Article