Instrumental and Expressive Roles

Generally, in traditional families among societies throughout the world the husband is more likely to provide material support and primary leadership authority within the family and the wife is more likely to provide affection and moral support. This distinction relates to what are known as instrumental and expressive needs of all small groups (including the family); that is, the need for leadership and fulfillment of the task on the one hand and the need for morale and cohesion on the other.

This differentiation of roles is known to result from small group interaction. Leaders are produced who specialized in either instrumental functions (Known as functional or task leaders) or expressive functions (social leaders). The former concern themselves with the basic purpose or goal of the group, while the latter attempt to reduce tension and give emotional support to members in order to maintain intra group cohesion. Within the family, the instrumental role has typically been played by the father and the expressive role by the mother. That is, men tend to be task oriented leaders while women lead in social emotional behavior. The result of this is that purchasing decisions husbands end to concern themselves with functional product attributes and to exert more influence in deciding whether to buy and in closing the sale. The wife concerns more with aesthetic product attributes and with suggesting the purchase.

Although the general role pattern cited above has been historically true, these roles are undergoing some degree of change today, particularly as more women enter the labor force. Much more will be said on changing roles in a later section of this article. For now it should merely be noted that wives may be just as likely to perform certain instrumental roles as their husbands do.

Purchase Process roles:

There are several ways of viewing family member roles that relate to the purchase decision and consumption process. In this context, there are six roles that may be performed by various family members.

First, one or another family member may be the initiator (for example, the individual who recognizes the problem or need for the item). In this role the suggestion may be made by the wife, by example that the household needs a food processor in order to prepare meals more easily. A second role is that of an influencing person who informs or persuades others in a purchase situation. He may also be thought of as an opinion leader in that he exerts personal influence on other family members with regard to a particular purchase situation.

A third and related role is that of information gatherer, in which one or more individuals will secure information related to the possible purchase. This information may pertain to products or places of shopping. Often, the individual most knowledgeable in the product category will gather information. For example, a husband may well gather information about a possible lawn tractor purchase while the wife may gather information about new financial services offered by a local bank.

The roles of decision maker involve having authority to make the buying decision. The individual who makes this decision might be the same as the influencer or information gatherer, although not necessarily so. For instance, the wife may make the decision to purchase a microwave oven as well as the decision on which brand to buy, after having gathered information about various models available. Often the decision is a joint or shared one in which more than one family member participates.

Role Load: Another dimension of husband and wife roles in the family has to do with the role load of each spouse. Role load is the continuum of demands on a spouse’s time, energy, and other resources. One or both spouse may be under loaded or overloaded in their household roles.

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