Family life cycle stages in the marketing

The concept of the family life cycle has gained popularity in the last few decades due to its relevance in the consumer decision-making process. For example, as a person grows older, his buying choices depend less on his own needs and more on his family’s collectively. Marketers by understanding the stage of a person in the family life cycle can anticipate their needs, and can shape marketing strategies according to them. Furthermore, as stated by William (2018), the family life cycle model helps to profile the consumer, using which the businesses can determine which set of audiences they should appeal to.

Family life cycle parameters

It was in the 1960s when Wells and Gruber (1966) came up with the concept of family segmentation which they named as family life cycle. The family life cycle is used for targeting and positioning consumers since it mainly concerns with the different phases and generations that a typical family passes through.

Formally the family life cycle can be defined as the series of the stages typically through which most of the family progresses, with different characteristics of the stages (Fingerman, Smith and Berg, 2011). These characteristics are related to their demographics such as:

  • marital status
  • size of the family
  • age of the family members
  • employment status of the head of the family
  • income level
  • disposable income.

Family life cycle stages 

The family life cycle can be conceptualized as the progression that involves various stages. Different authors have segregated it into different stages. For the  purpose of this article, the most comprehensive one has been chosen which is as follows.

Family life cycle stages
Figure 1: Family life cycle stages (Evans, Jamal and Foxall, 2006)

Stage 1: Bachelor stage

At this stage of the life cycle, people are young and their earnings are relatively low since most of the bachelors are just beginning their careers. They have few financial responsibilities thus tend to have relatively high discretionary incomes. People in this stage are characterized as being more interested in appearance. Therefore they tend to spend more in fashionable items such as clothing and electronic gadgets. Impulsive and premium buying is a common characteristic of this group. This group also tends to spend more on food, entertainment and vacations.

In addition to this in some cases they establish their own residence away from their family and sometimes require the purchase of furniture and household appliances. However, a major underlying fact is that all these purchases tend to be non-systematic and minimal since possessions restrict their freedom of movement. Overall it can be concluded that there is a presence of individuality at this stage of the family cycle (Omazic, 2016).

Stage 2: Newly married couple

With marriage comes responsibilities, therefore requirement for resources change. This group can be considered to be in a better financial position due to the absence of children. One of the major characteristics of this stage is that people in this stage tend to have the highest purchase rate, particularly of consumer durables. Their purchases tend to include refrigerators, television, stereos, sensible and durable furniture, and vacations. Furthermore, they may also start investing in order to build reserves for their future. Thus the marketers of such goods and financial services tend to target them (Wells and Gubar, 2007).

Stage 3: Full nest 1 (Young married, with child)

When the first child is born, the full nest 1 stage begins. The arrival of a child brings major changes in a family’s consumption pattern. At this stage money is majorly directed towards buying baby furniture, toys, medicines, their vitamins, baby food, and baby clothing. Furthermore, the increased family size may necessitate more space which requires the family to move into a bigger home. New parents explore baby products extensively before purchasing, therefore advertising helps them. In addition to this, in many cases the mother may need to quit her job, which can cause a significant reduction in family income. This leads to a sense of dissatisfaction in the couple with their financial position and decreased disposable income (Raj and Chandrasekar, 2013).

Stage 4: Full nest 2 (older, married, with children)

In this stage of the family life cycle, the families’ financial position tends to start improving, possibly due to advancement in careers. With this improved financial positioning, families still tend to remain new product-oriented but are now less influenced by advertisements since they have more buying experience. In this stage, the families tend to buy more food items, children’s clothing, bicycles for the children, sports equipment for them, and so on. Furthermore, at this stage the children start going to school so expenses in terms of their school fees, books, and stationary increases. The families also start saving for the future education of their children (Barnhill, 2011).

Stage 5: Full nest 3 (older, married with dependent children)

In this stage, the family income continues to grow and their financial position becomes more stable. This type of family has high expenditure on consumer durables, mainly because there is a need to replace older items. However they are more resistant to advertisements since they have become more experienced buyers now and are harder to entice. This group tends to buy items such as tasteful furniture, automobiles, non-necessary appliances, magazines, dental services, and luxury items (Plagnol and Easterlin, 2008).

Stage 6: Empty nest (older, married, with no dependent children)

At this stage of the family cycle, children are no longer living with their parents. Thus with no burden of child-related expenses, the family’s financial position stabilizes and their savings tend to accumulate. The couple is now free to purpose their wants and desires and thus hobbies become an important source of satisfaction for them. More is now spent on luxury, self-improvement items, medical care, and health products. Furthermore, expenses are done on homeownership and home improvement (William, 2018).

Stage 7: Solitary survivor

This stage of family life cycle involves retired people living alone after death of their partner. Thus, their life tends to be come lonely and their income reduces significantly due to retirement. This tend to bring drastic changes in their consumption pattern and living style. Health care services become an important factor in their life.

Use of life cycle for marketers

The stages at which families are tends to have a strong impact on the type of goods and services they want and what is their consumption pattern along with the volume of consumption of the specific product. As shown in the above section each stage has their own specific and unique needs, have a different pattern in which they accumulate their objects and the demands that are placed due to different family size. Thus family life cycle can be indicated as the better predictor of the consumption pattern. Identifying the family life cycle stage correctly helps marketers develop appropriate products and services that can meet specific needs at each family stage. It also helps them design specific promotional strategies that meet the needs of the specific target audience.


  • Barnhill, L. (2011) ‘Fixation and regression in the family life’.
  • Evans, M., Jamal, A. and Foxall, G. (2006) Consumer behaviour. New Delhi: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Fingerman, K. L., Smith, J. and Berg, C. (2011) Handbook of Life-Span Development. New York: Springer.
  • Omazic (2016) ‘Consumer Behavior and Family’, DAAAM International Scientific Book, pp. 183–196. doi: 10.2507/daaam.scibook.2016.17.
  • Plagnol, A. C. and Easterlin, R. A. (2008) ‘Aspirations, attainments, and satisfaction: Life cycle differences between American women and men’, Journal of Happiness Studies, 9(4), pp. 601–619. doi: 10.1007/s10902-008-9106-5.
  • Raj, V. and Chandrasekar, K. (2013) ‘Family and Consumer Behaviour’, 2(7), pp. 17–20.
  • Wells, W. D. and Gubar, G. (2007) ‘Life Cycle Concept in Marketing Research’, Journal of Marketing Research, 3(4), p. 355. doi: 10.2307/3149851.
  • Wells, W. and Gruber, G. (1966) ‘The life cycle concept in marketing research’, Journal of Marketing Research, November, pp. 355–363.
  • William, J. (2018) ‘Family Buying Influences , Family Life Cycle and buying roles’, Consumer behaviour tutorial.
Ashni Walia
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