International Choice Modelling Conference, International Choice Modelling Conference 2017

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Understanding children’s influence in the choice of household leisure activities: a best-worst scaling approach with smiley-based rating scale preferences.
Riccardo Curtale, Stefano Scagnolari

Last modified: 28 March 2017


Introduction The beginning of choice modeling was focused mainly in the individual decision making, but starting from the 1980s, group behavior and the social influence of peers on choices have started fascinating researchers in different fields. For group decision making, different kind of modeling can be formulated depending on the nature of the group, like members of a team, a group of friends or a family. In particular, for the case of household choice behavior, two main kind of modeling have been considered in the literature so far. The first type of modeling, that considers the aggregation of individual choices into a household choice, consists in the estimation of utility functions for each alternative in the choice set and each member of the group. The individual choice probabilities are calculated from the individual utilities, for every member, and the final household choice probability comes from the aggregation of individual probabilities. The second type of modeling takes into account altruism, meaning that the utility function of every member is influenced also by the utility of other members. So far, several studies in the household literature have considered wife-husband interactions to model the decision making process, while the inclusion of children’s utility have always lead to some limitations, due to methodological and ethical issues to collect data from the children.

Aim of the research The aim of our research is to find a way to collect data from children and include their preferences in the utility function of the parents. Researchers agree in stating that children’s impact in household decision making changes depending on the consumption good, higher is their involvement in the consumption and higher is their impact. In our research, we focus on leisure activities during holiday, a consumption good that all the members of a family take jointly and where children’s influence is higher if compared to other consumption goods. Related to the tourism field, several authors investigated with qualitative research the relevance of the children and seem to agree that holiday decision making is mainly taken by the parents, the role of the children is more considered as influencing of the surrounding rather than as active decision maker. Taking into consideration all these information, we decide to apply SP experiment to the parents, who are considered the final decision makers, and take in consideration children’s preferences in the utility function of the alternatives.

Methodology The motivation to use an SP experiment for the parents with a discrete choice model is threefold. First of all, the children are only influencer and not real decision maker, secondly, with SP it’s easier to control the impact of children’s a-priori preferences in respect to RP, lastly, the utility function of every member is characterized by the consideration of different attributes, meaning that an attribute like cost of the activity is taken in consideration by the parents, but not by the children in the definition of the utility functions. We give voice to children preferences using pictures: we asked them to choose the best and the worst activity from a pre-defined set of 3 family activities, in a second moment, we asked them to rate the depicted activity with a 5 point-smiley based scale (very unhappy, happy, indifferent, happy, very happy). Afterwards, children satisfaction or dissatisfaction was included in the SP experiment as an attribute of every activity, whose levels have been pivoted to the children’s rating of different activities. To check concordance or discordance between parents and children preferences, we collected also prior preferences from the parents, asking them the best and worst activity from the same choice set presented to the children. In the modeling phase, heterogeneity of the responses is taken into account in several ways, including a latent class approach.

Data collection and results The data have been collected with paper questionnaires and tablets from different cities in Canton Ticino, Switzerland. The place of interview are public or private tourist places throughout the Canton, like parks, beaches, camping or touristic attractions with the label for family destination. The final sample is composed of 172 families, children’s age starts from 4 years old, that is empirically the minimum age necessary to understand the questions and interact with the interviewer, to 16, with 92% of the children between 4 and 12. As expected, our results show a negative impact of cost and distance on the choice of the activity, meaning that higher cost and longer distances for the activities decrease the probability of choosing that activity. Children’s satisfaction has a positive impact on the choice of activity, so activities where children’s degree of satisfaction is higher are more likely to be chosen. We take in consideration the heterogeneity between families with a latent class approach: two classes of families are identified, with different price and time sensitivity, furthermore, depending on the class, parents give different weights to children’s preferences, subject to the type of activity.

Conclusion The results of this research could be helpful for researchers, policy makers and tourist operator. We present a methodology that could be taken into account by researcher for the inclusion of children’s voices in group decision. Furthermore, policy makers and tourist operator receive a good insight to understand in which kind of activity children’s satisfaction is considered as a fundamental attribute for the choice. In this way they can focus their attention also on children’s satisfaction to develop their market strategies.

Limitation and future research Some limitation of our study are the use of SP data and the consideration of children preferences in a single dimension of the smiley-based scale. Different moods of the children could influence differently parent’s utility and future research will stress the attention in the analysis of the multi dimensionality of children preferences, possibly also through the use of RP data. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first attempt to adapt the design of an experiment to children preferences, in order to check the validity of this approach we decided to simplify the structure considering the single interaction of parents and children. Future research will take into account a more complex interaction between single members, so that final choices will consider the family utility function with individual utilities of father and mother considering their altruism towards the preferences stated by the children.

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