Research article on Social Class & Their Behavior
The concept of social class was introduced into the marketing literature in the late 1950s (Kemm 1958 according to Myers et al., 1971). Since then, marketing scholars and practitioners have paid considerable attention to this category. In the theory of marketing and buyer behavior, the concept of social class is considered the basic determinant of consumption behavior. In fact, among behavioral scientists, there was a consensus that market behavior of individuals is closely related to their social class. In this context, social class was often considered more important than income in affecting buying behavior (Slocum and Mathews, 1970).
When looking at numerous theoretical disputes and postulates (from the early to the contemporary ones), one might argue that the social class concept is more complete and comprehensive than the notion of income when considering their relevance in understanding and explaining consumption and buyer behavior. The reasoning behind this varies. Although social class is often associated with higher income, income still presents only one of many characteristics of social class. Individuals or families of different social classes can dispose of similar income, i.e. those in the bottom or top income group should not all be in the bottom or top social class group. Furthermore, income grows higher as we grow older, which has no bearing to social class changes. Also, families with one or more working members and subsequently a higher income are not automatically members of a higher social class. Much more so than income, social class is associated with values and life-styles of consumers, both of which significantly determine the consumption structure and behavior for numerous products. This point of view is shared by Levy (1966 according to Schaninger, 1981), Myers and Guttman (1974 according to Schaninger, 1981). Levy argued that «social class variations are variations in lifestyle», while Myers and Guttman consider social class to be a valuable segmentation base because it captures those lifestyle differences that income ignores.
Personal values and attitudes can have a greater influence to buyers’ behavior than the amount of income they have access to. This means that members of different social classes that have similar incomes, can, depending on their values and preferences, spend it on different contents and activities. In relation to values, one can talk about the significant consumers’ segment whose income is not high enough to be considered wealthy by the contemporary society. However, in their desire to buy only the best, they buy less often and not as much, but they buy quality goods. Finally, families in each social class can, depending on their income level, be divided into three subgroups: over-privileged, average and underprivileged. Note that the over-privileged and underprivileged families, despite the considerable difference in their purchasing power, retain the buying habits and the behavior of the segment they belong to. Despite everything that is said above, it would be irrational and wrong to deny the influence that income has over buying behavior, both on type and prices of products purchased.
REVIEW OF RELEVANT RESEARCH RESULTS
Since the late ’50s, the question of superiority of one criterion over another has been a subject of many research studies. Early researchers, for example, argued that social class was a better variable than income as a predictor of consumer behavior (Martineau, 1958; Coleman, 1960 and Wasson, 1969 in Keiser and Kuehl, 1972; Schaninger, 1981; Shimp and Yokum, 1981). The social class vs. income debate initiated a series of research studies dealing with the same issues (Matthews and Slocum, 1969; Myers et al., 1971; Myers and Mount, 1973; Hirisch and Peters, 1974) whose authors reached contrary results and established superiority over social class. Myers and his colleagues provided support for the predictive power of income over social classes in explaining expenditure patterns for low-priced packaged goods and cosmetics (Myers et al., 1971) and semi-durable and durable goods, plus selected services, such as clothing, furniture, appliances and travel (Myers and Mount, 1973 in Hughstad, 1981). Hirsch and Peters (1974 in Sivadas) and Sivadas (1997) suggested that income is better than social class in predicting leisure and recreational activities.
However, this conclusion related only to the criteria of usage/non-usage, while social class was of more significance when observing frequency of usage or purchase. Slocum and Matthews (1970 and 1972) updated an earlier study and conclude that income was at least as important as social class in predicting type of credit card usage, i.e. that neither variable was superior. Another study (Keiser, Kuehl 1972) also shows that both variables, income and social class, are positively related to brand identification. Namely, adolescents with high earnings and in the upper class were able to identify more brands than other adolescents. A very comprehensive and valuable research was conducted by Schaninger (1981) in the analysis of both usage/non-usage criteria as well as frequency of use data for a large variety of products. In his study, he came to the following conclusions: (1) Income is more important than social class in explaining the consumption of low social value products and services that are not related to class symbols, but require substantial expenditures (major kitchen and laundry appliances and recreational vehicles). Income also better determines the purchase frequency for soft drinks, mixers and distilled alcohol, i.e. alcoholic beverages; (2) Social class is a better predictor than income in areas that do not involve high dollar expenditures, but reflect an underlying lifestyle, values, (e.g. concern with health and body, drinking imported and domestic wines) or homemaker role differences, not captured by income. Furthermore, social class is superior for understanding the purchase of highly visible, symbolic, and expensive goods, such as living room furniture; and (3) The combination of social class and income is generally superior for highly visible products that require moderate or substantial expenditure and also serve as class-linked symbols (clothing, automobiles, television sets). Contemporary marketing and consumer behavior literature often refers to the results of Schaninger’s study and generalizes the presented conclusions.
Since the beginning, that is the mid ’80s, the empirical interest for the issues and debates on social class vs. income weakens, with the exception of only a few, less comprehensive studies on this subject (e.g. Tomlinson et al., 1993, Sivadas, 1997 and Williams, 2002).
One can conclude that since the phenomena of social class in marketing became a subject of study, most research studies have considered this category far more than income. Despite many doubts and critical attitudes of certain authors and researchers on the practical usefulness of social class for explaining and predicting the consumption phenomena, there are many papers and research studies that imply that behavioral patterns, purchasing motives and consumption of certain products and services differ significantly in relation to social class affiliation.
The purpose and goal of this paper is to determine which of the two analyzed concepts – social class or income – has a greater influence on buyers’ behavior in Croatian consumers, i.e. their consumption of certain products and services.
3.1. Sample, data collection and research hypothesis
Empirical research was carried out on the sample of 270 respondents in the two largest Croatian cities – Zagreb and Split. In the selection of sample units, the convenience sample was used, which has taken into account the fundamental characteristics important for the research. Therefore, the sample included respondents of various occupations, education and income levels. The research was carried out in February 2004. Survey methodology was used to collect data.
The questionnaire consisted of 22 questions, of which 19 referred to the preferences and behavior in eating, clothing and buying durable or prestige goods and services (apartments, cars, boats, life insurance, and holidays). The last three questions referred to the respondents’ (and their household) characteristics. The intent was to encompass those product and service categories, the consumption of which can establish differences in the buyer behavior of members of different social classes. Not only were the usage and possession of a product analyzed, but also the type of the consumed product, the importance of certain criteria when choosing and purchasing the product, and the usage frequency. The questions used were structured as multiple choice questions. Based on theoretical postulates, issues researched and determined goals, three hypotheses were set:
H1: Social class, in general, has a greater influence on the consumption of most products than income.
H2: Social class better explains consumer preferences and buyer behavior with products that reflect lifestyle values (e.g. macrobiotic nutrition, wine, etc.), highly visible and more expensive products associated with class symbols (clothing, automobiles, etc.) and food products, excluding fish.
H3: Income is a better predictor with products of a lower social significance, i.e. inconspicuous products of higher expenditure, such as alcoholic beverages (spirits), certain fish types, and life-insurance policies.
3.2. The respondents’ segmentation according to social class and income categories
Every respondent, based on his/her socio-economic characteristics, has been assigned to: (1) one of the three social class groups, and (2) one of the three income groups.
Social Class Groups
For the classification of respondents into social classes, we used a modified Index of Social Position (ISP) formed by three determinants: occupation, education and income. The largest weight (4) was given to occupation, as the most important determinant of the social class, while education and income were given the same weight (3). Each respondent was accordingly given a certain number of points which classified him/her as a member of one of three classes (upper, middle, and lower). To calculate the index, we used the following formula:
ISP score = (Occupation score x 4) + (Education score x 3) + (Income score x 3)
Table 1 shows the social position determinants and their correspondent values, while Table 2 presents the classification system and social class scores.
Income information is obtained by asking the respondent to which of the 10 income groups his/her family belongs (see Table 1); this is based upon total family income for the previous month.
 The use of social class as a market variable was first suggested by Martineau 1958.
 For example, a person with a university degree, a teacher or lawyer may have the same or lower income than a car mechanic.
 For example, concerning furniture purchases of consumers in different classes, Coleman (1960) found that the correlation between prices of goods purchased and social class is relatively quite high in these product areas, while the correlation between price paid and annual income is lower than one might expect (in Keiser, and Kuehl, 1972).
 Both studies only examined the presence of various products on hand.
 This conclusion is contrary to Coleman’s findings (1960 in Schaninger). Zaltman and Wallendorf (1979 in Schaninger) proposed that income would be superior to social class for inconspicuous products bought for in-home use.
 When classifying individuals into social-class groupings, Schaninger, like most of the other researchers, used the Hollingshead Index of Social Position, based on two basic socioeconomic variables: occupation and education.
 This is in line with Coleman’s (1960 in Schaninger,1981) empirical evidence.
 Peter’s (1970) relative occupational class income concept has enhanced the ability of social class to predict select consumption phenomena. Further more, some research studies found that relative class income represented an important determinant of buying behavior for coffee (Klippel and Monoky, 1974 prema Dawson et al., 1990) and retail store selection (Dawson et al., 1990).
 Tomlinson and colleagues (1993) found that class gives a more powerful prediction of food consumption than income.
 Social class did relate to a greater number of criteria than income. However, a far greater number of significant relationships were observed when relative class income was employed (Williams, 2002).
 More on this in Mihić (2005).
 Unlike the original Hollingshead’s Index of Social Position, which comprises two determinants (occupation and education), this also includes a third determinant (household income) as the essential component of social class. The items of determinants were adapted to the circumstances in Croatian society.
 When observing income, the question that arises is which income to measure. This paper used the category of family income since it is the category that most authors and researchers use. Besides, family income reflects the purchasing power and behavior of individual consumers better than individual income.