Life events that change people’s consumption. An update of Holmes & Rahe's "Readjustment Rating Social Scale" (1967) and its marketing opportunities

Scientific Study, 2013

64 Pages, Grade: 14/20






I) Literature review - The basis of life Event Research
1) The Readjustment Rating Social Scale
2) Supporting literature with life events
3) Marketing and Managerial opportunities

II) The critics and limitations
1) The methodology
2) Other critics

III) Research
1) Methodology
2) Findings and discussions on 2013 RRSS
3) Interviews on marketing theories
4) Limitations and future research

V) Conclusion

VI) References

VII) Appendix
Appendix 1- Original RRSS 1967
Appendix 2- Survey
Appendix 3 - Online Interview


“Congratulations, you just got married!”

“My son just left home”

“Sorry for your divorce”

Different statements, different reactions. What level of readjustment and personal behaviour do you think those life events bring to you just after they occurred? The answer already exists in an analysis made in 1967 by Thomas H. Holmes and Richard H. Rahe.

We are now in 2013, is it really possible to imagine only one second that people from today exactly react the same as in 1967? This paper shows the change in the ranking, the evolution of grades in 46 years and the place of new life events that now happen in 2013 and where not present in 1967.

The methodology basically follows the original one but improves the precision and diversifies the questions to provide a more precise analysis.

As the original scale was established for medicinal purposes, this one tends to link the results with some marketing theories applicable to people for whom life events show some relevant change in their life through some short interviews, made with randomly selected respondents. Dear companies, use those findings to adapt and improve your targeting and strategies.


After looking for information on different topics, one particularity caught my attention, as it was not based on a simple and already studied way of targeting, but based on the life events that change people consumption. It is true that many studies have already been done over the past decades, but no one can today ignore the fact we are in 2013 and the human behaviours and abilities to consume might have evolved. The large majority of the previous studies I found were therefore too old and not updated regarding the actual consumption. This thesis is divided into 3 main points:

- An actual review of literature and what has been told so far regarding life event. The point of departure is Readjustment Rating Social Scale of Holmes & Rahe (1967). What I realized with my research is that the studies are more focused on psychological topics but lack of marketing application. This is why a specific literature topic will be made for marketing and managerial opportunities.
- The second point will concern the main critics of the previous methodology and lacks or inconsistencies.
- A personal research on marketing opportunities related to life events.
My points is to see if the theories are still relevant in 2013 with different ways of consumption when an event occurs, but also to see if the general habits have changed, with other customs, not necessary linked with some specific events, but with general attitudes. The analysis will show if the small events can now be considered as important events. The goal of this thesis is to show if these “weaknesses” and the over­online information can be used in marketing opportunities, or to remain more ethical, how not to be tricked by marketing tools to remain free and not follow trends of society.

Not only can this analysis be good for psychologists but also for every company as they have now to face some difficulties related to the financial crisis started in 2008. Each one of them has to redefine a clear strategy of sales and also to be aware of the selling trades. Exploring the Event driven marketing will therefore help the companies to be proactive, understand the customers’ reactions regarding a specific event and take the goods measures before it is too late. After five years of financial crisis accustomization and changing habits, people now are able to talk about experiences that might have happened over the past few years and add a relevant added value to the analysis.

In brief, this article will answer two main questions:

Can we add new kinds of events to the original RRSS?

Is the ranking still the same and relevant in 2013?

And to a lesser extent,

Which marketing theories can we use to get maximum profit?


Readjustment rating social scale; Life event; Event-Driven Marketing; Occasion-Based Marketing; Suggestive Conscious Marketing; Relationship Marketing; Benefit Corporation; Trading-up effect; Marketing 3.0;

I) Literature review - The basis of life Event Research

1) The Readjustment Rating Social Scale.

The first part of the thesis will develop the main ideas behind the theories that were first developed in 1967 by Holmes and Rahe describing what was called the readjustment rating social scale. It basically tested 394 respondents and asked them to rate a list of 43 life events compared to a basic one (marriage), which was worth 500 points. If the subject had the feeling the life event was more important, he/she had to scale it higher than 500 by for example giving a grade of 900 and the same if he/she had the feeling the life event was less important by for example giving a grade of 250. The mean of all grades was done for each event and divided by 10 to deliver a ranking (see appendix 1).

It is important to remember that T.Holmes and R.Rahe were two psychiatrists who used this scale for medicine purpose and leads to stress analysis. It was probably relevant only in medicine in 1967 but many specialists today agree on the fact that stress is considered as the biggest disease of the 21st century and can touch everybody (Wilson & Wright, 2001). Some related studies are mentioned in the next part and show that in every situation, the stress provoked comes from the uncertainty and the scare of changing instead of the event in itself. Stress and change is everywhere and there is no possibility to ignore the studies today. Andreasen (1984) encourages companies « to place greater emphasis on life status variables and suggests that ‘measures of status change should be seriously considered as predictor variables in future consumer studies in marketing, particularly those concerned with developing market segments’ ».

Elaborating a scale of life events was an idea to show the general relations between psychological and sociological effects on health and disease in man. The initial scale was developed following the ideas of Adolf Meyer (1948) in the Meyer’s life chart as the list of events was used for decades and were from two natures:

- The events indicative of the life style of human beings
- The ones involving occurrences for the individual

As my study deals not only with a specific life event but also with general habits of individuals, especially for the new events of the list, this starting point is important as it allows me include events of different natures. This is actually one of the hypotheses of this paper, to see if the nature of life events is still dual or ifwe can include a new kind.

2) Supporting literature with life events

The question of RRSS validity has been a long debate over the past decades and lot of researchers tried to test its strenght.

A few of them debated a long time on it (Sarason et al. 1975) but at the end, their results somehow fitted with the original scale.

I seems like I am not the first one who wants to verify the validity of the scale but while lot of researchers try to develop their own scale or critic the original one, I want to verify the update process and improve it to remain relevant with the 21st century.

Six years after the RRSS was firstly used, some researches have been done explaining that the main source of stress was coming mostly after a life change in general instead of the undesirability of life events (Dohrenwend, 1973). All of the main life events are often stressful at different degrees because they call for a change in human behaviour or perception. This change places the individual in a situation of stress as the habits have to change and the reason is not the undesirability of this event. This is basically the difference between expecting something and actually facing it for real.

In this situation, the research method differs from RRSS one as interviews were made on 124 heads were the main question asked was “What was the last major event that, for better of for worse, changed or interrupted your usual activities?” Respondents had to select through a list of 28 events somehow close from the RRSS list.

Compared to the original scale, the goal was not to create a scale but to develop both indexes of undesirability and change. For the first one, the author asked the people the degree of undesirability that other people would generally think and for the second one, she used the same system as the RRSS. The results of cross-classified answers confirmed the psychological evidence that the changes in life habits was much more powerful than the undesirability of the event and it that sense, this fits with my research more focused on the events that make people change on consume differently than the willingness to study the desirability of an event.

Between 1967 and 1977, many studies have been done to see if the scale made in USA was also relevant in other countries such as Mexico (Komaroff et al. 1968), New Zealand (Isherwood & Adam, 1976) or Western Europe (Harmon et al. 1970). The goal was to globalize the scale internationally and results showed it was possible. The correlations between each group were very highs, which is a good point for this paper, as the questions will be sent to random people with different cultures and backgrounds. The assumption that the different groups are highly correlated allows me not to test socio-demographics elements such as the country of origin within the people.

Other measures of life events have been developed and tested (Berkman, 1971; Wardell, 1973) but those attempts were not very good and after few decades, the RRSS remains presently the point of departure for everybody, which reinforces the idea that working on an update of original RRSS is the most important point. No one was able to provide a good and alternative scale so, why would I be able to do this?

Analysing other literature may take a long time and the problem comes from the fact the huge majority of it is related to health and medicine and this is not the entire purpose of this article. For Example, Isherwood (1981) summed up the main troubles related to stress due to life events such as psychiatric or behavioural disorders, suicide attempt sample group had faced four times more events than a “normal” sample, car accident leading to paranoia, alcohol consumption and predisposing influences for few events leading to the same behaviours on different people.

3) Marketing and Managerial opportunities

As mentioned before, the purpose of this paper is not only to update the RRSS but also to think on how this could be used in a marketing and managerial approach. The psychological and medicinal theories are of course interesting but are not in the scope of this project. Stress is the main element of this study and the starting point regarding marketing opportunities comes the moment the stressful life event occurs.

For a very few people, there is simply no stress response as if the event had no effect on the individual, but in most of the cases, three pathways happens before illness indicators:

- Physiological changes (Ader in press; Herbert & Cohen, 1993a, 1993b)

It is possible to find some body responses to stress that are precursors of some diseases. Once again, it goes out of the project scope, but it is still interesting to see that depending on genes, personality, gender and age, people react differently and for some of them, those changing body resources may lead to different consumption.

- Negative Affect (Scheier and Bridges, 1995)

When an event happens, mostly a negative one, an effect directly reaches the mood and can lead to rumination, anxiety, loneliness or a depressed mood. Depression is a precursor of sickness as the individual tends to diminish its mind and body care and starts a vicious circle.

- Health-Compromising Behaviours (Bannon & Feist, 1997)

This point is probably the most important here as it directly results in an attitude and behaviour such as relieving their tensions in smoking, alcohol or food consumption. By being too obsessed with the stress, people forget their routine habits and use illegal or deviant product to compensate the stress increase. This point is important; as a marketing analyst would see here an opportunity to sell some products or use the changing habits to increase the number of products already consumed by the individual.

Those three pathways are the main subjects found that can lead to an illness indicator, but as I don’t analyse those indicators but the opportunities to seize among those changing behaviours, it is more important to analyse the possibilities behind deviant behaviours.

Here come some theories already started by other people over the past decades that seem to have a potential exploitable to increase marketing efficiency and eventually, what misses in their analysis. I will also propose some ideas I find relevant and interview few random people to share their feeling about those ideas.

When it comes to marketing, lot of theories are relevant as there is even too much possibilities. One of the first opportunities to analyse will be called “Event driven marketing”. As the authors say, it is “the discipline within marketing, where commercial and communication activities are based upon these relevant and identified changes in a customer's individual needs” (Jan Van Bel et al. 2010). This approach consists in a very active strategy instead. The idea is to generalize a pattern in which an event occurs and leads to one or two specific way of consuming. Instead of waiting for consumption and analyze the sales, the company is going to try to notice the possibile change in a customer life and offer him/her the good product at the good moment when the client is going to need it the most.

The event driven marketing has three main attributes that will be tested in my research (Part III, except for the «Today» element, which requires a longer analysis) :

- Individual: Each people have a different interpretation on a specific event. The fact that a individual faces a situation alone or in group changes the result. We already saw it in marketing researchs, such as in focus groups where people are sometimes scared of answering something wrong or different. In the case of a life event, we will try to see if people are afraid of consuming if within a group or if it changes when they are alone and less ashamed of their deviant behaviour.

- Significance: Each individual have some different perception for each event. For some people, an event leads to a total change in habits while for some others, it changes nothing. This will also be tested later using the variance from the mean. The biggest it will be, the most difficult it will be to generalize an attitude following a specific event.

- Today: This attribute is very important as it measures the time between the event happens and the consuming behaviour that follows this event. As I don’t plan to ask people the time between event and consumption, I will use the results already made by the event-driven marketing researchers and assume those findings are real. My research will ask the people to remember what happened when the event occurred or what would their reaction be if it has to happen.

It is also possible to mention the Occasion-based marketing. It basically deals with the overall efficiency of a marketing response, such as the responses following a marketing campaign and its conversion into a sale. In that case, the goal is not to analyse and target through some specific demographic, psychical or social criteria but based on the general assumption that for a specific event, a large majority of people will reproduce the same behaviour. The point is that, by using the criteria mentioned before, companies are sometimes late or badly informed on the good time to offer their product to the customer at the good moment when they are the most likely to buy.

The theory behind occasion-based marketing is more or less related to the idea that instead of analysing the general trends of life events and their general results on people behaviour, the occasion-based marketing is going to try to create this trend.

To be clear, the event-driven marketing will understand the behaviour of a consumer and reproduce the efforts and incentives in the future for other customers while the occasion-based marketing will also understand the effects on people, but will intend to impose the trend to follow and make it the norm for every other people in the future.

An article written in December 2012 by Ryan Caligiuri describes the seven top marketing trends for 2013 in which two of them are relevant for our marketing opportunities regarding life events. The first one deals with the “new king” of marketing, which refers to the notion of context. It means that when an offer or campaign is made, it not only sales the product or service but contextualizes it and offers some advises on how and when to use it. Instead of letting the customer use it as he/she wants, the company tries to implant a general behaviour so that it becomes a reference for the next customers.

The second trend deals with the conception of a content that “encourages action”. That point really uses the customer’s opinion as it (indirectly) asks them to talk and share about their experience with the product. The goal is not only to be a simple customer but also be part of a real experience and become the evangelist ofthe communication. The company does not advertise to the customers, but the customers advertise with the company. If linked to the concept of occasion-based marketing, notices from customers reinforce the will to create a new trend and a general habit following a specific event.

It is important to specify that this study does not take into account the “big” occasions, such as Christmas or the seasonal ones, as they are too general and the companies already know how to promote for those kinds of events. We are here talking about the personal events at a micro level and which are more specifics. When I talk about occasion- based marketing, I think about the creation of new trends for smaller groups and not for the whole population and/or big segments, already used to consume at very important moments of the calendar.

By gradually decreasing the level of marketing incentive “hardness”, what can we say about “Suggestive Conscious Marketing”? There is no real literature about this topic as this idea comes from my mind. On the one side, there is the unconscious suggestive strategy also known as subliminal and on which lot of research has already been done. I am talking about the general strategy of using the life events as a loss of marks from the customers and trying to give them some conscious advises. The goal is to increase sales and improve the customer relations by simply showing sympathy and of course, not abusing with bad advises, but just some general good tips useful for the customers that will make him/her believe a specific company is worth trusting. It creates a customer relations tool for a win-win solution. The question is therefore to wonder if the companies do it because they actually really care about the customer welfare or if this is just a hypocritical strategy and use of people weaknesses at a specific time. My research will ask random people their feeling toward such a strategy.

Continuing with the idea of going to the most aggressive to the coolest marketing strategy, “Relationship marketing” is probably the nicest one as it really uses the power of empathy which might be very strong when an event occurs and somebody loses his/her marks and needs people to understand what he/she is going through. The efficiency of this technic will also be tested in my research. The final goal is to create a strong customer loyalty as the individual will always remember a specific people (or company) was there to support him/her and understands him/her in a very difficult moment. The process of relationship marketing can be summed up in one framework (Ganguli et al. 2009) both available for people and companies (Fig 1.3.1).

Figure 1.3.1.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

GANGULI, S. et al. (2009), Relationship Marketing : A critical evaluation of research streams, Bentley University, Proceedings of ASBBS, Vol 16 N° 1

The main point here is in the Output section with the “Environment of trust” which might be the longest item to acquire in a client relationship.

Some studies have been done to analyse the family life cycle and the related consumption (Murphy and Staples, 1979) for a household. It reveals four spending patterns such as a rise with the shift to married status, then it leads to a decrease with the arrival of children, then rise again as the family structure matures and decreases again the last stages of life cycle (Fig 1.3.2). In that case, the life events are more or less predictable and follow a usually well-known trend. These are not some unexpected events that come by surprise and suddenly change people life very quickly. The decisions are here made in advance and well prepared. This reinforces the idea that companies and marketing must be proactive and anticipate people reaction before and after the event occurs.

Figure 1.3.2.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

MURPHY, P.E. & STAPLES, W.A. (1979), A Modernized family life cycle, Journal of Consumer Research, June 1979, pp. 12-22

The goal of this study is to inspire the companies with past events to be able to be ready for today. What about the future strategies? One possibility is related to the environment. So far, the updates of RRSS did not show a real importance of the environment in people life but let us consider I am going to include some topics related to environment in my research. If the ranking and importance of the environment, especially in 2013 with all the global warming campaigns and measures for the people, are significantly present, it would therefore be relevant to include the strategy of Benefit Corporation (The Global Heroes, 2012). The goal is to get an attestation that a specific company has a socially responsible project, regarding its profits, its employees and its global impact on the planet. We now face many environmental disasters that touch people, whether they are directly impacted to it or with simple solidarity. A company which message would be “we produce a similar product than the competitors, but following a responsible process and include environmental friendly material” may have an impact on people consuming carefully.

Let’s consider that the list of events might be divided into two points: positive and negatives ones. There is a concept called Trading-up effect (Silverstein & Fiske, 2004) that suggests that after few specific drivers, people tend to higher the category quality of product they consume for a period of time. Most of the time, this is linked to an increase in the real income but this study will also try to locate some life events that enforce people to change their habits. Is this linked to a negative event? We can imagine a break-up occurring and then, a woman trying to compensate the pain by spending a lot in clothes for example. In that case, not only the middle-market has to care about life event, but also the luxury market and especially, the goods related to the care of body and spirit. The goal is to comfort people self.

Finally, it is nice to have a list of different theories, but one point remains essential to the efficiency of this kind of life event marketing: How to get the information on the people? Compared to the socio-demographics information, this is very difficult to know when an event is going to happen for a people. Of course, let us consider some major ones where it is quite easy to know it (marriage, divorce, death) but what about the ones we can consider as minors (a break-up, an argument with a friend, etc.)? The idea coming behind this deals with the Marketing 3.0 (Kotier, 2010) and a possible new way of targeting people. Today, we have a general idea of what marketing 3.0 can be, but as the technologies and innovations arrive so quickly, this is always difficult to exactly predict next moves. This idea places the human as the central point, especially the emotional, intellectual and spiritual dimensions. As the technology evolves with the human, they are more able to express and be part of a whole process and promotion. The customers are not only focused on the product in itself but also consider other corporate social dimensions. For my study, the important point deals with the information shared by the customers like their tastes, feelings toward a product, but also, their general behaviours and possible move in personal life.


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Life events that change people’s consumption. An update of Holmes & Rahe's "Readjustment Rating Social Scale" (1967) and its marketing opportunities
Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management  (ULB)
Master in Management Sciences
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life, holmes, rahe, readjustment, rating, social, scale
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Benjamin Dié (Author), 2013, Life events that change people’s consumption. An update of Holmes & Rahe's "Readjustment Rating Social Scale" (1967) and its marketing opportunities, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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