Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Language Preference of Hispanics and Perceptions of Financial Well Being: Implications for Marketing

To what extent has the financial situation affected the perceptions of financial well-being of Latinos depending on their language preference? This question has implications because the answer may impact the way in which consumers make purchase decisions.

Language preference among Hispanics has been considered a proxy for acculturation. It is also an indicator of the many aspects of life that impact Hispanics from media preferences to interpersonal interactions. The anti-immigration sentiment prevalent in many circles in the US these days has hurt recent immigrants in particular. In addition, economic circumstances in the past few years are likely to have affected Latinos differentially depending on their integration in the US.

Using data from the Simmons National Hispanic Consumer Study that was collected in the twelve months ended on March 16, 2012, I created crosstabulations of language preference by financial outlook among Hispanics. Language preference was gauged as the language the respondent prefers to speak in general and the response categories were Only English, Mostly English but Some Spanish, Mostly Spanish but Some English, and Only Spanish. For this analysis I collapsed Only and Mostly English and Only and Mostly Spanish to form the preferences for English or Spanish.

The financial outlook dimension was measured with the question: Do you think you are better off or worse off financially now than you were 12 months ago? The response categories were Significantly Worse Off, Somewhat Worse Off, About the Same, Somewhat Better Off, and Significantly Better Off. For the purposes of this analysis I collapsed those who answered significantly and somewhat worse off, and those who answered significantly and somewhat better off to result in three categories: Better Off, About the Same, and Worse Off.

The resulting “average” table is presented below:

The plurality, over 30% of Latinos indicate that their financial situation is about the same as it was 12 months ago. This can mean different things.  It can mean that things have not improved or that things have been as good as they were a year ago. Given the economic situation the US is going through, most likely it means that things have not improved but not gotten worse. Also, the “fatalism” prevalent in the culture may lead many to express that things are the same as usual and that in the average there is no change.

English preferred Hispanics, however, have a much more positive perspective than Spanish preferred Latinos as a substantively larger percentage of them indicate they are better off now than 12 months ago than their Spanish preferred counterparts. This may not be completely surprising since Spanish preferred respondents are more likely to be more recent immigrants and also more likely to suffer the consequences of immigration policies. These more recent immigrants are also more likely to have suffered from lack of work due to the lack of jobs in industries like construction that have traditionally employed many recent immigrants from Mexico and other parts of Latin America.

In a somewhat contradictory fashion, a few more English preferred Hispanics also report being worse off now than Spanish preferred respondents, but the differences between these two groups are very small. What is interesting is that over 25% of Latinos feel things have been worse for them in general. While not surprising, these figures bring home the notion that the economy and immigration related issues are likely to have made life worse for many Hispanics who try hard to make a living for themselves and their families.

The news for marketers are mixed.  The majority of Hispanics feel they are better off or about the same as they were 12 months ago, and that is good news as that means that spending by most Latinos is likely to continue at a sustained pace. The negative news are that a substantial percentage feel the brunt of pervasive immigration and economic conditions and that their spending may be limited by their actual and perceived spending power. This brings about the importance of making politicians aware that the uncertainty of immigration reform needs to be removed for economic growth. The clarification of immigration policies and rules is likely to make the future more predictable and optimistic for many. Also, as in the overall economy, job creation should be a most important priority.

The data used here is from the Simmons National Hispanic Consumer Study and collected from January 31, 2011 to March 16, 2012. The sample contained 3,518 English preferred Latinos, and 2,104 Spanish preferred Hispanics.

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