Men prefer economic-based goals; women, socially satisfying pursuits

November 02, 2000

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - They are age-old questions: Who am I? Who do I want to be? A new study suggests that both questions - one involving a person's disposition and the other encompassing a person's goals - should be considered when counseling young people on career choices.

The study, published in the October issue of the Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, found that college-aged men and women in general want good relationships and an exciting life, but men prefer economic-based goals and women want socially satisfying pursuits. A review of the responses, however, led to some brick laying for a new classification system for understanding people's motivations.

"One of the most notable accomplishments in personality psychology is the Big Five [a widely accepted taxonomy for personality traits]," said Brent W. Roberts, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois. "It is comprehensive, allowing us to describe people and personalities. A big question, however, is to what extent do dispositions - the way people behave - differ or follow the same paths as the motives of people?"

The Big Five integrates five personality dimensions: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability and openness to experience. "No one has looked at the Big Five in relationship to motives, and there hasn't been enough good research to disentangle or at least test to see if there is overlap between disposition and motives," Roberts said.

Researchers had 672 freshmen and sophomores (median age 19; 59 percent women) at a West Coast university rank 38 life goals. Responses were examined using the framework of the Big Five taxonomy and a standard assessment of narcissism - the level of interest one has in his or her own appearance, comfort and importance.

Roberts and co-author Richard W. Robins of the University of California at Davis, then identified 10 value domains for the life goals. Seven of them - economic, aesthetic, social, relationship, political, hedonistic and religious - were then examined more closely. The good relationships and exciting lives most desired by the students fell under the relationship and hedonistic values. Political goals were the least desired of the participants.

"What we found in this study is that people will pursue goals that show a strong relationship to their personalities," Roberts said. "These goals have to do with structuring one's life. We are finding a pattern in which we build life structures that in essence validate who we are. Personality traits are related to motives, but they are not the same things. If you see yourself as an intellectual, you'll pursue goals that include aesthetic intellectual activities such as reading or playing a musical instrument."

Counselors often look at a person's goals but not a person's personality, he said. "It might work better to get a good picture of both, because of the relationship we are finding between the two."

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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