Work-Related Values of Men and Women

Friday, December 9, 2011
One topic that never gets stale is the difference between the career-related values of men and women. The group that I worked in at Educational Testing Service had done some research on that topic in the 1970s, before I arrived, and a graduate student intern did some further research while I was there in the 1990s. Each time this was studied, the general finding was that, on average, men tend to be strivers and women tend to be nurturers.

I recently became acquainted with a dataset that has the potential of providing another look at this question. Ever since late July I have been working on creating the third edition of  College Majors Handbook with Real Career Paths and Payoffs. I turned in the manuscript this week. The book is based on the 2003 National Survey of College Graduates, which was conducted by the Census Bureau on behalf of the National Science Foundation.

One set of questions on the survey form asks respondents, “When thinking about a job, how important is each of the following factors to you….” The values (factors) are the following:

  • Salary
  • Benefits
  • Job Security
  • Job Location
  • Opportunities for Advancement
  • Intellectual Challenge
  • Level of Responsibility
  • Degree of Independence
  • Contribution to Society

Respondents are asked to score each value as very important, somewhat important, somewhat unimportant, or not important at all.

I thought it would be interesting to see how men and women scored these values differently, so I looked at what percentage of each sex scored each value very important.

Here are the results for women, in descending order:

  • Benefits--64%
  • Security--62%
  • Challenge--59%
  • Independence--59%
  • Location--59%
  • Salary--54%
  • Contribution to Society--53%
  • Responsibility--43%
  • Advancement--37%

And the results for men, in descending order:

  • Benefits--65%
  • Security--61%
  • Independence--59%
  • Salary--58%
  • Challenge--55%
  • Location--48%
  • Advancement--45%
  • Responsibility--44%
  • Contribution to Society--38%

You won’t notice a great amount of difference between the two sexes, but a few things stand out. The biggest difference is their attitude toward Contribution to Society; 15 percent more women than men rated this as very important. Another large difference applies to Job Location; 10 percent more women than men rated this as very important. The priorities of the sexes are notably reversed regarding Opportunities for Advancement, which 7 percent more men than women rated as very important.

You can find slight differences in their attitudes toward Salary and Intellectual Challenge. The former was very important to more men than women by a margin of 4 percent, and the latter more important to women than men by the same margin.

All other differences were trivial--1 percent or less.

These results largely confirm the traditional images (confirmed by the ETS research) of men as strivers and women as nurturers, although the difference of opinion on Salary is not as great as I expected from the ETS research. It may be that women in 2003 perceived themselves as playing a more vital role as wage-earners than they did at the time the ETS research was conducted in the 1970s and 1990s.

The difference in the ratings for Job Location may have a connection to the nurturing role; women may place more importance on working near home so they can more easily respond to family emergencies. However, that’s just speculation on my part. Location may be a stand-in for some other need, popular among women, that I don’t recognize.

Let me stress that these are averages and don’t describe every man or woman. In fact, the ETS research found that in each sex, there was a subset of respondents whose constellation of top values closely matched the one that was characteristic of the opposite sex.

If this general topic interests you, you may want to see what I learned from my research on the work-related values of male students in Saudi Arabia in 2002.


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