Age and Gender Differences in Value Orientation among American Adolescents

Article excerpt

Jensen, McGhie, and Jensen (1991) investigated whether men and women differ in what they view as important. They predicted that women would have a more caring value orientation. A questionnaire with 40 contrasting adjectives and phrases was developed to measure this caring perspective. The adjectives and phrases were selected from enumerations of gender differences extracted from three sources - Gilligan (1982), Noddings (1984, 1988), Bernard (1981), and Belensky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule (1986) - and then categorized. The questionnaire was administered to 56 husbands and wives, who were asked to circle the item in each pair that was more important to them personally. Significant differences between men and women were found for 14 word pairs, and for all word pairs the differences were in the predicted direction. The 14 pairs were logic versus intuition, power versus compromise, character versus kindness, consistency versus forgiveness, freedom versus children, facts versus feelings, what people do versus what people are like inside, justice versus mercy, enjoy work versus enjoy people, determination versus patience, achievement versus getting along with others, success versus friends, competitive ability versus cooperative ability, and being in charge versus helping.

A similar study by Stimpson, Neff, Jensen, and Newby (1991) also found gender differences in preference for a caring value orientation. Women were asked to rate adjectives, which had been extracted from the Bem Sex-Role Inventory, on a 5-point Likert scale. It was found that women considered the following adjectives to be more desirable than did men: sensitive, tender, kind, happy, cheerful, yielding, understanding, affectionate, loyal, eager to sooth hurt feelings, sympathetic, compassionate, gentle, helpful, and sincere.

These studies support the idea that a value system oriented more toward caring, and directed at people and relationships, is preferred by females. However, Jensen, McGhie, and Jensen studied only married couples, and Stimpson et al. studied only university women between the ages of 18 and 22. A practical question emerges: When does this difference develop? Is it learned, and if so, when is it first observable? These researchers have implied that the gender difference is largely biologically based. If so, one would expect it to be present at younger ages. On the other hand, if the caring value orientation is primarily learned, then it may not appear until late adolescence.

Hill and Lynch (1983) developed the "gender intensification hypothesis," which asserts that the gender domestic/public split becomes more pronounced for females and males during adolescence. This is when society's expectations of gender-appropriate activities become more specific. Parents, teachers, and peers expect adolescents to conform to gender roles more than they do children (Hall & Sandler, 1982; Hill & Lynch, 1983; Huston-Stein & Higgins-Trenck, 1987). Thus, even if gender differences are biologically based and appear at an early age, it is predicted that the difference between males and females would be smaller at the onset of adolescence and steadily increase. In addition, if this gender difference in values is biologically based, it should occur regardless of geographic region.

The present study sought to answer the following two questions: (1) At what age do gender differences in value orientation first appear? (2) Do gender differences in value orientation exist across different geographical regions of the United States?



The Worldview Questionnaire was administered to 1,247 male and female adolescents living in Louisiana, New York, Idaho, and California. The sample consisted of 363 sixth graders, 327 eighth graders, 248 tenth graders, and 309 twelfth graders, with approximately the same percentages of each age group residing in each state. There were 715 females and 532 males. …