Coleman (1961a, 1961b) started a wide range of research when he found that interscholastic athletics was a determining factor in the values of male high school students. When asked how they wanted to be remembered most, the majority of male students chose athletic success over scholastic proficiency or popularity among peers. Coleman's opinion was that the American school system encouraged this value, and this led to the development of a rather independent adolescent society.
Coleman gathered his data at the end of the 1950s. In replication of that research, 16 years later, Eitzen (1975) found that the value order had remained stable. Athletic success was still the most appreciated trait among male students. Studies carried out during the 1980s have shown that this is still the case (Williams & White, 1983; Thirer & Wright, 1985; Kane, 1988).
Contrary to previous results, Buchanan, Blankenbaker, and Cotten, (1976) found that elementary school boys preferred good grades to athletic success. However, of the boys with athletic tendencies, the majority were more interested in being popular than in achieving good grades. Similar results were found with college students (Furst & DiCarlo, 1991). These findings showed that values vary with age.
In the United States during the 1950s, female interscholastic athletics was still rare. For this reason, in his assessment of female students, Coleman (1961a) substituted being an athletic star with being a leader in school activities. He found that girls wanted to be remembered as a leader in extracurricular activities or as the most popular girl in school rather than for being academically proficient. Based on Coleman's ranking criteria, Eitzen (1975) confirmed that girls would rather be athletes than leaders or academically successful.
In later studies, the value order for girls changed, with academic success surpassing popularity and athletic success (Buchanan et al. 1976; Williams & White, 1983; Thirer & Wright, 1985; Williams & Andersen, 1987; Kane, 1988; Furst & DiCarlo, 1991). Contrary to these results, Feltz (1979) found that though high school girls preferred to be remembered as most popular rather than as a brilliant student or athletic star, they still valued being a leader in extracurricular activities the most (Feltz, 1979; Williams & White, 1983; Thirer & Wright, 1985; Kane, 1988).
Studies have been conducted on the values of school children in countries other than the United States. In 1967, Canadian high school students preferred academics over athletics and popularity. Among the boys, athletics was second, preceding popularity. Among the girls, popularity was selected before athletics (Friesen, 1976). In England, academically successful students often belonged to college varsity teams (Hendry, 1978), while Finnish high school students valued popularity over academic and athletic success (Salminen & Laakso, 1988; Salminen, 1989). The differences between the results of these studies and Coleman's may be due to the differences in school systems and testing methods.
Based on value studies of elementary and high school students, we can conclude that athletics is still considered the best way to receive recognition in the United States. However, there has been a change in the values of female students in that academic success has surpassed popularity and athletic proficiency, even though being a leader in extracurricular activities is still considered the most important role. Cross-cultural differences in adolescent values have been noted.
The aim of this study was to compare the values of Finnish high school students with those of American students, and to examine the stability of values with longitudinal data.
This study is part of a larger research project on health education in Finnish schools. It consists of three-phrased panel data, and was begun in December, 1985 using 310 students between the ages of 10 and 16 years. …