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SANDERS, R. E. (2004). Career and Family Priorities of College Students. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 7. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved December 9, 2023 .

Career and Family Priorities of College Students

Sponsored by: ELIZABETH HAMMER (eyhammer@loyno.edu)
This study was designed to observe the career and family priorities of college undergraduates. Twenty-nine males and forty-three females completed a previously developed survey, entitled the Life Role Salience Scales by Amatea et al. (1986) that assessed these variables. The items measuring family and career values were developed to contain occupational and family components. It was hypothesized that among male and female undergraduates, value differences would be observed between career and family priorities. Statistical analysis demonstrated that indeed, there was an inverse relationship between gender and priorities. Among females, women valued the parental role over the occupational role. Likewise, among males, men preferred the occupational role, as opposed to the marital role. Furthermore, females appeared to value the parental role greater than males. In conclusion, these findings suggested that females preferred family values, whereas males favored career values.

Everyday decisions can be related to the essence of human nature. Choices dictate characteristics regarding each individual, and also display inward qualities. Personal goals and value priorities are some of the traits that address aspects of human thought, and influence behavior, in particular, life role expectations involving career and family priorities. Men and women are frequently confronted with conflicts pertaining to future goals. Specifically, research has shown that choices regarding life roles made in college exert a tremendous amount of pressure on females (Arnold, 1993). For instance, women exhibit high levels of anxiety regarding career and family decisions (Arnold, 1993). According to a longitudinal study, the number of talented females is becoming slim in comparison to their male counterparts in the occupational arena (Arnold, 1993). Recent statistics show that men continue to dominate prominent jobs with increased wages over females (Battle & Wigfield, 2001). Furthermore, it is believed that women have a tendency to progress, or choose potential career avenues, slower then men in order to asses their future options (Arnold, 1993). One study suggests that progression is linked to environmental factors, in that, college surroundings elicit changes in male and female attitudes concerning gender-roles (Bryant, 2003). However, very little is known about attitudinal and motivational determinants influencing women’s participation in paid employment (Faver, 1982). Consequently, most of the research does not go into detail about specific differences in career and family priorities among males and females, or how the results of life choices affect human beings in general. Past research proposes that there is a burden projected upon women which cause them to remain open to the prospects of marriage and raising children before making career choices (Arnold, 1993). As a result, the consequences attributed to this delay in choice may inevitably cause problems in the future, specifically, a lack in potential growth and fulfillment, resulting from an imagined illusion of the future (Arnold, 1993). Females are not, however, that different from males in terms of gender role conflicts (Good & Mintz, 1990). In one study, both males and females expressed common future plans in regard to occupations (Maines & Hardesty, 1987). However, like women, males experience extreme pressure in terms of future decisions, goals, and expectations, as well (Good & Mintz, 1990). According to Good & Mintz (1990), males are highly affected by social norms, which entail the masking of affect, presentation of confidence, future success, and competitive drive. These characteristics associated with male behavior and presentation; in essence, deprive the male population of basic needs. As a result, men may develop depression associated with repressed behavior initiated by the male gender role (Good & Mintz, 1990). Although the male and female gender-role theory offer explanations as to why career and family priorities differ among males and females, further research propose models for dissimilarities between gender attitudes. In 1985, Gaeddert addressed the priority differences among the activities and achievements of men and women in a theory known as the “Domain Differences Models.” The first explanation of this theory was the agency-communion duality, hypothesized by Bakan (Gaeddert, 1985). This study suggested that males strive to become “masters of the environment,” whereas, females are geared towards achieving a state of harmony with one another. The second explanation of the Domain Differences Model was that sex role stereotypes account for dissimilarities between males and females, due to different gender socializations. Specifically, women attain a feminine role through social goals, as opposed to males who fulfill the masculine stereotype and pursue the mastery of tasks (Gaeddert, 1985). A further illustration of the ways in which male and female priorities have been classified is through Gaeddert’s (1985) “Performance Evaluation Models.” The intrinsic-extrinsic model suggests that socialization causes men and women to form different perceptions of achievements (Gaeddert, 1985). Particularly, men determine personal success externally by observing other people perform, which ultimately stems from a lack of parental supervision in childhood. On the other hand, females identify success internally, resulting from strict childhood surveillance. In order to develop a classification of achievement motivational types (in accordance to the intrinsic-extrinsic model), Gaeddert (1985) proposed that men seek recognition of success through the impact of their actions, and that females are distinguished from their male counterparts by internal perceptions. With this, males characterized success through external features, as opposed to the female who sought out achievement internally (Gaeddert, 1985). In essence, the Performance Evaluation Models differs from past gender achievement research, in that past literature supports gender differentiation based on present and future experiences (Maines & Hardesty, 1987). In particular, Battle & Wigfield (2001) found that women took into account the costs associated with obtaining future careers and establishing a family. Furthermore, men were more likely to view having a family as non-problematic and enviable, whereas, women perceived having a family as compromising to their career aspirations (Maines & Hardesty, 1987). The literature presented thus far, has addressed the discrepancies between the career and family priorities of men and women. Yet, research has demonstrated that universal work expectations are common between genders, and that both males and females contain aspirations in regard to high education, work, and family values (Maines & Hardesty, 1987). Ultimately, there are several studies, which present various theories, structures, and models for defining the actions or behavior of men and women. However, the literature presents generalized social theories, ranging from environmental factors to gender-role predispositions, and fails to direct these relationships toward the future choices and actions of men and women undergraduate students. Few studies have attempted to link the relationship between both male and female priorities with respect to their social roles (Arnold, 1993). The purpose of this study was to identify the relationship between male and female undergraduate priorities in terms of their future goals regarding career and family. It was hypothesized that there would be an inverse relationship between career values and the importance of family life between men and women. Furthermore, female students would value the family life role, whereas males would prefer the occupational life role.


In this study, there were twenty-nine male and forty-three female undergraduates that comprised a total sample of seventy-two participants from Loyola University New Orleans, each over the age of eighteen. In addition, volunteers were recruited from psychology classrooms, student organizations, and through a sign up sheet posted on the psychology department’s bulletin board.


The first section of the survey consisted of a small section of demographics, including age, gender, major, ethnicity, and academic classification. The second part of the survey contained the Life Role Salience Scales (LRSS), which measured variables of gender, career goals, and family priorities (Amatea, Cross, Clark, & Bobby, 1986). The LRSS contained forty value statements regarding feelings about work and family roles. In addition, the LRSS was assessed on a five point Likert scale, ranging from a score of one (disagree) to five (agree). The scale is geared toward role reward value and role commitment level (Amatea et. al., 1986). It also identifies four major life roles as occupational, marital, parental, and homecare. The purpose of this scale is to obtain reliable information pertaining to future career and family expectations of male and female undergraduate students (Amatea et. al., 1986). The final component of the survey included filler questions in reference to general statements regarding the social opinions of men and women in the workplace (Bergman & Lillemor, 2002). These questions were in the same format as the LRSS and rated on a five point Likert scale as well.

Design and Procedure

The research for this study was developed as a correlation design. Upon entering the testing room, volunteers were given two consent forms distributed from a brown envelope. The directions were read aloud and any questions were addressed before the self-report was passed out. The students maintained their consent forms and were initially directed to return one form with the completed survey back into the brown designated envelope. They were also reminded that the second copy was for their records, and contained contact information in relation to the study.Once the tests were distributed, the survey took approximately thirty minutes. Upon completion, the students placed the anonymous surveys and consent forms into the two designated envelopes. Thereafter, the participants were debriefed on the true nature of the study. Specifically, they were told that the experiment was not about the social opinions of men and women, but on the priorities of male and female career and family values. Once again, all questions were addressed and students received contact information for any further questions that they may have.

The data analyzed for this experiment was based off of the LRSS, which measured family as a combination of homecare, parental, and marital roles, and assessed career values through occupational role expectations (Amatea et al., 1986). Means and standard deviations for all the scales, by gender, are shown in Table 1. The data displayed variability between males and females in regard to parental role expectations. Overall, the means between genders exhibited significance, and were detected in levels of an independent samples t-test, shown in Table 1. According to the data, there was a large difference between both men and women in terms of the parental role scale (t(70) = -2.575, p < .05). As a result, the means between genders (Table 1) reveal that females assessed a higher value toward the parental role than males. Furthermore, the difference between genders in relation to family role expectations was significant (t(70) = -2.096, p < .05), which suggested that females preferred the family role more than males. These results support our original hypothesis, which stated that there would be an inverse relationship between gender and career and family values. Table 2 presents the paired samples statistics of life role expectations between females. According to the paired samples t-test, comparisons of the means between occupational and parental roles were significant. This difference (t(42) = -2.338, p < .05) between women regarding career versus family priorities, lent support to our second hypothesis which stated that females would value family greater than career. Table 3 shows the paired samples statistics of life role expectations between males. By comparing the means, there was a significant difference (t(28) = 2.159, p < .05) between male occupational and marital views. In accordance with our second research hypothesis, we hypothesized that men would value career more than family priorities, which was supported by the independent samples t-test in regard to occupational versus marital life role scales. In addition, a Pearson Correlation analysis of the full sample (N = 72) was performed and showed a positive correlation between marital and parental role expectations r(72) = .399, p < .01 (Table 4). Moreover, a positive correlation existed between marital and homecare role expectations r(72) = .396, p < .01 (Table 4).

This study investigated career and family values of college undergraduates. The first purpose of this study was to identify whether or not males and females had different priorities concerning family life and occupational roles. In our sample of twenty-nine males and forty-three females, significant differences were observed between family and career expectations. According to our analysis, females appeared to value the parental role greater than males. This finding suggests that women assess a larger significance towards family priorities than men who value career. These findings supported our main hypothesis, which said that there would be a difference in career and family priorities between genders.The second purpose of this study was to observe differences within genders in regard to career and family values. As hypothesized, females appeared to value the parental role greater than the occupational role. Thus, females held higher expectations for having a family, rather than a career. Likewise, males showed a preference for occupation, as opposed to marriage. Consequently, males viewed having a career as a greater importance than having a family. Overall, the results of this study highlight the tendency for females to value family priorities, as opposed to males who value career. Such gender dissimilarities, as were predicted, appear inconsistent with prior research indicating that college women perceive the possibility of fulfilling both family and career roles (Battle & Wigfield, 2001). This finding is also different from gender-role traditionalism research, which suggests that both male and female attitudes change correspondingly during college (Bryant, 2003). Furthermore, results of the present study also indicated that among females, women were more likely to value family, as opposed to career. Past research, such as the Valedictorian Project, obtained results congruent with our findings. Arnold (1993) attributed these outcomes to lowered career aspirations possibly due to female beliefs regarding family-work conflict. In other words, women lowered their career goals to avoid future work conflict and experience fewer family life demands (Arnold, 1993). This finding suggested that external factors (such as occupational stress) tend to lower women’s desire to achieve career goals. One the other hand, additional research indicated that universal work expectations were common between genders, in that both males and females contained aspirations in regard to high education, work, and family values (Maines & Hardesty, 1987). Similar studies also suggested that women, who pursued “high-level” careers and contained greater occupational aspirations, appeared to value high quality career roles over family roles (Faver, 1982). These findings, although they were incongruent with our results, suggested that women and men valued career equally. Further findings also showed that within males, men attributed a high significance toward occupational roles, as opposed to family expectations. Research including the gender role conflict; explain similar results as a product of male stereotypes and social norms (Good & Mintz, 1990). Good & Mintz (1990) partook in a study, which investigated components of depression associated with the male gender role (Good & Mintz, 1990). According to that research, men highly value the “four factors of gender role conflict (success, power, and competition; restrictive emotionality; restrictive affectionate behavior between men; and conflicts between work and family relations).” Thus, men pursue career roles (according to the gender role conflict) over family roles (Good & Mintz, 1990). The dissimilarities between gender priorities, concerning career and family expectations, may be the result of a traditional Jesuit influence underlying the common curriculum courses at Loyola University New Orleans. College environmental factors such as campus size, location, and religious affiliation could have possibly affected our results. According to Bryant (2003), non-traditional environments led to egalitarian views among both men and women. However, not all environmental aspects of college life contributed to an increase in egalitarianism among undergraduate students (Bryant, 2003). Within a more conservative environment, there existed a larger influence of traditionalism between genders (Bryant, 2003). Thus, resulting in career and family priority differences between males and females. Another factor, which may have affected our results, was a lack of diversity in race. Deficiency in diversity of race (62.5% Caucasian) may have only revealed the priorities that encompassed one particular ethnicity, as opposed to the general population of Loyola undergraduates. Thus, a proportional number of ethnically diverse participants may have increased the overall generalizability of the study. In regard to the findings between females (Table 2) and males (Table 3), a larger sample of participants could drastically altar the results of this research. Specifically, we obtained a significance value of p = .066 for a female paired samples t-test between occupational and homecare role expectations. It is possible that with an increased sample, the significance level might achieve p < .05. If so, females would appear to largely value homecare over occupational roles. The value of this study lies in its focus on the priorities of male and female college students, and on the social factors that impact undergraduate life roles and expectations. This information is important for identifying external factors, such as educational environments, equality conditions in the workplace, and social pressures, which may influence gender role values. In essence, this study offers several implications concerning career and family values of undergraduate students. For instance, college programs and courses could be designed to promote future occupational success for men and women, while emphasizing modern-day egalitarian views. A second implication of the present findings, suggests instituting equal conditions in the work place for both men and women. For example, implementing a government funded day care program for working parents could lessen the family-work role conflict, thus, allowing more women to value career equally to family. Finally, eliminating media tactics geared toward unrealistic gender stereotypes, would decrease the gender-role social pressures exerted on males and females. By projecting realistic and non-traditional attitudes, both men and women would expand their life role opportunities. Ultimately, an individual’s priorities navigate that person throughout life. A person’s values guide him or her in attaining future goals. The very nature of human beings is dependent on critical decisions based on their priorities, which result in life roles. Thus, value lies in identifying gender priorities, in which future human behavior may be predicted. Consequently, future research on the career and family values of college undergraduates is needed to investigate how males and females of different ethnic backgrounds value career and family role expectations, whether or not an increased sample size would affect the results of the present study, and the influence of college environmental factors (size, religious affiliation, and location) on gender values.

Amatea, E. S., Cross, E. G., Clark, J. E., & Bobby, C. L. (1986). Assessing the work and family role expectations of career-oriented men and women: The life role salience scales. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 48, 831-838.

Arnold, K. D. (1993). Undergraduate aspirations and career outcomes of academically talented women: A discriminant analysis. Roeper Review, 15, 169-176.

Battle, A., & Wigfield, A. (2003). College women’s value orientations toward family, career, and graduate school. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 62, 56-75.

Bergman, B., & Hallberg, L. R.-M. (2002). Women in a male-dominated industry: Factor analysis of a woman workplace culture questionnaire based on a grounded theory model. Sex Roles, 46, #-316.

Bryant, A. N. (2003). Changes in attitudes toward women’s roles: Predicting gender-role traditionalism among college students. Sex Roles, 48, 131-142.

Faver, C. A. (1982). Achievement orientation, attainment values, and women’s employment. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 20, 67-80.

Gaeddert, W. P. (1985). Sex and sex role effects on achievement strivings: Dimensions of similarity and difference. Journal of Personality, 53, 286-305.

Good, G. E., & Mintz, L. B. (1990). Gender role conflict and depression in college men: Evidence for compounded risk. Journal of Counseling and Development, 69, 17-21.

Maines, D. R., & Hardesty, M. J. (1987). Temporality and gender: Young adults’ career and family plans. Social Forces, 66:1, 102-120.

SurveySex: Male Female Age: ______Year: Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior Major:___________________Race/Ethnicity:_______ Asian _______Caucasian _______ African American_______ Hispanic/Latino(a)Other_________________________

Please rate the following statements accordingly: 1 2 3 4 5disagree somewhat disagree neither agree nor disagree somewhat agree agree

______ In general, women value their personal lives more than their careers.______ In general, men are more ambitious and career-oriented than women.

______ Having work/a career that is interesting and exciting to me is my most important life goal.______ I expect my job/career to give me more real satisfaction than anything else I do.______ Building a name and reputation for myself through work/a career is not one of my life goals.______ It is important to me that I have a job/career in which I can achieve something of importance.

______ I want to work, but I do not want to have a demanding career. ______ I expect to make as many sacrifices as are necessary in order to advance my work/career.______ I value being involved in a career and expect to devote the time and effort needed to develop it._______ I expect to devote a significant amount of my time to building my career and developing the skills necessary to advancing my career.______ I expect to devote whatever time and energy it takes to move up in my job/career field.______ Although parenthood requires many sacrifices, the love and enjoyment of children of one’s own are worth it all.______ If I chose not to have children, I would regret it.______ It is important to me to feel I am (will be) an effective parent.______ The whole idea of having children and raising them is not attractive to me.______ My life would be empty if I never had children.______ It is important to me to have some time for myself and my own development rather than have children and be responsible for their care.______ I expect to devote a significant amount of my time and energy to the rearing of children of my own.______ I expect to be very involved in the day-to-day matters of rearing children of my own.

______ Becoming involved in the day-to-day details of rearing children involves costs in other areas of my life which I am unwilling to make.______ I do not expect to be very involved in child rearing.______ My life would seem empty if I never married.______ Having a successful marriage is the most important thing in life to me.______ I expect marriage to give me more real personal satisfaction than anything else in which I am involved.______ Being married to a person I love is more important to me than anything else.______ I expect the major satisfactions in my life to come from my marriage relationship.______ I expect to commit whatever time is necessary to making my marriage partner feel loved, supported, and cared for._______ Devoting a significant amount of my time to being with or doing things with a marriage partner is not something I expect to do.______ I expect to put a lot of time and effort into building and maintaining a marital relationship.______ Really involving myself in a marital relationship involves costs in other areas of my life which I am willing to accept._______ I expect to work hard to build a good marriage relationship even if it means limiting my opportunities to pursue other personal goals.______ It is important to me to have a home of which I can be proud. ______ Having a comfortable and attractive home is of great importance to me.______ To have a well-run home is one of my life goals.______ Having a nice home is something to which I am very committed.______ I want a place to live, but I do not really care how it looks.______ I expect to leave most of the day-to-day details of running a home to someone else.______ I expect to devote the necessary time and attention to having a neat and attractive home.______ I expect to be very much involved in caring for a home and making it attractive.______ I expect to assume the responsibility for seeing that my home is well kept and well run.______ Devoting a significant amount of my time to managing and caring for a home is not something I expect to do.______ Women have fewer opportunities than men for professional development in the workplace.______ Women receive more unfair judgments of their work performance than men.______ Generally, the working life is characterized by a negative attitude toward women.______ It is more difficult for women than men to “be themselves” at work.______ Men have greater employment security than women.______ Women’s contributions in the workplace are perceived differently than men’s.______ Women have to be more accomplished in their work than men in order to be promoted.

______ Women are frequently hired for jobs they are not qualified for because they are women.______ Women are less assertive compared to men in obtaining fair compensation, promotion, or opportunities for professional development.

______ Women do not receive enough organizational support in order to manage their professional work and their domestic responsibilities.______ Unwelcome sexual connotations, glances, gestures, or comments towards women are common occurrences in the workplace.______ Unwelcome conscious body contact or unwelcome suggestions towards women are common occurrences in the workplace.______Women should report any unwelcome sexual behavior or comments from coworkers to their supervisors, even if the behavior or comments were made in jest.______Companies should provide day care facilities free of charge for employees with children.______ Women who work full time and have children are less devoted to their work than men who work full time and have children.______ Women have to make more sacrifices than men to advance their work/career.______ In general, women who work full time devote less time and energy to rearing their children.


Submitted 5/11/2004 9:48:31 AM
Last Edited 5/11/2004 11:58:32 AM
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