Sex Roles: A Journal of Research

Are gender differences in basic human values a generational phenomenon?

Are gender differences in basic human values a generational phenomenon?

Sean Lyons

Human values are a core element of human psychology and are therefore key to the understanding of both individuals and social groups (Mayton, Ball-Rokeach, & Loges, 1994). It therefore makes inherent sense that values should be considered a fundamental construct in the study of psychological gender differences. In the 30 years since the publication of Rokeach’s (1973) groundbreaking work on values, a number of researchers, including Rokeach himself, have endeavored to determine whether there are identifiable gender-related patterns in basic human values. Though early studies in this area with the Rokeach Value Survey (RVS) (e.g., Feather, 1984; Rokeach, 1973) showed promisingly consistent results, recent research with the Schwartz Value Survey (SVS) (e.g., Feather, 2004; Schwartz et al., 2001) has not shown consistent gender patterns. It is likely that the inconsistency of these results is at least partly attributable to the different measurement approaches employed in the RVS and the SVS (the former is a ranking measure and the latter a rating instrument). Nonetheless, both instruments aim to identify the value priorities held by individuals and groups. As these two measures share 25 value items in common, one would expect that any gender-related differences in value priorities that exist should be observed as significantly higher ratings or rankings by one gender or the other if both measures are valid.

Another possible explanation for the inconsistency of these findings is that changes in society over the past 30 years have resulted in a shift in the value priorities expressed by men and women from one generational cohort to the next. Given the increased educational and occupational opportunities afforded to the younger generation of women and the continued evolution of gender roles in both the realms of work and family (Orenstein, 2000), it is no longer considered taboo for women to hold and express traditionally masculine value priorities such as achievement and power. Similarly, it is becoming increasingly acceptable for men to hold and express traditionally feminine value priorities such as benevolence (Gerson, 1993). It therefore seems plausible that gender-related differences in reported value priorities would shift over time. Unfortunately, there has been no empirical attempt made to date to investigate changing patterns in gender-based differences in value priorities from one generational cohort to the next.

We address the question of whether the value priorities of men and women differ significantly, and if so, whether the pattern of differences in men’s and women’s value priorities is stable or dynamic across generational cohorts. Such a study can make two main contributions. First, we sought empirically to validate Feather’s (1987) contention that “the study of gender differences in value priorities is relative to time, culture, and generation or cohort” (p. 45). Second, our work should help to clarify conflicting empirical evidence regarding the link between gender and basic human values.

The Theory of Basic Human Values

The groundbreaking work of Rokeach (1973, 1979) established a number of tenets that form the basis of accepted theory concerning values (Feather, 1995; Mayton et al., 1994). Rokeach (1973) defined a value as an “enduring belief that a specific mode of conduct or end state of existence is personally or socially preferable to an opposite or converse mode of conduct or end state of existence” (Rokeach, 1973, p. 5). This definition suggests that values are relatively stable over time, as opposed to the more transient and contextual construct of attitudes. Values are not evaluations of specific actions or objects, rather they represent the normative criteria used to make such evaluations (Kluckhohn, 1951; Rokeach, 1973; Williams, 1979). It is widely accepted that values are hierarchically ordered in terms of their relative importance to the individual. This allows the individual to identify value priorities in order to reconcile conflicts that may emerge between competing values within a specific situation.

A key tenet of the theory of values is that values may be shared at the societal level as well as being individually held (Roe & Ester, 1999; Rokeach, 1973). Socially held values emerge because value acquisition is a function not just of one’s personality, but of learning within a social context during one’s formative period. People who are raised in the same social context, who are affected by a common set of social forces, would therefore be expected to share similar values. More specifically, Rokeach (1973) posited that groups of people who share similarities in gender, age, race, religion, and social class will likely display similar value sets as a result of their common formative experiences. This socially shared quality of values makes them a key component of the concept of culture (Hofstede, 1980) and supports Mannheim’s (1952) theory concerning the emergence of generations, which is described in detail below.

In addition to his contribution to the theory of human values, Rokeach (1973) developed the RVS, which became the preeminent measure of values and remained so throughout the 1970s and 1980s (Mayton et al., 1994). The RVS measures values by having respondents rank a set of values in terms of their personal importance. The 36 values contained in the RVS are divided into two categories of 18 values that correspond to Rokeach’s value typology. One set contains terminal values, which pertain to end goals of existence (e.g., happiness). The other set contains instrumental values, which pertain to modes of conduct (e.g., polite). Although subsequent research has called into question the instrumental/terminal dichotomy (cf., Schwartz, 1992), the RVS continues to be used by researchers, and has provided a foundation for the development of subsequent value measures.

The most notable program of theory and research on values in recent years has been that of Schwartz and colleagues (e.g., Schwartz, 1992, 1996; Schwartz & Bilsky, 1987; Schwartz & Sagiv, 1995). Schwartz and Bilsky (1987) proposed the first comprehensive model of the content and structure of human values (Rohan & Zanna, 1996). They argued that values represent the individual’s conscious response to three types of basic human needs: physiological needs; social interaction needs; the need for societal institutions that ensure group survival and welfare. Values, they posited, are the individual’s cognitive response to these basic needs, formulated as motivational goals.

Schwartz and Bilsky’s (1987) initial model of values proposed a set of eight distinct types of values. The results of their study supported their basic model, but suggested the need for some theoretical revision. Later, Schwartz (1992) proposed a revised model comprising 10 distinct value types that better conformed to Schwartz and Bilsky’s (1987) findings (see Table I). The model was predicated on the assumption that the 10 value types were related to each other in a variety of complementary and oppositional relationships. The result was a circular model of the value system (see Fig. 1) in which opposing value types were located opposite to each other in bi-polar relationships, and similar value types were located adjacent to each other around the circle (e.g., achievement is contradictory to benevolence, and thus appears opposite to it). The location of tradition and conformity within the same section of the circle indicates that these two value types share a single motivational goal, which corresponds to the “subordination of self in favour of socially imposed expectations” (Ros, Schwartz, & Surkiss, 1999, p. 51).


As shown in Fig. 1, Schwartz also suggested that, for the sake of interpretability, similar value types can be grouped into four higher-order value domains. Self-transcendence involves equality and concern for the well-being of others. Self-enhancement represents the pursuit of success, dominance over others, and pleasure, irrespective of the welfare of others. Openness to change deals with novelty, change, and independence in thought and action. Conservation emphasizes submission, self-restraint, preservation of traditional practices, and the protection of stability (Ros et al., 1999; Schwartz, 1996). The dashed lines around the value type hedonism signify that it incorporates elements of both self-enhancement and openness to change, and is therefore categorized in both higher-order value domains. Analyses of data from 155 samples in 55 countries have consistently revealed the same 10-factor structure shown in Fig. 1 (Ros et al., 1999).

Gender and Human Values

Value researchers have long been interested in the discovery of gender-related patterns of value priorities. Rokeach (1973) argued that gender-based differences in value priorities were likely to emerge because society socializes men and women to play different gender roles. This argument is representative of the social structural origin theory, which posits that gender-based psychological differences are the result of men’s and women’s adjustment to the gendered social roles into which they are socialized (Eagly, 1995). Although biological explanations of gender differences, such as the evolutionary origin theory (cf., Buss, 1995), have also been proffered, the notion that gender is the product of socialization is widely accepted by psychologists and sociologists alike (Richmond-Abbott, 1992). Because both gender roles and human values are theorized to be acquired through socialization in early life, Rokeach’s (1973) argument that they are related is plausible.

Extant research on gender-based differences in value priorities appears to be predicated on two theoretical typologies of typical masculine and feminine value orientations (Feather, 1987; Struch, Schwartz, & van der Kloot, 2002). The first is the distinction made by Parsons and Bales (1955) between the instrumental or task-oriented role, which is typical of men, and the expressive, person-oriented role, which is typical of women. The second is Bakan’s (1966) distinction between the agentic orientation, typical of men, which emphasizes instrumental self-protection, self-assertion, isolation, and repression of emotion, and the communal orientation, typical of women, which emphasizes connection with others, cooperation, openness, and nurturing. The common theme of these typologies is that men are posited to assume a more logical and assertive orientation, whereas women are posited to assume a more emotive and social orientation.

A number of empirical studies have shown men and women to exhibit different patterns of value priorities in keeping with these typologies (e.g., Beutel & Marini, 1995; Di Dio, Saragovi, Koestner, & Aube, 1996; Feather, 1984, 1987; Rokeach, 1973). Beutel and Marini (1995) investigated differences between adolescent boys and girls on three types of values: compassion, which pertained to concern and responsibility for the well-being of others; materialism, which pertained to emphasis on material benefit and competition; and meaning, which pertained to a philosophical concern for finding meaning and purpose in one’s life. They found women to be more concerned with compassion and meaning in life (communal values), and men to be more concerned with materialism (agentic values).

A number of researchers have gone beyond a simple test of the communal-agentic typology, and have investigated gender-based differences in a wider range of human values. Three studies with the RVS (Di Dio et al., 1996; Feather, 1984; Rokeach, 1973) demonstrated fairly consistent gender-based differences in value priorities (see Table II).

Rokeach (1973) found American men and women to differ significantly in their rankings of 20 of the 36 items in the RVS. His results suggested that men were more materialistic, hedonistic, achievement-oriented, and intellectually oriented than women were. Women, on the other hand, were more oriented toward religious values, personal happiness, love, self-respect, and an absence of inner and interpersonal conflict than were men.

In studies of Australian undergraduate students and their family members, Feather (1984) observed that female respondents consistently placed more importance on being loving, being honest, inner harmony, and self-respect than did male respondents. Male respondents were found consistently to value a comfortable life and being logical more than did women. Other gender differences were observed that were unique to each of Feather’s (1984) subsamples. Overall, the pattern of findings that Feather (1984) observed offers support for the distinction between masculine and feminine values. These findings were validated in another set of studies reported by Feather (1987) as shown in Table II, which also support the division of masculine and feminine values.

In two studies of Canadian men and women, using only the terminal RVS values, Di Dio et al. (1996) found significant differences in the values that respondents ranked as “typically masculine” and “typically feminine.” They also found that the distinction between masculine and feminine values closely matched Bakan’s (1966) agency-communal typology, such that men were more likely to favor masculine values, and women were more likely to favor feminine values.

As shown in Table II, the findings across the three studies with the RVS show a fair degree of consistency, and provide support for Bakan’s (1966) agency-communal typology. The similarities are particularly strong between the two North American samples. As might be expected, given the culture-bound nature of values and gender roles, the Australian study showed slightly different results. It should be noted, however, that in all the three studies shown in Table II, there were a number of similarities between the value sets of men and women that ran counter to the agentic-communal bifurcation, and there were a number of values that could not be clearly ascribed to one of these two categories.

The consistency of these findings with the RVS suggests that there are indeed gender-based differences in human values. Because the RVS shares 25 of its 36 items with the SVS, it is possible to extrapolate some of the findings discussed above to SVS value types. In Table II, the various RVS value items are matched with corresponding value types from Schwartz’s (1992) model of human values so that a number of clear observations related to Schwartz’s value typology can be made. Value items related to self-enhancement (i.e., achievement, hedonism, power) tend, with some exceptions, to be valued higher by men than by women. The same is true for the values related to openness to change (i.e., self-direction, stimulation, hedonism). Conversely, the values related to self-transcendence (i.e., benevolence, universalism), and those related to conservation (i.e., tradition, conformity, security), tend to be favored more highly by women than by men. One would therefore expect to observe similar gender differences when the SVS is utilized directly as a measure of values.

Only a small number of researchers have recently investigated gender-based differences in human values based on the SVS. Schwartz (Schwartz, 1996a, as cited in Schwartz et al., 2001) found small gender differences in samples from 46 countries that were statistically significant only in the largest samples. On the basis of these findings, Schwartz et al. (2001) later hypothesized only weak correlations between values and gender. They administered the SVS in Israel, South Africa, and Italy, and found limited gender differences in each sample. Specifically, they found that Israeli women valued benevolence more than did Israeli men, South African women valued tradition more than did South African men, and Italian men gave higher priority to stimulation values than did Italian women. In each case, however, the correlations between gender and values were weak (<.20).

Most recently, Feather (2004) administered the SVS to a sample of Australian students, and found gender differences in only 3 of the 10 value types. Specifically, men valued power significantly more than did women, and women valued achievement and benevolence significantly more than did men.

Overall, these recent findings with the SVS might lead one to conclude that the influence of gender on human values is fairly negligible. If this is the case, then the findings of Rokeach (1973). Feather (1984, 1987), and Di Dio et al. (1996) are called into question. One must, however, consider the potential effects of other variables that were not included in these analyses that may have had a differentiating effect on socialization processes, such as nationality, level of education, social class, race, and religion. Furthermore, given the pace of social change over the last 50 years, it is highly likely that individuals born, raised, and socialized at different points in history would have differing sets of values (Feather, 1987), as well as differing conceptions of gender roles (Loo & Thorpe, 1998; Orenstein, 2000). This gives us reason to question whether the typologies presented by Parsons and Bales (1955) and Bakan (1966) continue to be relevant to a new generation of men and women. If the pattern of gender-based differences in value priorities observed for the younger generation is different from that observed for the older generation, then the failure to include generation as a variable in analyses may confound results by canceling out generational effects. If this is true, it would explain the inconsistency of findings over time.

Generational Cohorts

The preeminent contributor to the theory of generations was Mannheim (1952), who defined generation as a cohort of individuals born and raised within the same historical and social context, who consequently share a common worldview. Mannheim argued that generational boundaries are created when significant historical events and periods of rapid social change occur, making the formative experiences of those born after the change fundamentally different from those born before it. Mannheim argued that varying formative contexts predispose members of different cohorts to different modes of thought and action that are in keeping with the “times” in which they were raised. Because values are learned during the formative period (Rokeach, 1973), one would expect the values that are shared among members of a generational cohort to differ significantly from those shared among members of other cohorts.

Mannheim’s theory suggests that significant generational value differences should be evident in modern society, as historical, technological, and social change has been abundant throughout the latter 20th century. Although generational differences have been discussed by a small number of academic authors (e.g., Burke, 1994; Conger, 1997; Karp & Sirias, 2001; Smola & Sutton, 2002), there have been relatively few empirical studies of the phenomenon. The few studies that have been published have focused primarily on generational differences in work values (e.g., Jurkiewicz, 2000; Smola & Sutton, 2002). Unfortunately, there have been no empirical investigations of generational differences in basic human values.

Despite the lack of empirical evidence to support a generational value typology, anecdotal evidence presented in the popular press has provided a consistent picture of the generation gap between the post-war Baby Boom generation and those born in the wake of the demographic Baby Boom, commonly referred to as “Generation X.” We therefore use that evidence as a basis for our discussion of these two generational cohorts.

Baby Boomers

Members of the Baby Boom generation (aka Baby Boomers), who were born between 1945 and 1964, are the product of the persistently high birth rates that were experienced in North America following World War II. The historically high number of births that occurred during this period created a densely populated cohort, giving the Boomers a strong presence as a group. The density of their cohort also forced them to compete for resources and attention as they grew up (Foot, 1998). Raised in the prosperous post-war era, the Boomers are said to be economically optimistic, viewing economic downturns as cyclical and temporary (Zemke, Raines, & Filipczak, 2000). Boomers were also raised at the first point in history in which parenting was viewed as a pleasure and not as an economic or biological imperative (Zemke et al., 2000). They therefore grew up embracing a “psychology of entitlement” (Kupperschmidt, 2000), expecting prosperity and demanding satisfaction in their lives.

Boomers are characterized as indulgent, hedonistic, and self-absorbed (Strauss & Howe, 1991; Zemke et al., 2000); the pursuit of pleasure is a key aspect of their lifestyles. They are also depicted as highly achievement-oriented and competitive, with a strong desire to succeed in their careers, even at the expense of their health and well-being (Lancaster & Stillman, 2002). In short, they may be characterized by the phrase “work hard, play hard.” In terms of the 10 value types defined by Schwartz (1992), this characterization suggests that Boomers would value stimulation; self-direction, hedonism, and achievement.

Boomers are often described as non-conformists who became highly distrustful of authority figures in the wake of such events as the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal (Kupperschmidt, 2000; Lancaster & Stillman, 2002; Strauss & Howe, 1991). Strauss and Howe (1991) argued that Boomers largely defined themselves in opposition to the values of the WWII generation that preceded them, and wished to break from the past in a radical way. The tenable schism that was observed between Boomers and the generation that preceded them was termed the “generation gap” by Mead (1970). Given these depictions, one might expect the Boomers to eschew the values related to tradition and conformity in Schwartz’s (1992) model.

The Boomers grew up in a time in which dramatic changes were occurring, changes that had profound impacts on traditional gender roles. Their formative years saw the dawn of the sexual revolution, the birth control pill, the feminist movement, the legalization of abortion, and increased educational and occupational opportunities for women. All of these influences coincided with greatly liberalized attitudes toward gender roles (Harris & Firestone, 1998; Helmreich, Spence, & Gibson, 1982; Loo & Thorpe, 1998). Boomer women were the first generation of women to be socialized with the belief that they could “have it all,” that is, career, family, and personal fulfillment (Orenstein, 2000). As adults, Boomers redefined the notion of family. Increased participation by women in the labor market created two-career families. At the same time, increased divorce rates led to an increase in the number of single-parent homes and “blended families” of remarried people with children (Kupperschmidt, 2000). The effects of these experiences on the values of Boomer men and women are unclear. It seems likely, however, that as men and women of the Baby Boom generation learned to adapt to a world of rapidly changing gender role attitudes and gender norms, they would have developed a set of gender-based value differences that are unique to their generation.

Generation Xers

Generation Xers, born between 1965 and 1979, encountered a formative context that was far less prosperous than that of the Boomers before them. They were reared in an age of economic uncertainty, marred by recessions in the early 1980s and 1990s, and historically high levels of both unemployment and inflation. During their childhood and adolescent years, Generation Xers encountered a society that was decidedly “anti-child” (Strauss & Howe, 1991, p. 328), marked by increased divorce rates, single-parent families, and “latch-key” children (Howe & Strauss, 1993; Kupperschmidt, 2000). Faced with corporate and government downsizing as they entered the workforce, Generation Xers have consistently had fewer opportunities for success than did the ambitious Boomers. It has often been lamented by the media that Generation Xers are the first generation in modern history to be worse off than their parents’ generation.

Unlike the achievement-oriented Boomers, Generation Xers have often been depicted by the media as lazy and unmotivated. It is often argued that this generation is far less achievement-oriented than the Boomers and that they value a balanced life over than the pursuit of success (Kupperschmidt, 2000; Lancaster & Stillman, 2002). Generation Xers are often described as highly independent and entrepreneurial (Lancaster & Stillman, 2002; Tulgan, 1997; Zemke et al., 2000), preferring to rely on their own efforts to get ahead, rather than expecting assistance from others. Also, having grown up in an age of rapid social and technological change and increased cultural diversity, Xers are said to be more comfortable with change than with stability (Barnard, Cosgrave, & Welsh, 1998; Kupperschmidt, 2000). These characteristics suggest that Generation Xers would place greater importance than Baby Boomers do on the three value types from Schwartz’s (1992) model that are related to openness to change (i.e., stimulation, self-direction, hedonism), and would place less importance on values related to conservation (i.e., tradition, security, conformity).

For Generation Xers growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, the notion of gender equality was a much less radical concept than it was for their Boomer predecessors. The strides made by the feminist movement, which was championed by the Baby Boomers, resulted in abundant opportunities for Generation X women (Orenstein, 2000). This was the first generation of children raised in the era of two-career families and high divorce rates. Several authors have suggested that these changing social conditions have led Generation Xers to become comfortable with diverse family structures and gender roles (e.g., Howe & Strauss, 1993; Kupperschmidt, 2000). It might be expected that Generation Xers, who were socialized in an era of increasing gender equality, would display fewer gender-based value differences than Baby Boomers would. This supposition is suggested by the work of Loo and Thorpe (1998) who found that both men and women of Generation X displayed more liberal attitudes about gender roles than their Boomer predecessors did (Loo & Thorpe, 1998).

The Present Research

The goal of the present research was to determine whether differences in value priorities between men and women are stable or dynamic across generations. This study is exploratory in nature, as there is no extant theoretical evidence to support the hypotheses. Two broad research questions were addressed. First, we sought to determine whether there are significant value differences between men and women, and, if so, to identify the nature of these differences. Second, we sought to ascertain whether any observed gender-based differences in value priorities are stable across generations or whether the value priorities of men and women are converging or diverging from one generation (Baby Boomers) to the next (Generation X).


Participants and Procedure

The sample for this study was drawn from a larger sample of 31,571 Canadian workers who participated in a national study concerning work-life balance (Duxbury & Higgins, 2001). The sample for the present study consisted of Canadian knowledge workers (defined by Drucker, 1999, as highly skilled employees whose work is complex, cyclical in nature, and involves processing and using information to make decisions) who were employed in large (i.e., 500 or more employees) private, public, and not-for-profit sector organizations. Knowledge work was operationalized in this study to include respondents who work in managerial, professional, technical, and administrative positions. Those in clerical, retail, and production jobs were excluded. (5) The decision to limit the sample to knowledge workers was made in order to avoid potential occupation-related confounds, as past researchers have found values to be correlated with occupational choice (Schwarzweller, 1960; Simpson & Simpson, 1960). A total of 3,523 respondents were identified as potential participants for the present study, and were contacted by telephone to participate. Of those contacted, 1,117 (32%) were reachable by telephone, agreed to participate in the study, and were mailed a questionnaire to complete and return to the researchers. Of the 1,117 questionnaires that were mailed out, 1,006 (90%) were returned to the researchers, 979 (97%) of which were complete and useable.

The sample was comprised of 321 men (32%) and 658 women (68%). In terms of generational breakdown, 366 (37%) were categorized as Baby Boomers (born between 1945 and 1964) and 613 (62%) were categorized as Generation Xers (born between 1965 and 1979). A gender by generation breakdown of the sample is given in Table III. As might be expected with a sample of knowledge workers, the men and women included in this sample were well-off from a socioeconomic standpoint. The vast majority of respondents had completed some level of post-secondary education; 586 (63%) had an undergraduate university degree or community college diploma, and 209 (23%) had attained a graduate degree. Only 34 of respondents (3.5%) had no more than a high school education, and 88 (9%) had begun but did not complete a post-secondary education. The remaining 15 respondents (1.5%) did not specify their highest level of education. A total of 836 of respondents (86%) earned an annual personal income of $40,000 (6) or higher.


Values were measured via the SVS (Schwartz, 1992), a self-administered instrument designed to measure the importance of the various values associated with the 10 value types described earlier. Schwartz’s (1992) original survey contained 56 value items. However, in cross-national studies with the SVS, Schwartz and Sagiv (1995) found that 44 of the items exhibited consistent placement within the theorized factor structure. They therefore suggested the use of the shorter survey in future research. The 44-item version of the survey was employed in the present study.

Each survey item is comprised of a word or phrase that represents a value, followed by a brief description of that value (e.g., “Equality–equal opportunity for all,” “Honest–genuine, sincere”). As per Schwartz’s (1992) survey instructions, respondents were asked to rate the importance of the 44 value items “AS A GUIDING PRINCIPLE IN MY LIFE” (capitals in the original questionnaire) on a 9-point scale as follows: -1 = opposed to my values; 0 = not important; 1, 2 = unlabeled; 3 = important; 4, 5 = unlabeled; 6 = very important; 7 = of supreme importance.

As discussed above, Schwartz’s (1992) analysis and subsequent analyses by other researchers have consistently shown the set of value items to display a 10-factor structure that corresponds to the 10 value types discussed earlier (see Fig. 1). These 10 value types were used as dependent variables in the analyses of the present study. Respondents’ mean importance scores for each of the 10 value types were obtained by averaging their scores on the various value items that comprise each value type. Following Schwartz’s (1992) directions, negative scale values (-1) were included in the calculation of value type scores.

Two adjustments were made to the value data in accordance with Schwartz’s (1992) instructions. First, Schwartz (1992) argued that human values are innately subjective, which makes their measurement through objective instruments difficult. He argued that responses on this highly subjective measure may be biased by respondents’ tendency to score value items as either consistently high or low. Schwartz therefore proposed that each respondent’s mean score across all of the SVS items be calculated as an indication of “scale use” and that this scale use adjustment be included as a covariate in the comparison of group means. We therefore calculated this scale use adjustment for inclusion as a covariate in our analysis.

Second, Schwartz (1992) argued that participants who responded with the same scale point on more than 62.5% (7) of items or who rated more than 37.5% (8) of the items with the highest possible score of 7 did not make a serious effort to distinguish the relative importance of their values, and should be dropped from the analysis. For the sake of consistency with previous studies with the SVS, these adjustments were made in the present study. Consequently, 43 respondents (4%) were dropped from the total sample of 979 respondents. This percentage is within the range of dropped respondents reported by Schwartz (1992). Pearson chi-square tests revealed no systematic generational or gender patterns among the dropped cases. The final sample was comprised of 936 respondents.

Because lifestyle indicators, such as income and education levels, may be associated with value priorities (Rokeach, 1973), any observed gender or generational differences may be confounded if gender-related or generation-related differences in income and education levels were evident. Such differences appear likely, as income levels tend to increase with age, and differences in the educational levels of the two generations are discussed in the generational literature. Pearson chi-square tests indicated significant generational differences in education and income levels and gender differences in income levels among our respondents. We therefore included these variables as controls in our analyses. Education was coded as a set of dummy variables that represent three categories: (1) some college/university or less; (2) university degree; and (3) graduate-degree(s). Income was coded as a set of dummy variables that represent three categories: (1) less than $40,000; (2) $40,000 to $59,999; and (3) $60,000 and more.


To investigate generational and gender-related differences in values, a two-way between-subjects multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA) was computed with the 10 value types (i.e., power, achievement, hedonism, conformity, security, tradition, benevolence, universalism, stimulation, and self-direction) as the set of dependent variables, gender and generation as the independent variables, and Schwartz’s (1992) scale use adjustment, the income dummy variables, and the education dummy variables as covariates. The inclusion of gender and generation as factors in the MANCOVA allowed us to test for significant main effects of both variables, as well as for a significant interaction between these variables. In other words, it allowed us to determine whether value priorities differed significantly between men and women, between Baby Boomers and Generation Xers, and whether generation moderated the relationship between gender and values such that the pattern of gender differences varied significantly from one generation to the next.

The omnibus F-test revealed a significant two-way interaction effect between gender and generation, F(10, 830) = 2.35, p = .01 for Wilks’ Lambda, This interaction explained about 3% of the variance in the set of 10 value types (partial [[eta].sup.2] = .028). The main effects for generation, F(10, 830) = 11.63, p < .001 for Wilks' Lambda, and gender, F(10, 830) = 4.83, p < .001 for Wilks' Lambda, were also significant. Generation explained 12% of the variance in the 10 value types (partial [[eta].sup.2] = .123) and gender explained 6% (partial [[eta].sup.2] = .055).


The finding of a two-way interaction effect in the omnibus test necessitated further analyses in order to identify its precise nature. Protected F-tests for each of the 10 dependent variables revealed that the two-way interaction between gender and generation was significant at the p < .05 level for two value types: power, p = .001, and self-direction, p = .021.

The interaction effect of gender and generation on the value type power is depicted graphically in Fig. 2. This graph clearly shows the divergence in the importance of power to men and women from one generation to the next. The t-tests of the mean scores given in Table IV reveal that, although Generation X men valued power significantly more than did Generation X women, p < .001, the difference between Baby Boomer men and women was not significant. Figure 2 shows that the divergence is largely attributable to the significant increase in the importance of power between Boomer men and Generation X men, p < .001, although there was no significant difference between the two generations of women.


The interaction effect of gender and generation on the value type self-direction is depicted graphically in Fig. 3. This graph shows that, although the magnitude of the difference between men and women in the importance placed on self-direction in scores was highly similar for the Boomer and Generation X groups, the direction of the difference changed from one generation to the next. Specifically, Boomer men placed greater importance on self-direction than did Boomer women, and Generation X men placed less importance on self-direction than did Generation X women. However, neither of these gender differences was significant, p < .05. This reversal of the gender-based difference was the result of a simultaneous decrease in the importance of self-direction for men and an increase for women. Although neither of these inter-generational differences was significant, their combined effect was large enough to create a significant interaction.

Because 8 of the 10 value types showed no significant interaction effect for gender and generation, it was possible to examine the main effects of gender and generation on these value types without confound. Protected F-tests revealed significant gender effects for three of the value types at the p < .05 level: achievement, tradition, and universalism. The t-tests of the group means given in Table IV revealed that women placed significantly more importance than did men on achievement (mean = 4.71 for women and 4.55 for men, p < .01), and universalism (mean = 5.02 for women and 4.79 for men, p < .001), regardless of their generational cohort. Men placed more importance on tradition (mean = 3.33 for men and 3.17 for women), regardless of generational cohort. Gender effects approached significance for the value type benevolence, which was more important to women than to men (mean = 5.16 for women, 5.06 for men, p = .053).

The F-tests also revealed significant generational differences on all eight of the value types for which no interaction was observed. Achievement was valued more by Generation Xers (mean = 4.80) than by Baby Boomers (mean = 4.47, p < .001). The same pattern was observed for hedonism (mean = 4.98 for Generation Xers, 4.47 for Baby Boomers, p < .001), and stimulation (mean = 4.37 for Generation Xers, 3.73 for Baby Boomers, p < .001). In other words, the younger generation was more likely to value achievement, hedonism, and stimulation, irrespective of gender. Baby Boomers placed significantly more importance on security (mean = 4.74 for Baby Boomers, 4.47 for Generation Xers, p < .001), benevolence (mean = 5.21 for Baby Boomers, 5.01 for Generation Xers, p < .001), universalism (mean = 4.99 for Baby Boomers, 4.82 for Generation Xers, p < .01), conformity (mean = 4.61 for Baby Boomers, 4.44 for Generation Xers, p < .01), and tradition (mean = 3.35 for Baby Boomers, 3.16 for Generation Xers, p < .05).


Our goal was to examine gender-based differences in basic human values and to investigate the interaction of gender and generation as they relate to value priorities. Our results suggest that gender differences are indeed evident for some value types. Furthermore, we found some support for the notion that gender-based differences in value priorities vary across generations.

The findings are summarized by looking at the four possible relationships between gender, generation, and basic human values represented by the cells in Table V: (1) a mixed effect, whereby significant gender and generation differences in values are observed; (2) a pure generation effect, whereby Baby Boomers and Generation X differ significantly, but there are no significant gender differences; (3) a pure gender effect, whereby men and women differ significantly, but no significant generational effect is present; and (4) no effect, where neither gender nor generation has an effect on values.

As seen in Table V, four value types exhibited mixed effects of gender and generation. Three of these value types (i.e., achievement, tradition, and universalism) varied significantly by both gender and generation. Both the men and the women of Generation X valued achievement significantly more than did their Boomer counterparts. Also, on the whole, women valued achievement more than did men. The fact that Generation Xers of both genders valued achievement more than did Baby Boomers seems to run counter to the common stereotype of Generation Xers as “slackers” or “underachievers” in comparison with the “workaholic” Baby Boomers. The high degree of importance placed on achievement by Generation Xers supports the position of some authors (e.g., Conger, 1997; Tulgan, 1997) that Generation Xers are actually highly motivated and achievement-oriented.

The fact that achievement was valued more by women than by men runs contrary to the findings of the previous studies (refer to Table II). This is somewhat surprising, as achievement is generally considered to be an agentic value, typical of men rather than women. Indeed, it is puzzling that achievement values did not display a gender-related pattern similar to that observed for power values, as the two types of values are adjacent to one another, and should therefore have relatively similar levels of importance to an individual. It is interesting to note that the difference between men and women on this value was larger for Baby Boomer men and women than for Generation X men and women. This suggests that the contradiction of these and previous findings is not attributable to generational shifts over time, as women are closer to men on this value type in the younger cohort.

A possible explanation for this seeming incompatibility with past research is the nature of the sample used in the present study. It is possible that achievement is especially important to women in knowledge work professions relative to women in the broader population. Professional women are often required to sacrifice much in their personal lives in the pursuit of their careers (Hewlett, 2002). This may serve to strengthen their resolve with respect to the importance of achievement in their lives. Further research is needed in order to explain this unexpected finding in greater detail.

Universalism was valued more highly by women in both generations than by their male counterparts. Also, universalism was less important to Generation Xers of both sexes than to their Boomer counterparts. Previous research (refer to Table II) indicates that universalism might be considered typically feminine. The results of this study confirm that women do place more importance on equality and the wellbeing of others than do men. This tendency has been fairly stable from one generation to the next; the gender gap is slightly larger for the younger cohort.

Given the depictions of the generations in the literature, it is no surprise that the men and women of Generation X place less importance on tradition than do their Baby Boomer counterparts. Our findings also indicate that men of both generations place more importance on tradition than do women. The decrease in the importance of tradition between Baby Boomer and Generation X women, coupled with the stability of its importance for men, suggests that the gender gap in tradition grew slightly with the younger generation, though not enough to constitute a significant interaction. Because there are no previous results concerning gender differences in tradition (see Table II), our results can neither confirm nor refute past findings. It is interesting to note that the two other value types that belong to Schwartz’s conservation value domain (i.e., conformity and security) showed no significant gender effects.

What is novel, relative to past findings, is that two value types (power and self-direction) displayed differences related to the interaction of gender and generation, which indicates that gender-based differences in these value types differed significantly between Generation Xers and Baby Boomers. Although Baby Boomer women valued power slightly more than did Baby Boomer men, Generation X men valued power significantly more than did Generation X women. This divergence between men and women from one generation to the next is the result of a large increase in the importance of power between Baby Boomer men and Generation X men, without a corresponding increase for women between generations.

It is difficult to say why power has become so much more important to men of the younger generation. One might speculate that Generation X men have been particularly disempowered by the lack of employment opportunities and economic stability available to their generation relative to their Baby Boomer counterparts. Though all Generation Xers are victims of the same circumstances, Generation X women may still fare better than did their Baby Boomer counterparts, who were afforded even fewer opportunities due to historical gender inequality. This might be particularly true in the case of knowledge workers.

It might also be speculated that as women have continued to gain increased power in the society through gender equality, they have had less need to view power as an important value, but more as something that is taken for granted, relative to their Baby Boomer counterparts. Men, on the other hand, have lost relative power through gender equality, and may therefore seek it to a greater degree than did their Baby Boomer counterparts, who took it for granted. Qualitative data are needed in order to gain a deeper understanding of this trend.

The interaction that was observed with respect to self-direction is the result of a simultaneous increase in the importance of this value type for women and decrease for men between the Baby Boom and Generation X cohorts. However, the absence of significant gender differences in either generation limits the importance of this finding. Because neither gender nor generational differences were significant, we have placed this value type in the “no differences” cell in Table IV, despite the significance of the gender-generation interaction.

Five value types (i.e., hedonism, stimulation, benevolence, conformity, and security) demonstrated strong generational patterns, although there were no significant gender effects within either generational cohort. This suggests that these value types are related to one’s generation but not to one’s gender. On the whole, these findings are not surprising, as the characterizations of the younger generation in the generational literature reviewed earlier depicts them as more hedonistic and stimulation-seeking and less interested in the conservation values of conformity and security than are their Baby Boomer predecessors.

The lack of association between the conformity and security value types and gender is not surprising, as past research (refer to Table II) has not shown consistent gender patterns to emerge on these value types. Given the findings reported in Table II, it is surprising that we found no gender differences related to hedonism and stimulation, which have been found to be predominantly masculine value types. Our results indicate that, although men of both generations placed more importance on both of these value types, the difference between Generation X men and women was negligible, which indicates that the gender gap has closed somewhat on these value types from one generation to the next. However, because the difference between Baby Boomer men and women on these value types fell short of significance, these trends cannot be reported with confidence.

Also, it is surprising that the gender association with benevolence, which has consistently been found in the past to be a feminine value type, fell short of significance. It is interesting to note that the gap between men and women on this value type is virtually non-existent for Generation X. There is no ready explanation as to why the younger generation appears to place less importance on values related to concern for the welfare of loved ones relative to the older generation. One might argue that the Boomers, who were immersed in the “flower-power” culture of the 1960s place an enduring importance on loving those around them, whereas Generation Xers, who were raised during the “me decade” of the 1970s grew to value independence and self-reliance rather than benevolence. Alternatively, it is possible that benevolence may be viewed by the younger generation as a “traditional” family-related value that is becoming increasingly irrelevant in this age of high divorce rates and evolving family structures. Clearly, further research is needed to clarify this point.

On the whole, these findings indicate that although gender differences do exist in basic human values, the values of men and women are more similar than different. This is evidenced by the fact that no pure gender effects were observed, whereas pure generational effects were observed on 5 of the 10 value types. The gender differences that were observed provide limited support for the agency–communal typology proposed by Bakan (1966) and by Parsons and Bales’ (1955) instrumental-expressive typology. These typologies suggest that men would value achievement, power, self-direction, hedonism, and stimulation more than women would, whereas women would value benevolence and universalism more than men would. As previously noted, women did value the communal, people-oriented value of universalism more than did men. Power was valued more by men, but only among Generation Xers. However, contrary to expectations, women valued achievement more than did men, and there were no gender differences related to self-direction, hedonism, or stimulation.

It is also notable that women of the younger generation placed significantly more importance than did Baby Boomer women on the typically masculine values of achievement, hedonism, and stimulation. At the same time, they placed significantly less importance than Baby Boomer women did on the typically feminine value of benevolence. These findings provide a partial indication that the agentic-communal typology, which was devised in the 1960s, may no longer be relevant to the study of values in the modern context.

Implications and Suggestions for Future Research

The nature of this sample may have had an impact on the results. Because all respondents were employed in knowledge work, the results may not capture gender differences that might be evident in respondents in other occupations. It would be interesting to determine whether these findings are replicable with a sample of blue-collar workers or with workers in traditionally male-dominated and female-dominated professions (e.g., nursing, law enforcement). This research should therefore be repeated with a broader sample with proper controls for occupation type.

Some researchers, such as Struch et al. (2001) and Di Dio et al. (1996), have examined respondents’ perceptions of gender roles rather than relying simply on their biological sex as a correlate of values. This is normally done through the use of measures such as the Bem Sex Role Inventory (Bem, 1974). This is a useful approach, as gender is a social construct with unique meaning to different individuals. Future research would benefit from an expansion in this direction, correlating values and generation not only with sex, but also with the relative degree of masculinity and femininity of each respondent.

Because social values and gender roles are innately bound to culture, the results presented here are not readily generalizable to international contexts. Further work on this topic is needed in a variety of cultural contexts in order to examine the influence of national culture on the relationships between gender, generation, and basic human values.

In this study, like others of generational phenomena, we defined the generational groups a priori on the basis of anecdotal and theoretical evidence. It would be useful to take an inductive approach to define generations, using similarities in values as criteria to group respondents. If consistent age-related clusters of respondents appear, the generational typology would be validated. Also, we and other researchers have viewed generations as fairly homogeneous groups. An inductive approach would help to identify generational subunits, which might reveal the diversity that exists within generational groups.

Furthermore, as is always the case in cross-sectional studies of generation, it must be acknowledged that there is no clear means of disentangling the confounding effects attributable to generational cohort from those attributable to life-cycle development. Our study measured the values of two generational cohorts at specific points in their developmental life-cycles. We cannot, therefore, ignore the possibility that our findings are at least partially attributable to differences in respondents’ life-cycle stages. As Rotolo and Wilson (2004) note, the only means to resolve this problem is through longitudinal research that simultaneously takes into account cohort effects, life-cycle effects, and period effects (i.e., those effects related to the historical circumstances in which values are measured).

The implication of this study’s findings for researchers of human values is an awareness of the need to examine generation as a moderator of the relationship between gender and human values. Clearly one cannot assume that gender has similar meaning and impacts on values for people of all ages. The concept of generation acts as an indicator of an individual’s place in the progression of history and social change, and therefore offers some indication of their worldview relative to those of older and younger generational cohorts. To ignore the impact of generation would create a confound in the gender-values relationship by averaging out important and relevant inter-generational differences.


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Sean Lyons, (1) Linda Duxbury, (2,4) and Christopher Higgins (3)

(1) St. Francis Xavier University.

(2) Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.

(3) University of Western Ontario.

(4) To whom correspondence should be addressed at Sprott School of Business, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K1S 5B6, Canada; e-mail:

(5) The respondents in administrative positions were included in these analyses only if they had responsibility for the supervision of others.

(6) All dollar amounts reported are in Canadian dollars.

(7) Schwartz did not actually specify the percentage listed here. He suggested that the cut-off should be 35 out of 56 items, which translates to 62.5%.

(8) Again, Schwartz suggested that the cut-off should be 21 out of 56 items, which translates to 37.5%.

Table I. Definitions of Value Types

SVS items that represent

Value type Definition it

Universalism Understanding, appreciation, Protecting the

tolerance, and protection environment, broad-minded,

for the welfare of all a world of beauty, social

people and for nature justice, wisdom, equality,

a world at peace

Benevolence Preservation and Helpful, honest,

enhancement of the forgiving, loyal,

welfare of people with responsible

whom one is in frequent

personal contact

Conformity Restraint of actions, Obedient, honoring of

inclinations, and parents and elders,

impulses likely to upset politeness, self-

or harm others and violate discipline

social expectations or


Tradition Respect, commitment, and Accepting my portion in

acceptance of the customs life, devout, humble,

and ideas that traditional respect for tradition,

culture or religion provide moderate

Security Safety, harmony, and Clean, national security,

stability of society, of reciprocation of favors,

relationships, and of self social order, family


Power Social status and prestige, Social power, authority,

control or dominance over wealth

people and resources

Achievement Personal success through Successful, capable,

demonstrating competence ambitious, influential

according to social


Hedonism Pleasure and sensuous Pleasure, enjoying life

gratification for oneself

Stimulation Excitement, novelty, and Daring, a varied life,

challenge in life an exciting life

Self-direction Independent thought and Curious, creativity,

action–choosing, creating, freedom, choosing own

exploring goals, independent

Source. Schwartz (1994).

Table II. Summary of Gender-Related Values Findings Using the Rokeach

Value Survey

Rokeach Feather Di Dio Corresponding

Terminal values (1973) (1987) (1996) SVS type

A comfortable life M* M*

An exciting life M* M M* Stimulation

A sense of accomplishment M** M*

A world of peace W* W Universalism

A world of beauty W* Universalism

Equality W W* Universalism

Family security W* Security

Freedom M** M** Self-direction

Happiness W*** W*

Inner harmony W* W* Universalism (a)

Mature love M W** Benevolence (a)

National security M* Security

Pleasure M** M* Hedonism

Salvation W*

Self-respect W** Self-direction (a)

Social recognition M* M* Power (a)

True friendship W* Benevolence (a)

Wisdom W*** Universalism

Instrumental Rokeach Feather Corresponding

values (1973) (1987) SVS type

Ambitious M* Achievement

Broadminded Universalism

Capable M* Achievement

Cheerful W*** W

Clean W** Security


Forgiving W* W Benevolence

Helpful Benevolence

Honest W Benevolence

Imaginative M*

Independent Self-direction

Intellectual M

Logical M* M

Loving W* W

Obedient Conformity

Polite W Conformity

Responsible Benevolence

Self-controlled M

Note. M indicates that this value was significantly more important to

men, W indicates that this value was significantly more important to

women. Feather (1987) indicated that the results presented here were

significant, but gave no significance level.

*p = .001. **p = .01. ***p = .05.

(a) Indicates items that Schwartz (1992) recommended dropping from the

SVS because they did not empirically emerge in the dimensional space

occupied by their respective higher-order value in at least 27 of the 36

samples he studied.

Table III. Sample Characteristics

Men Women Total

N Percent N Percent N Percent

Baby Boomers 135 36 237 64 372 38

Generation X 183 30 424 70 607 62

Total 318 32 661 68 979 100

Table IV. Mean (a) Value Scores and Standard Errors for Men and Women by


Boomers Generation X

Men Women Men Women


Universalism 4.91 .07 5.07 .05 4.68 .06 4.96 .04

Benevolence 5.16 .07 5.26 .05 4.96 .05 5.06 .04

Conformity 4.62 .08 4.60 .06 4.54 .06 4.34 .04

Tradition 3.42 .10 3.29 .07 3.25 .08 3.06 .05

Security 4.81 .08 4.68 .06 4.52 .06 4.43 .04

Power 1.94 .11 2.00 .08 2.60 .09 2.11 .06

Achievement 4.35 .07 4.58 .05 4.75 .06 4.84 .04

Hedonism 4.58 .11 4.36 .08 4.99 .09 4.97 .06

Stimulation 3.85 .11 3.61 .08 4.40 .09 4.35 .06

Self-direction 5.13 .07 5.02 .05 5.00 .06 5.14 .04


Men Women


Universalism 4.79 .05 5.02 .03

Benevolence 5.06 .04 5.16 .03

Conformity 4.58 .05 4.47 .03

Tradition 3.33 .06 3.17 .04

Security 4.66 .05 4.55 .04

Power 2.27 .07 2.06 .05

Achievement 4.55 .05 4.71 .03

Hedonism 4.78 .07 4.67 .05

Stimulation 4.12 .07 3.98 .05

Self-direction 5.06 .04 5.08 .03

(a) Means are adjusted for scale use, education, and income. Standard

errors of estimated marginal means are reported.

Table V. Summary of Gender and Generation Effects on Basic Human Values

Gender effect

Generational effect Significant Non-significant

Significant (1) Mixed effects (2) Pure generation

Achievement; power (a); effects Hedonism;

tradition universalism stimulation;




Non-significant (3) Pure gender effects (4) No effects

None Self-direction (a)

(a) A gender-by-generation interaction was observed.

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