Men may be more willing than women to sacrifice achievement goals for a romantic relationship, according to a new study by Catherine Mosher of Duke Medical Center and Sharon Danoff-Burg from the University of Albany.
Their findings challenge our preconceptions that women are more likely to prioritize people and relationships while men are more focused on themselves and their achievements. Their paper will be published in the next issue of the Springer journal, Gender Issues.
The authors looked at whether personality traits influence students' life goals, and focused on the relative importance of romantic relationships and achievement goals in particular. A total of 237 undergraduate students (80 men and 157 women aged 16 to 25 years), from the psychology department at a state university in the northeast of the US, completed questionnaires measuring personality traits and life goals.
In particular, Mosher and Danoff-Burg looked at ‘agency', or the focus on oneself and the formation of separations, including self-assertion, self-protection, and self-direction, as well as ‘communion', or the focus on other people and relationships, which involves group participation, cooperation and formation of attachments. In general, women tend to score higher on measures of communion whereas men tend to score higher than women on measures of agency.
Life goals included seven achievement goals (physical fitness, travel, financial success, home ownership, contribution to society, career and education) and five different types of relationships (romantic, marriage, children, circle of friends and family ties). Participants' willingness to sacrifice achievement goals for a romantic relationship was also examined.
Overall both college men and women showed strong desires for individual achievement and relational intimacy. As expected, self-focus was linked to the importance of achieving, such as having a successful career. Focus on others was related to the importance of having meaningful relationships and making a contribution to society.
Unexpectedly however, men were more likely than women to give priority to a romantic relationship when asked to choose between a relationship and their career, education and traveling.
The authors suggest that college women in this study may have been strongly committed to working towards a successful career and therefore hesitant to abandon their goals for a romantic relationship. In contrast to women, men also appear to derive more emotional support from their opposite-sex relationships than their same-sex friendships.