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Gifted men and women measure ‘life success’ differently

Work-life balance more important to women than career success, 40-year study suggests 

27 November 2014

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

Gender significantly affects how people pursue and define success, according to a 40-year US study of a group of gifted men and women.

Despite male participants achieving higher career positions and incomes overall, both men and women recorded universally high happiness scores.

"Men and women valued career choices, community and family somewhat differently in constructing lives that were satisfying, yet both were equally happy with their outcomes," said Camilla Benbow, dean of education and human development at Vanderbilt Peabody College and co-author of the study, the first of its kind.

"Both genders used their intellectual abilities to create resources for themselves, and with those resources come choice and the ability to exercise preferences."

Researchers spent four decades studying a group of mathematically talented adolescents. They found that, by mid-life, participants were "extraordinarily accomplished" and "enjoyed a high level of life satisfaction".

The participants (1,037 males and 613 females) were identified in the early 1970s as gifted - in the top one per cent of mathematical reasoning ability - at around age 13. The two groups, now aged 53 and 48, are well established in their careers and personal lives.

'Marked' differences in career success

On measures of emotional well-being, life satisfaction, personal and career direction, and satisfaction with their relationships, both men and women recorded scores that were universally high.

However, there were marked differences in the career paths of both groups of participants.

Women and men were about equally represented in professions like law, finance and medicine.

But, men were more likely to be CEOs or to be employed in IT or fields associated with science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

Meanwhile, women were more often employed in general business, elementary and secondary education, and healthcare - or were homemakers.

Roughly 90 per cent of the men worked full time, compared to 65 per cent of the women.

Men were more highly compensated than women, with median incomes of about US$140,000, compared to $80,000 for women.

Interestingly, women earned about the same amount regardless of their marital status, but men who were married earned significantly more than those who were unmarried.

Work-life balance a high priority for women

A big area of difference among participants was in how they chose to allocate their time.

Men almost overwhelmingly prioritised high-impact careers that require 50 or more hours per week, while women defined success more broadly to include family and community investment.

On average, men reported devoting 11 hours more per week to career development over the past 15 years than women - 51 hours per week versus 40 hours per week.

Asked about their willingness to work more hours if given the opportunity to pursue their ideal career, nearly 100 per cent of men said the would be willing to devote 40 or more hours per week to their ideal job, compared to just 70 per cent of women.

In answers to questions about their values, men said they most valued having full-time work, making an impact and earning a high income.

Women as a group valued part-time work more often, as well as community, family involvement, time for close relationships and community service.

On average, men were more concerned with being successful in their work and felt that society should invest in them and their ideas, while women took a more communal approach to living and working.

Men were more focused on advancing society through knowledge or the creation of concrete products, whereas women were more interested in keeping society vibrant and healthy.

Regardless of work-related gender differences, both men and women overwhelmingly agreed that family was the most important factor required for a meaningful life.

Both cited family as the aspect of their lives of which they were most proud. However, they differed in how they invested in their families.

Men focused more on making tangible (financial) contributions, while women more highly prioritised investing their time and emotional energy.

The research paper 'Life Paths and Accomplishments of Mathematically Precocious Males and Females Four Decades Later' is published in Psychological Science.

 

 

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