Human Values & Prof. Ethics-1

Background Variables Influence Value Priorities:

Typically, people adapt their values to their life circumstances. They upgrade the importance they attribute to values they can readily attain and downgrade the importance of values whose pursuit is blocked [Schwartz & Bardi, 97]. For example, people in jobs that afford freedom of choice increase the importance of self-direction values at the expense of conformity values [Kohn & Schooler, 1983]. Upgrading attainable values and downgrading thwarted values applies to most, but not to all values. The reverse occurs with values that concern material well-being (power) and security. When such values are blocked, their importance increases; when they are easily attained their importance drops. For example, people who suffer economic hardship and social upheaval attribute more importance to power and security values than those who live in relative comfort and safety [Inglehart, 1997]. People’s age, education, gender, and other characteristics largely determine the life circumstances to which they are exposed. These include their socialization and learning experiences, the social roles they play, the expectations and sanctions they encounter, and the abilities they develop. Thus, differences in background characteristics represent differences in the life circumstances that affect value priorities.

Age Influences Values:

It is common to speak of three systematic sources of value change in adulthood: historical events that impact on specific age cohorts (e.g., war, depression), physical ageing (e.g., loss of strength or memory), and life stage (e.g., child rearing, widowhood). Each of these sources affects value-relevant experiences. They determine the opportunities and constraints people confront and their resources for coping.

1. Cohorts:

Inglehart [1997] demonstrated that older persons in much of the world give higher priority to materialist vs. post-materialist values than younger people. He interpreted this as a cohort effect. People form values in adolescence that change little thereafter. The more economic and physical insecurity the adolescents experience, the more important materialist values are to them throughout their lives. The lower priority on materialist values in younger cohorts is due to the increasing prosperity and security many nations have enjoyed during most of the past 50 years. What hypotheses does the cohort approach suggest for age differences in basic values? Most of the ESS-participants, but especially in West-Europe and the northern periphery, have enjoyed an increase in security and prosperity over the past 50 years. These increases have reduced existential threats and dependence on extended primary groups for subsistence. They have
increased individuals’ opportunities to indulge themselves, to be more adventuresome, and to choose their own way. These changes imply that younger groups will give greater priority to hedonism, stimulation, self-direction, and, possibly, to universalism values, but less priority to security, tradition, and conformity values.

2. Physical Ageing:

Strength, energy, cognitive speed, memory, and sharpness of the senses decline with age. Although the onset and speed of decline vary greatly, the decline rarely reverses. This suggests several hypotheses. With age, security values may be more important because a safe, predictable environment is more critical as capacities to cope with change wane. Stimulation values may be less important because novelty and risk are more threatening. Conformity and tradition values may also be more important with age because accepted ways of doing things are less demanding and threatening. In contrast, hedonism values may be less important because dulling of the senses reduces the capacity to enjoy sensual pleasure. Achievement and, perhaps, power values may also be less important for older people who are less able to perform demanding tasks successfully and to obtain social approval.

3. Life Stage:

Opportunities, demands, and constraints associated with life stages may cause age differences in values. Gender influences the experience of life stages, but we focus here on the main effects of age. In early adulthood, establishing oneself in the worlds of work and family is the primary concern. Demands for achievement are great, both on the job and in starting a family. Challenges are many, opportunities are abundant, and young adults are expected to prove their
mettle. These life circumstances encourage pursuit of achievement and stimulation values at the expense of security, conformity, and tradition values. In middle adulthood, people are invested in established family, work, and social relations that they are committed to preserve. Most are approaching the level of achievement they will attain. Work and family responsibilities constrain risk-taking and opportunities for change narrow. Such life circumstances are conducive to more emphasis on security, conformity, and tradition values and less on stimulation and achievement values. The constraints and opportunities of the pre-retirement life stage reinforce these trends. With retirement and widowhood, opportunities to express achievement, power, stimulation, and hedonism values decrease further. In contrast, the importance of security and the investment in traditional ways of doing things make security and tradition values more important. Together, the analyses based on cohort experience, physical ageing, and life stages imply positive correlations of age with security, tradition, and conformity values. The analyses also imply that stimulation, hedonism, and achievement values correlate most negatively with age, and that power values correlate negatively too.

Gender and Education Influence Values:

Psychoanalytic theorists contend that women are more related and more affiliated with others than men, whereas men are more autonomous and more individuated [e.g., Chodorov, 1990]."Cultural feminist" theories posit women's "self-in-relation," in contrast to men's greater autonomy [e.g., Scott, 1988]. They claim that women show more concern for an ethic of care and responsibility, while men focus more on an ethic of rights based on justice and fairness [Gilligan, 1982]. Evolutionary psychologists postulate that women probably gained evolutionary advantage by caring for the welfare of in-group members. Men probably gained evolutionary advantage by attaining and exploiting status and power. Social role theorists attribute gender differences to the culturally distinctive roles of men and women. Parsons and Bales [1985] hold that the allocation of women to nurturing roles reduces competition and preserves family harmony. Women assume more "expressive," person-oriented roles; men engage in and learn more "instrumental," task-oriented roles. Similarly, Bakan proposes “agency” and “communion” to distinguish men’s and women’s modes of social and emotional functioning [Bakan, 1966]. Socialization also contributes: societies typically socialize boys and girls to occupy different social roles and to affirm different life goals and sanction them for failing to do so.


Educational experiences presumably promote the intellectual openness, flexibility, and breadth of perspective essential for self-direction values (Kohn & Schooler 1983). These same experiences increase the openness to non-routine ideas and activity central to stimulation values. In contrast, these experiences challenge unquestioning acceptance of prevailing norms, expectations, and traditions, thereby undermining conformity and tradition values. The increasing competencies to cope with life that people acquire through education may also reduce the importance of security values.