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Chapter 2: Values as dependent variables

People’s life circumstances provide opportunities to pursue or express some values more easily than others: For example, wealthy persons can pursue power values more easily, and people who work in the liberal professions can express self-direction values more easily. Life circumstances also impose constraints against pursuing or expressing values. For instance, having dependent children constrains parents to limit their pursuit of stimulation values by avoiding risky activities. And people with strongly ethnocentric peers find it hard to express universalism values. In other words, life circumstances make the pursuit or expression of different values more or less rewarding or costly. For example, a woman who lives in a society where common gender stereotypes prevail is likely to be rewarded for pursuing benevolence values and sanctioned for pursuing power.

This chapter investigates how background variables influence value priorities. In other words, we treat values as dependent variables. The first section of the chapter discusses how the whole set of ten values relates with other variables. Then we investigate how age influences value priorities. In the exercises you will study how gender and education influence people’s values.

Although we treat values as dependent variables in this chapter, it is important to note that values do not merely depend on our life circumstances. Our value-based choices also influence many of our life circumstances. We return to the reciprocal influence of values and life circumstances on one another at the end of this chapter.

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How Life Circumstances Influence Value Priorities

Typically, people adapt their values to their life circumstances. They upgrade the importance they attribute to values that they can readily attain, and downgrade the importance of those values whose pursuit is blocked [Schb97]. For example, people in jobs that afford freedom of choice increase the importance of self-direction values at the expense of conformity values [Koh83]. 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 do those who live in relative comfort and safety [Ing97].1

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.

The Pattern of Value Relations with Other Variables: An Integrated System

Most research on the antecedents or consequences of values has examined empirical relations between a few target values and a particular attitude, behaviour, or background variable.2 The value theory enables us to treat peoples’ value systems as coherent structures. The critical idea is that the ten values form a circular structure of motivationally opposed and compatible values. The structure derives from the conflicts people experience when they act on their values. Drawing on this structure, we can relate the full set of values to other variables in an organized, integrated manner; see Figure 1.1.

The structure of values has two implications for value relations:

For example, say voting for a party with a left-wing orientation correlates most positively with universalism values and most negatively with security values. Then, going from universalism round the circle to the right (benevolence, tradition, conformity, security), correlations are likely to become less positive and more negative. This is also likely going from universalism round the circle to the left. Thus, the order of associations for the whole set of ten values follows a predictable pattern. Specifically, if a trait, attitude, or behaviour correlates most positively with one value and most negatively with another, the expected pattern of associations with all other values follows from the circular value structure. This view of value systems as integrated structures makes it easier to generate systematic, coherent hypotheses that relate the full set of value priorities to any other variable. It also makes it easier to interpret the observed relations of sets of values to other variables.

The integrated structure of values makes it easier to theorize about relations of value priorities to other variables. Theorizing begins with reasoning about the particular values that are most and least positively related to a variable. The circular motivational structure of values then implies a specific pattern of positive, negative, and zero associations for the remaining values. The next step is to develop theoretical explanations for why or why not to expect these implied associations. The integrated structure serves as a template that can reveal “deviations” from the expected pattern. Deviations are especially interesting because they direct us to search for special conditions that enhance or weaken relations of a variable with values [Sch96].3

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Example: How age influence 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 that people confront, and their resources for coping.


Inglehart [Ing97] demonstrated that older persons in much of the world give higher priority to materialist, as opposed to post-materialist, values than younger people do.1 He interpreted this as a cohort effect. People form values in adolescence that change little thereafter. The more economic and physical insecurity that 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, especially those in Western 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 higher priority to hedonism, stimulation, self-direction, and, possibly, to universalism values, but lower priority to security, tradition, and conformity values.

Physical ageing

Strength, energy, cognitive speed, memory, and sharpness of the senses decline with age [Sch91]. 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 becomes 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 become more important with age, because accepted ways of doing things are less demanding and threatening. In contrast, hedonism values may become less important if 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.

Life stage

Opportunities, demands, and constraints associated with life stages may cause age differences in values [Wei86]. 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 of 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 preserving. Most people are approaching the peak level of achievement that they will attain. Work and family responsibilities constrain risk-taking, and opportunities for change narrow. Such life circumstances are conducive to greater emphasis on security, conformity, and tradition values, and to less emphasis 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 significant.

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.

Figure 2.1. Correlations of Value Priorities with Age. Source: ESS 1

We can investigate these assumptions using the ESS data. Figure 2.1 presents the correlations between age and the different value priorities. All countries participating in the first round of the ESS-survey are included, using both weights. The pattern of correlations for age fits the order expected according to the structure of values quite well. Age correlates most positively with tradition values, and the correlations decrease in both directions around the motivational circle to stimulation.

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Psychoanalytic theorists contend that women are more related and more affiliated with others than men, whereas men are more autonomous and more individuated [Cho90] [Mil76]. "Cultural feminist" theories posit women's "self-in-relation," in contrast to men's greater autonomy [Sco88]. 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 [Gil82]. 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 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 [Par55]. Similarly, Bakan proposes “agency” and “communion” to distinguish men’s and women’s modes of social and emotional functioning [Bak66]. 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 [Wil90].

These theories share a view of women as more relational, expressive, and communal, and of men as more autonomous, instrumental, and agentic. These dissimilarities in men’s and women’s motives and orientations are likely to find expression as different value priorities.

Use the extract Human Values to solve the exercises below. The exercises could be solved using data from both ESS 1 and ESS 4. The solutions refer to the results obtained using ESS 1. When you have completed the exercises, either focusing upon 2002 (ESS 1) or 2008 (ESS 4), please investigate if you can say something about change from 2002 to 2008.)

  1. How do you expect gender to be related to the ten values? Which values do you think that women hold dearer than men and vice versa?
  2. Perform a correlation analysis between the values and gender. Are the correlations as you expected them to be? Please use both weights.
  3. Perform a linear regression analysis with gender as the independent variable and the variable with the strongest correlation as the dependent variable. Please use both weights.
  4. Use the results from the regression, and put the numbers into the equation for the linear regression line: y = a + bx.
  5. What value does this model predict for women on the value variable? What about men? How are these numbers compared to the grand mean on the value variable?
  6. How much of the variation in the value variable is explained by gender alone?
    1) Example, benevolence: One hypothesis could be that benevolence is more important for women because of the in-group focus of benevolence values.
    2) Weight: Switch on the combined weight. Correlation: Click “Analysis” on the menu. Select “Correlation”. Find the gender variable and the ten values in the variable list. Include all these variables in the analysis. Example, benevolence: The correlation between gender and benevolence is positive. Because the gender variable is coded 0 = male and 1 = female, a positive correlation means that benevolence is more important for women. This is as expected.
    3) Regression: Click “Analysis” on the menu. Select “Regression”. Use benevolence as the dependent variable and gender as the independent variable in the regression.
    4) benevolence = 0,55 + 0,22*gender
    5) Predicted value for women (women are coded 1): W_benevolence = 0,55 + 0,22*1 = 0,77. Predicted value for men (men are coded 0): M_benevolence = 0,55 + 0,22*0 = 0,55. The regression predicts that men will have a value less than the grand mean, and that women will have a value larger than the grand mean.
    6) The R-square expresses the amount of explained variance, or the predictive power of the model. This value is approximately 0,03, and that means that 3 % of the variation in benevolence is explained by gender.


The further one goes in school, the more likely one is to experience freedom from close supervision, rewards and demands for independent thought and complex problem-solving, encouragement of intellectual flexibility, and questioning of accepted truths. Education provides knowledge and skills that enhance people’s confidence and efficacy in coping with uncertainties and help them find financially more secure jobs. But higher education sometimes encourages exploring unique, intellectual interests rather than conventional success. Presumably, education also contributes to recognising and appreciating the diversity of ideas and behaviour in the world. This is particularly likely at the level of higher education.

Use the extract Human Values to solve the exercises below. The exercises could be solved using data from both ESS 1 and ESS 4. The solutions refer to the results obtained using ESS 1. When you have completed the exercises, either focusing upon 2002 (ESS 1) or 2008 (ESS 4), please investigate if you can say something about change from 2002 to 2008.)

  1. How do you expect education to be related to the ten values? Which values are more prominent among people with higher education?
  2. Test your expectations by performing a correlation analysis. Please use both weights.
  3. Perform a linear regression analysis with education as the independent variable and one of the value variables as the dependent variable. Please use both weights. Interpret the results.
  4. Determine which of the three variables: age, gender or education, most strongly influences the importance of hedonism values, that is, the priority people give to them. Please use both weights.
  5. How strong is the predictive power of the full model including the three predictors? That is, how much of the variance in hedonism values does the model account for?
    10) Weight: Switch on the combined weight. Multivariate regression: Click “Analysis” on the menu. Select “Regression”. Use hedonism as the dependent variable and gender, age and education as independent variables in the regression. When comparing the effects of several independent variables, one should look at the standardized coefficients, the Beta. Age is the variable with the strongest effect on hedonism, Beta = - 0,33. This means that older people give less priority to hedonism.
    11) The full model with three independent variables is able to explain 12 percent of the variation in hedonism (R square = 0,12).

Final remarks

This chapter on basic antecedents has dealt with three of many probable influences on value priorities. Others include the parenting we each receive [Kas02], our temperaments and abilities, our current friends and those with whom we grew up, the cultural environment, and the political and economic systems in which we live. More broadly, whatever affects the life circumstances to which we must adapt can influence value priorities.

Our values are not merely passive recipients of influence. Value priorities cannot turn back the clock on age and they rarely lead to changes in gender.2 But people’s values do affect the level of education they attain; priorities for self-direction and achievement vs. conformity and tradition values promote persistence through higher education. Thus, some of the correlation between values and education reflects reciprocal influence. Reciprocal influence also holds for many of the other life circumstances that affect values. Our value priorities influence whether we develop particular abilities, choose particular friends, mates, jobs, and travel opportunities, and even whether we move to settings with different political, economic, or religious systems. These value-based choices, in turn, create life circumstances to which we then adapt our values.

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