Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children and Youth, 2000. SD 1.1 Life Goals: The Percentage of High School Seniors who Rated Selected Personal and Social Goals as Extremely Important

01/01/2000

The personal and social life goals of high school students reflect their priorities for the future and provide insights into the positive and negative influences in their lives as they make the transition to adulthood. The percentages of high school seniors who rated selected personal and social life goals as extremely important for selected years between 1976 and 1999 are presented in Tables SD 1.1.A and SD 1.1.B. Personal goals include being successful in their line of work, having a good marriage and family life, and having lots of money. Social goals include making a contribution to society, working to correct social and economic inequalities, and being a leader in their community. From 1976 through 1999, high school seniors have been fairly consistent in the relative importance they assign to various life goals. Specifically:

  • Being Successful in My Line of Work and Having a Good Marriage and Family Life have been cited more often than other values by high school seniors as being extremely important. Since 1992, more than three out of four high school seniors have felt it extremely important to have a good marriage and family life, and nearly two out of three have felt it extremely important to be successful at work (see Table SD 1.1.A).
  • Having Lots of Money and Making a Contribution to Society were the next most likely goals to be considered extremely important by high school seniors. Between 20 and 30 percent of seniors have found these goals extremely important in recent years (see Figures SD 1.1.A and SD 1.1.B).
  • Working to Correct Social and Economic Inequalities and Being a Leader in My Community are extremely important goals in 1999 for only small percentages of high school seniors: 10 percent and 15 percent, respectively (see Figure SD 1.1.B).

Differences by Race. In 1999, black students were more likely than whites to view as extremely important goals such as being successful at work (76 percent versus 60 percent), having lots of money (47 percent versus 21 percent), and correcting social and economic inequalities (16 percent versus 8 percent). The two groups appeared equally likely to attach extreme importance to having a good marriage and family life, a rate that has hovered around 75 percent for both races over the time period examined.

Differences by Gender. Across the six goals, rates vary little between male students and female students, with several exceptions. In 1997, females were more likely to indicate that having a good marriage and family life was extremely important (83 percent versus 74 percent) and were less likely to report that having lots of money was an extremely important goal (17 percent versus 34 percent).

 

Table SD 1.1.A Percentage of high school seniors in the United States who rate selected personal life goals as being "extremely important," by gender and race: Selected years, 1976-1999

  1976 1981 1986 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
Being successful in my line of work
Total 53 57 61 62 66 65 63 62 65 64 64 63
Gender  
Male 53 58 62 60 63 63 61 62 62 65 61 63
Female 52 57 60 64 69 67 66 62 68 64 68 64
Race  
White 50 55 58 59 65 62 60 59 63 60 61 60
Black 67 71 73 75 80 74 79 72 74 81 80 76
Having a good marriage and family life
Total 73 76 75 76 78 79 76 78 78 76 77 78
Gender  
Male 66 71 69 71 72 74 70 73 74 72 72 74
Female 80 82 82 83 84 85 81 83 81 81 82 83
Race  
White 72 77 76 76 79 79 76 78 78 77 77 79
Black 75 73 76 78 75 76 72 76 75 76 77 76
Having lots of money
Total 15 18 27 28 29 26 26 25 25 28 29 26
Gender  
Male 20 24 34 37 35 32 32 30 33 33 35 34
Female 11 13 18 19 22 18 19 19 16 20 20 17
Race  
White 12 15 24 25 24 20 22 21 21 22 22 21
Black 33 32 38 39 46 45 47 41 43 45 46 47

Note: 1976–1988 data based on one of five forms, with a resulting sample one-fifth of the total sample size for each year.
1989–1999 data based on one of six forms, with a resulting sample one-sixth of the total sample size for each year.
Sources: Johnston, Bachman, & O’Malley, 1976, 1981, 1986, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996–1999 unpublished tables.
Questionnaire Form 1, items A007A, A007B, and A007C.

 

Table SD 1.1.B Percentage of high school seniors in the United States who rate selected social life goals as being "extremely important," by gender and race: Selected years, 1976-1999
 

  1976 1981 1986 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
Making a contribution to society
Total 18 18 17 21 22 24 24 20 24 22 23 22
Gender  
Male 16 19 18 20 22 25 23 19 23 19 21 22
Female 20 17 16 22 23 25 25 21 26 25 24 22
Race  
White 18 18 16 20 22 24 23 19 23 22 23 21
Black 23 21 20 27 27 25 29 25 29 24 30 26
Working to correct social and economic inequalities
Total 10 10 9 12 15 15 14 10 12 12 11 10
Gender  
Male 8 9 7 11 14 14 12 9 11 10 10 9
Female 13 10 11 13 17 16 16 10 12 12 11 10
Race  
White 8 7 7 10 13 12 11 8 9 9 8 8
Black 20 21 19 21 26 21 25 18 19 18 20 16
Being a leader in my community
Total 7 8 9 11 13 13 14 12 15 15 14 15
Gender  
Male 8 8 11 12 14 17 14 14 16 16 14 17
Female 6 7 6 10 11 10 13 10 13 13 15 13
Race  
White 6 7 8 9 11 12 12 10 14 12 12 13
Black 14 14 12 17 21 19 21 22 23 24 30 25

Note: 1976–1988 data based on one of five forms, with a resulting sample one-fifth of the total sample size for each year.
1989–1999 data based on one of six forms, with a resulting sample one-sixth of the total sample size for each year.
Sources: Johnston, Bachman, & O’Malley, 1976, 1981, 1986, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995. 1996–1999 unpublished tables.
Questionnaire Form 1, items A007G, A007H, and A007L.

 

Figure SD 1.1.A Percentage of high school seniors in the United States who rate selected personal life goals as being “extremely important”: 1976 and 1999

 

Figure SD 1.1.B Percentage of high school seniors in the United States who rate selected social life goals as being “extremely important”: 1976 and 1999

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