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Aspirations, Attainments, and Satisfaction: Life Cycle Differences Between American Women and Men

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Aspirations, along with attainments, play an important role in shaping well-being. Early in adult life women are more likely than men to fulfill their material goods and family life aspirations; their satisfaction in these domains is correspondingly higher; and so too is their overall happiness. Material goods aspirations refer here to desires for a number of big-ticket consumer goods, such as a home, car, travel abroad and vacation home. In later life these gender differences turn around. Men come closer than women to fulfilling their material goods and family life aspirations, are more satisfied with their financial situation and family life, and are the happier of the two genders. An important factor underlying the turnaround in fulfillment of aspirations for material goods and family life is probably the shift over the course of the life cycle in the relative proportion of women and men in marital and non-marital unions.

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We are grateful for financial support to the University of Southern California.

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Correspondence to Anke C. Plagnol.


Appendix A

1.1 Good Life Questions from Roper Surveys

  1. 1.

    We often hear people talk about what they want out of life. Here are a number of different things. (HAND RESPONDENT CARD) When you think of the good life—the life you’d like to have, which of the things on this list, if any, are part of that good life as far as you personally are concerned?

  2. 2.

    Now would you go down that list and call off all the things you now have? Just call off the letter of the items. (RECORD BELOW)

    figure a

Appendix B

2.1 Questions and Response Categories for Happiness and Satisfaction Variables, General Social Survey

  • HAPPY: Taken all together, how would you say things are these days—would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy? (Coded 3, 2, 1, respectively).

  • SATFIN: We are interested in how people are getting along financially these days. So far as you and your family are concerned, would you say that you are pretty well satisfied with your present financial situation, more or less satisfied, or not satisfied at all? (Coded 3, 2, 1, respectively).

  • SATFAM: For each area of life I am going to name, tell me the number that shows how much satisfaction you get from that area.

2.2 Your family life

  1. 1.

    A very great deal

  2. 2.

    A great deal

  3. 3.

    Quite a bit

  4. 4.

    A fair amount

  5. 5.


  6. 6.

    A little

  7. 7.


(Reverse coded here)

Appendix C

Table C1 Descriptive statistics, Roper data on aspirations and attainments
Table C2 Descriptive statistics, GSS data on happiness and domain satisfaction

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Plagnol, A.C., Easterlin, R.A. Aspirations, Attainments, and Satisfaction: Life Cycle Differences Between American Women and Men. J Happiness Stud 9, 601–619 (2008).

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