Personality Changes across Cohorts Womens Assertiveness in Response to Changes in Social Status and Roles

One of the fascinating issues in exploring personality change over time is trying to determine whether the changes observed are due to true personal change that all people undergo as they age, as can be determined by longitudinal studies of the sort just presented, or, conversely, changes in the cohort effects —the social times in which they lived. Jean Twenge (2000, 2001a, 2001b) has been at the forefront in exploring personality change that is likely to be caused by cohort. She ar gues that American society has changed dramatically over the past seven decades. One of the most dramatic changes centers on women's status and roles. During the depression era of the 1930s, for example, women were expected to be self-suf ficient, but during the 1950 and 1960s, women assumed a more domestic role. Then from 1968 through 1993, women surged into the workforce and American society increasingly adopted norms of sexual equality. For example, from 1950 to 1993, the number of women obtaining

Women's assertiveness scores rose from 1968 to 1993, pointing to a cohort effect.

Women's assertiveness scores rose from 1968 to 1993, pointing to a cohort effect.

bachelor's degrees doubled from roughly 25 percent to roughly 50 percent. And the number of women obtaining Ph.D.s, medical degrees, and law degrees all more than tripled. It would be astonishing if these dramatic societal changes had absolutely no impact on women's personality.

Twenge (2001a) discovered that women' s trait scores on assertiveness rose and fell dramatically, depending on the cohort in which the woman was raised. Women's assertiveness scores generally rose half a standard deviation from 1931 to 1945; fell by roughly that amount from 1951 to 1967; and then rose again from 1968 to 1993. On measures such as the California Psychological Inventory scale of Dominance, for example, women increased +.31 of a standard deviation from 1968 to 1993. Men, in contrast, did not show significant cohort di ferences in their levels of assertiveness or dominance. Twenge (2001a) concludes that "social change truly becomes internalized with the individual . . . girls absorb the cultural messages they received from the world around them, and their personalities are molded by these messages" (p. 142). Studies of current and future generations will determine the degree to which these interesting cohort effects remain or change (see the recent book by Jean Twenge, 2006).

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