What does it mean to be a success?


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What does it mean to be a success?
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Joos, Kristin E
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Copyright 2003


Kristin E. Joos


I have always been one to ask questions. As soon as I learned to speak, I began

relentlessly inquiring of my parents and teachers "why? and how come?" Instead of

placating me with responses like "because I said so," or "that's just the way it is," my

parents patiently dealt with my persistent questions and nurtured this inquisitive nature. I

feel fortunate to have to have grown up during the seventies and eighties, and to have

attended schools at a time when asking questions was not immediately considered a

challenge to authority or disrespectful.

My academic pursuits have been driven by a curiosity to understand "why things

are the way they are." I have learned to deconstruct everything from the mundane to

sophisticated postulates based on empirical evidence. These discussions (whether in

conversation with others or in my own mind) typically run in circles and are reduced to:

'What is reality?" I have come to question the very meaning of terms and concepts

typically taken for granted, and the assumptions upon which they are based.

This dissertation research grew out of a larger project on the goals and values of

teenagers as emerging adults who are constructing their identities. As a first year

graduate student, I was studying young peoples' expectations and aspirations for the

future and found that 89% of American high school students considered "being a

success" quite or extremely important. This finding was not entirely surprising, due to

the focus on achievement in American society, but it raised another question in my

mind, "what do they mean by 'success'?" And thus, this dissertation was born.

Throughout the research and writing process, I faced stressful situations and

met many challenges. I able to make it through, only with the help and support of others.

I have been contemplating the feeling of gratitude and the difficulty of expressing the

depths of my thankfulness to so many people. Frankfurter expounded on the challenge

to communicate appreciation, saying, "Gratitude is one of the least articulate of the

emotions, especially when it is deep." I have often found myself speechless with awe at

the generosity of others, and could no better describe the situation than with this quote

by Steindel-Rast, "As I express my gratitude, I become more deeply aware of it, and the

greater my awareness, the greater my need to express it." What is gratitude? Massieu

says, "Gratitude is the memory of the heart," and Chesterton says, "I would maintain

that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by

wonder." There are many people to whom I would like to express my gratitude,

thankfulness, and appreciation...

I would like to begin by thanking the members of my committee: Connie Shehan,

Jay Gubrium, Barbara Zsembik, Richard Hollinger, Arne Heggestad, and Mary Ann

Clark. They have generously given so much of their time, support, and expertise during

this project and through out my graduate studies. I am especially grateful for the

mentorship offered by the chair of my committee, Connie, who has nurtured and

believed in me since I was a student in her undergraduate classes. She truly embodies

what it means to be a mentor and I respect her immensely. I would also like to recognize

professor Kendal Broad for her mentorship and advice, and for the giving me the

opportunity to work with her. She is a much admired scholar and a role model, and I

appreciate her generosity of time. The administrative staff in the department of

Sociology, Kanitra Perry, Justin Smith, and Sheran Flowers, have been quite helpful in

getting me through the system. I give my utmost thanks for administrative help to


Nadine Gillis and Diane Buehn. Nadine deserves a doctorate for her extensive

knowledge about all things bureaucratic always shared with warmth and kindness. I also

thank to Debbie Wallen for her help in transcribing the interviews. Finally, I am indebted

to the McLaughlin family and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for supporting my

work with the McLaughlin Dissertation Fellowship Award.

I want to thank my fellow graduate students in the department, as they fulfill the

definition of what it means to be a "colleague." Sara Crawley and Lara Foley

successfully went through this process ahead of me, demystifying its complexities, and

providing much valued advice, time and time again. I also thank those who are just

ahead or just behind me, Laurel Tripp, Helena Alden, and Melanie Wakeman, for

reminding me that I was not alone in this often complex and frustrating process. I am

especially thankful to a few members of newer cohorts of graduate students, Ana

Pomeroy, John Reitzel, Danielle Dirks, Liv Newman, and Victor Romano, for helping me

this winter. Most importantly, I am thankful for the three remaining colleagues in my own

cohort with whom I have been privileged to study and work, laugh and cry: Shannon

Houveras, Yvonne Combs, and Leslie Houts. Thanks especially to Leslie who has been

my closest friend during this process; she is a most admired and respected person, not

just for her academic success, work ethic, and dedication, but because she is genuinely

kind, incredibly considerate, and wears a constant smile.

For the past four years, I have had the pleasure of teaching "Marriage and

Family" (which I insist on renaming "Families and Marriages") and problematizing the

notion of what it means to be a family. What is a family? Does it only include persons to

whom we are related through ties of blood and marriage? As a social scientist who

studies families, I answer with a resounding "no." I contend that friends are the families

we choose for ourselves. I would like to thank other students who have been friends to


me throughout graduate school, Dana Bagwell, Nicole Kitos, and Jana Bailey. I am

especially grateful for the humor and late night communications of Dana and Nicole- as

they often kept me awake and working. Next I would like to thank Renee Gibbons,

Stacey Cihlar, and my friends at Apeiron Pilates for their talents, kindness, and for

helping me stay balanced. I owe my health and well being to those who have

considerately cared for me over the years, Terry Burke, Joanne Block, and Miranda

Monkhorst. I also thank my childhood friends, Ceclia Prater, Rachel Morgan, Kelley

Kish, and Caren Morgan for their consistent friendship, despite long gaps in

communication. I would be remiss if I did not recognize two families, the Pratts and the

Fines, who have welcomed me into their homes and lives, and treated me as much

more than just a tutor. From the depths of my heart I thank the Haineses for welcoming

me into their home, especially these past few months.

I am most thankful for the friendship and support of the Sonlight community,

especially my former co-workers Erin Costello, Chris Slattery, Jocelyn Holt, Kristi

McClellan, and Amy Haines. Amy has given me an incredible gift of time, patience, and

editorial talent these past few months and I owe her immensely. I am also indebted to

the members of Sonlight in 1998-2000 for willingly participating in this study, particularly

the class of 1999, who welcomed me into their world to observe and conduct interviews.

Other members of the Sonlight community have sustained me over the years with their

friendship and support: Lindsay Hollinger, Candy Hollinger, Sarah Stone, Alex Bishop,

and Liz Reiser. I cannot begin to express the depths of my appreciation, admiration, and

love for Rebecca Brown and her mission to understand young people from where they

are, and to help 'see the star' from their perspective. She has taught me, and so many

others, to risk love and risk a dream. Without the Sonlight community, I would not be

here now.

In closing, I would like to thank my own family. My grandparents, Richard and

Marjorie Joos, are no longer here, but their memory lives on. I thank my mother, Alice

Privett for doing her best as a single parent and teaching me the value of education. I

owe thanks to my brother, Ron Joos, who is far more intelligent than I and a real-life

MacGyver, for patiently teaching me about all things important, for not questioning the

futility of my studies, and for motivating me, simply by saying, "I'm timing you." I would

also like to thank my brother's partner, Gabriella Corriere, and her brother, Sebastian,

who have been kind and gracious family members, making holiday dinners a time of

laughter and fun. Finally, I am thankful for my father, Ron Joos. He has given me

unconditional love and sacrificed much so that I could pursue my dreams. I could never

repay him for his kindness, patience, and constant support. He has enabled me to be

who I am today. My father's invisibility has challenged me to speak out and use my own

voice to work for change and justice. The diploma for this degree is not mine alone. It

should state the names of all of those mentioned above, as they have helped me along

the way, and for that, I am grateful.


ACKNOW LEDGMENTS ................................................ iii

A BSTRACT ........................... .............................. xi


1 INTRO DUCTIO N ................................................ 1

Teenagers Today ............................................... 1
'Troubled Teens" .......................................... 1
Young People Today: a Second Look .......................... 5
Generation Y: Motivated, Ambitious, and with an Eye on the Future ......... 7
Background .................... ................................ 8
P purpose ......................... .............................. 9
Significance ................................................... 10

2 REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE ................................... 12

Defining Term s ................................................ 12
Adolescent .............................................. 13
Juvenile ................................................ 14
Y south .................................................. 14
Teenager ............................................... 16
Appropriate Terminology ............................... .......... 19
Theoretical Background .......................................... 20
Deterministic Approaches .................................. 20
Constructivist Approaches .................................. 23
Interactionist Approaches ................................... 37
Conceptual Model .............................................. 42

3 METHODOLOGY .............................................. 44

Introduction ................................................... 44
Data Collection ................................................ 44
Quantitative Analysis of Monitoring the Future ................... 44
Qualitative Analysis of Sonlight Members ...................... 49
Instrum entation ................................................ 57
Assumptions and Limitations of the Study ............................ 57
Limitations of Monitoring the Future ........................... 57


Limitations of Data from Sonlight ............................ 61
Data Analysis ................................................. 62
TEENAGERS ................................................. 64

Results from Monitoring the Future: Overall Importance of Future Goals .... 67
Race and Students' Future Goals ............................ 69
Father's Education and Students' Future Goals .................. 70
Mother's Education and Students' Future Goals ................. 71
Gender and Students' Future Goals ........................... 71
Summary ..................................................... 72

NATIONAL SAMPLE ............................................ 79

Comparison of Future Goal Ratings: Overall MTF and Sub-sample ........ 79
Gender and Sub-sample Students' Future Goals ................. 80
Grades and Sub-sample Students' Future Goals ................. 81
High School Program and Sub-sample Students' Future Goals ...... 82
Expectations to Graduate from College and Sub-sample Students' Future
G oals ............................................ 83
Goal Ratings of Monitoring the Future Sub-sample Compared with Sonlight.. 84
Summary of Goal Rating Comparisons Between Monitoring the Future and
Sonlight Members ........................................ 88
Trends: Changes in the Importance of Future Goals Since the 1960s ....... 89

6 HOW DO TEENAGERS DEFINE "SUCCESS"? ...................... 101

Overview of Frequent Responses ................................. 104
Definitions of "Success" . ... .... ........... ....... ... 104
Visions of "Being Successful". .............................. 105
Models of "Successful" People .............................. 107
Emergent Themes ............................................ 108
Self-Realization ......................................... 110
Money ................................................ 111
Philanthropy ("making a difference in the world") ................ 114
W ork = Contributing to Society ............................. 116
Connecting with Family and Friends ......................... 117
Infrequent but Salient Responses ................................. 119
Nontraditional Gender Aspirations ........................... 119
Aspirations of Gender-Matched Parents ...................... 120
Religion and "Serving Others" ............................ 122
Summary .................................................... 123

7 CONCLUSION AND DISCUSSION ................................ 125

Sonlight as a Values Education Program ........................... 127
Overview of Program ..................................... 127
Focus as Values Curriculum ............................... 130

Importance of Sonlight as a Values Education Program .......... 135
Case Studies Exemplifying the Effectiveness of Sonlight as a Values
Education Experience ............................... 136
Discussion ................................................... 143

LIST OF REFERENCES .............................................. 148


A INTERVIEW INSTRUMENT ..................................... 158
D ACTIVITIES OF SONLIGHT: 1984-2001 ............................ 164
E A SONLIGHT FOCUS: Convictions or Post-it Notes? .................. 166

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............................................ 168

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in
Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy




May 2003

Chair: Constance L. Shehan
Major Department: Department of Sociology

This dissertation concerns the values and goals of teenagers from a

constructivist and interactionist perspective-as opposed to the vast majority of research

which problematizes adolescence and focuses on juvenile delinquents. Specifically, it

focuses on the future goals and values of American youth.

This research is based on Monitoring the Future, a quantitative survey of over

60,000 high school students, as well as an original study involving qualitative interviews

of 70 teenagers involved in a local youth program. The data indicate that in 1999, over

89% of American teenagers considered "being a success" quite or extremely important,

while only 22% of those teens said it was important to "make a contribution to society."

These statistics have "flipped" since the late 1960s, when 24% of teenagers considered

"being a success" extremely important and over 85% thought it important to "make a

contribution to society." How do teenagers define success if it is so important to

them-might this definition even include "making a contribution to society?"

Comparison of responses of the national study with those in the local sample

suggests that trend data of large scale surveys tend to collapse differences and hide

niches such as those revealed by the in-depth interviews, reiterating the importance of

focusing on the "small worlds" in which teenagers are involved.

Although the survey data provide telling statistics-that "being a success" is very

important to young people-it does not explain what they mean by "being a success."

The teenagers interviewed who were involved in the "small world" of a local youth

program, did not define "success" as a singular concept. Instead they equated "success"

with 1) an overall sense of "happiness" and achieving their goals; 2) doing well in both

work and family; 3) helping others and making a difference; 4) having time to engage in

activities they enjoy.

This study shows how the values of self-actualization, philanthropy, and

connecting with others were cultivated in the "small world" of a youth organization. The

findings suggest how other youth programs might employ a "values curriculum" and

provide insight on the goals and values of emerging adults.


Teenagers Today

The prevailing image of teenagers today is that they are deeply troubled. Both in

the media and in social science research, young people are often depicted as problems

and the experience of adolescence is characterized as problematic. Dominant notions,

as well as academic research, tend to focus on the deficiencies and difficulties of youth

rather than their assets, competencies, abilities, and goals. In this chapter, I outline

these contradictory views of teenagers to show that while the notion that the majority of

teenagers today are "troubled" captivates much attention, it is not an accurate depiction.

Contrary to the popular perception that young people today are troubled, delinquent,

and ill-prepared to enter adulthood, the vast majority (90 percent) do not experience

these problems (Furstenberg 2000). Utilizing both constructivist and interactionist

perspectives, I explore the future goals of American youth1. Specifically, I focus on

teenagers as active agents, constructing their future goals and values within their "small

world" experiences.

"Troubled Teens"

When adults were surveyed and asked what words most applied to today's

young people, compared with young people 20 years ago, they chose "selfish" and

Throughout this dissertation the phase "American youth" or "American teenagers" is
used to refer to high school students in the United States. I realize that this terminology
may be problematic, as the term "America" includes not only the United States, but other
territories as well. However, I persist in utilizing the vernacular "America" as it is stated
most often by the participants themselves and in the literature.


"materialistic" for the youth of today, and "patriotic" and "idealistic" for the youth of the

past. The majority of Americans agree that teens today are both dangerous and in

danger, silly and self-absorbed, lazy and corrupted by consumerism (Stepp 2002).

Indeed, it may be hard to be optimistic about the future of the nation's youth when the

prevalent images are of their violence, lack of motivation, poor performance in school,

sexual promiscuities, drug abuse, and selfishness. According to popular media, 'Teens

are lost to heroin, engage in random promiscuity in junior high school, drink

dangerously, and are just plain mean" (Males 2002b). Perceptions of this widespread

deviance among youth have led to 'ephebiphobia,' an extreme fear of young people

(Males 2002a).

Media headlines proclaim that violence is a problem among young people in

America today. The tragic events at Columbine High School in 1999 were a wake-up call

to adults, bringing attention to violence in schools and young people's relationships with

their peers. In 1999, students ages 12 through 18 were victims of approximately 2.5

million total crimes at school. There were 47 school-associated violent deaths in the

United States that same year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics

(2001). In the past, violence was primarily a problem among boys. However, it seems to

have become an epidemic among all teenagers, as evidenced by the attention garnered

by two books that made the best sellers lists this past year: Odd Girl Out: The Hidden

Culture of Aggression in Girls and Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter

Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence. Not only are

young people committing violent acts, there is a proliferation of violence in the media. By

the time a young person is 18 years old, they are likely to have witnessed over 200,000

acts of violence on TV alone. Sixty to ninety percent of all video games include violence

as a prominent theme and over 1000 studies by experts have proven that exposure to

violence leads to an increase in aggressive behavior (American Association of

Pediatrics Committee on Communications 1995).

Of course, teens are playing more video games, watching more TV, music

videos and movies, and listening to music with censored lyrics. Young people in the U.S.

spend, on average, 6.5 hours per day in front of electronic screens including televisions,

computers, and video games (Woodard 2000). Eighty-two percent of youth aged 10 to

17 say they play video or computer games at home; forty-two percent play every day

(National Public Radio, 2000). The average American born in the 1980s and 1990s

grows up in a home with two TVs, three tape players, three radios, two VCRs, two CD

players, one video game player and one computer (Kaiser Family Foundation 1999).

Children spend more time sitting in front of electronic screens than any other activity

besides sleeping (Annenberg Public Policy Center 1999). With all of this time spent as

"couch-potatoes," these behaviors cause some adults to conclude that America's youth

tend to be lazy, lacking in motivation, and that they are primarily consumers and

spenders, lacking the work ethic of past generations. In 2001, youth aged 12 to 19 spent

$172 billion (an average of $104 per teen each week), up 11% from $155 billion in 2000

(Teen Research Unlimited 2002). In addition, their lack of physical activity has led to a

chronic problem of obesity. In 1999, 25% of children were overweight or at risk for

obesity; these figures have more than doubled in just one generation (Troiano 1998).

More teenagers these days are engaging in dangerous risk behaviors than in the

past. They are having more sex, using more drugs, and committing more crimes. The

average age of first sexual intercourse for young women is 16 and 17 for young men. By

the time they graduate from high school, fewer than 30% of young people are still

virgins (Alan Guttmacher Institute 1999). In 1998, 54% of high school students said they

had used drugs (Johnston, O'Malley, & Bachman 1998). The rise of illicit drug use,

including dangerous "date rape" drugs such as ecstacy, among teenagers more than

doubled from 1999 to 2000 (Johnston, O'Malley, & Bachman 2000). In 1997 juvenile

offenders were involved in 1,700 murders in the U.S.; 37% of high school students were

involved in a physical fight (Snyder & Sickmund 1999). Almost 10% of American

teenagers suffer from depression (Birmaher, Ryan, Williamson, et al. 1999), which often

leads to suicide attempts. In 1997, suicide was the third leading cause of death among

10 to 24 year olds (Hoyert, Kochanek, & Murphy 1999).

Research shows that in addition to participating in dangerous risk behaviors,

young people today are generally ignorant of important facts and basic information.

According to the 1999 Nations Report Card study conducted by the National Center for

Education Statistics, "one-third thought Columbus reached the New World after 1750,

and the same proportion couldn't identify Abraham Lincoln. Sixty-two percent were

unable to place the Civil War in the years between 1850 and 1990, while one-third had

no idea what the U.S. Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education involved. Half

could not calculate the area of a rectangle, and one-third could not identify the countries

the U.S. fought against in World War II. One-third did not know that the Mississippi

River flows into the Gulf of Mexico, and only 20% could write a simple one-page letter to

a local supermarket manager applying for a job" (National Center for Education

Statistics 1999). Performance on national standardized tests has fallen over the past

decade and students' workloads and understandings have been declining. In spite of

these changes, however, average grade point averages have been increasing. "Three

decades ago, only one college-bound high school senior in eight carried an A average.

Today that figure is one in four" (Zinsmeister 1997).

Young People Today: a Second Look

The events of April 20,1999, at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado

drew the attention of the nation and the world. Twelve students and one teacher were

killed, and more than twenty people were wounded, as two "outcast" students went on a

shooting spree, finally killing themselves. In the weeks and months that followed, a

debate ensued among politicians, news commentators, journalists, talk show hosts, and

various "experts" as to the culprit: guns, violence, poor parenting, inattentive teachers,

gangs, music, TV, web sites, or video games. Talking to the students themselves

revealed a different explanation: a lack of "fitting in" or belonging, exclusive cliques, and

teasing and bullying prevalent in schools and youth culture (Joos 1999).

Images of teenagers as violent and potential delinquents are common. With all

the media attention focused on these events, it is easy to forget that they are isolated

and exceptional situations, and not indicative of statistical outcomes or trends. In

actuality, the rate of violence committed by young people in 1999 dropped 39% from its

peak in 1993; serious violence by juveniles dropped 33% between 1993 and 1997, while

violence among adults declined by only 25% during the same period (Snyder &

Sickmund 1999). Crimes committed by youth have actually gone down, according to the

FBI's Uniform Crime Report. In 2000, young people committed just 5% of the nation's

homicides, the lowest proportion on record (National Criminal Justice Reference Service

2000). American adults believe that juveniles cause about half of all crimes; in reality,

they caused about 10-15% of violent crime (Greenwood et.al. 1998). "Ignoring clear

statistics and research, authorities seem to lie in wait for suburban youth killings, months

and thousands of miles apart, to validate a false hypothesis of generational disease..."

(Males 1999). These pessimistic perceptions vary from the realities experienced by the

majority of young people. As stated by one 18 year old student, "if the media focused on

our achievements instead of our mistakes, then we would have something to aspire to"

(Howe & Strauss 2000).

The realities of the majority of teenagers in the U.S. today is that they are

actually engaging in fewer "deviant" behaviors than young people of the past. According

to the Commission on Adolescent Sexual Health, the average age of first sexual

intercourse has not significantly changed since the 1970s. It has gone down by just

about one year (Stodghill 1998). Teenage pregnancy rates have reduced sharply, falling

19% from an all-time high in 1991, and are now at record lows (Center for Disease

Control 2001). Not only are they engaging in less unprotected sex, teenagers are also

using fewer drugs. For the past five years, statistics have indicated that teenagers are

less likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and use marijuana or other illicit drugs.

There is one exception to this trend: the use of ecstacy, which has been on the rise

recently (Johnston, O'Malley, & Bachman 1998, 2000). Thus, it seems the media's

image of the majority of young people as juvenile delinquents and potential criminals is

largely inaccurate.

There is evidence that students today are actually working harder and scoring

higher than students in the past. In 1997, the average time spent per week on

homework was 123 minutes, compared to just 44 minutes in 1981 (Institute for Social

Research 1999). The number of high school seniors taking Advanced Placement

examinations (for college credit) tripled between 1984 and the late 1990s (U.S. Center

for Education Statistics 1998). Mean IQ scores increased 20 points from 1932 to the late

1990s and continue to rise (Azar 1996).

Students, parents, teachers, and administrators all report that college admission

standards are becoming more and more challenging, even for top students. It is no

longer "good enough" to have an above average GPA. Students today are often

expected to have excellent GPAs (3.9 or above) in advanced classes, high scores on

the SATs and ACTs, be involved in sports, activities, and clubs, volunteer, and show

leadership qualities in order to gain college admission. Many young people report feeling

stress and pressure to meet these high standards. One 17 year old student interviewed

in a study said that, "Getting into college has become a tough competition because of

the number of successful students in our generation. We're forced to work twice as hard

just to receive the same recognition as others who used to be able to get by" (Howe &

Strauss 2000).

In addition to striving to do well in school and school-related activities such as

competitive sports and performances, many young people hold part-time or even full-

time jobs. On any given day in the U.S. one-third of all high school students are working,

and fully 80% will hold a job at some time before they graduate from high school

(Mogelonsky 1998). Volunteerism, helping others, and community service are on the

rise. Statistics vary, but the trends clearly indicate that the percentage of young people

who report having engaged in volunteer activities increased from about half to almost

90% in the past decade (National Association of Secretaries of State 1999).

The realities of the experiences of many teenagers today may actually be quite

the opposite of the prevalent stereotypes and images in the media. Arguably, the

majority of youth in America make it through adolescence just fine and emerge as

effective, well adjusted young adults. Millions of young people are hard working,

engaged, and hopeful about their future.

Generation Y: Motivated, Ambitious, and with an Eye on the Future

Today, over 88 million youth make up more than one-quarter of America's

population. This group of young people is known as "The Millennial Generation" or

"Generation Y" encompassing those born between 1982-2002. The vast majority of

these youth are not "delinquent" and, moreover, they have been characterized as

motivated, innovative, and optimistic about the future (Howe & Strauss 2000). One

might think that the study of youths and teenagers would be common in the social

sciences. However, a review of the leading journals on adolescence indicated that at

least half of all articles were about the misbehavior or maladjustment of youth

(Furstenberg 2000). Often, the existing literature approaches adolescence as a

problematic life stage in modern society and casts teenagers as potential problems.

Furstenberg emphasizes the great need for research that provides a rich description of

the actual lives of teenagers: how they experience, perceive, and organize their social

world. Too little recognition has been paid to the obvious fact that most youth make it

through adolescence quite well. We know little about the competencies of these young

people. Thus, there is a great need for research on young people's values and

aspirations for the future.


This project and my interest in this area actually began about 10 years ago when

I was in high school. I was observing the social interactions at my high school: the

"popular" kids, the "band nerds," the "hippies," the "skaters," the "rejects," etc. There

were especially poignant scenes, such as lunch time, where we negotiated where to sit

and who to be "seen" with-it all seemed to matter so much! I found myself not only

participating in these "negotiations," but also deeply interested in them, analyzing them

on somewhat of an intellectual level. As an undergraduate, I studied psychology,

sociology, and women's/gender studies in hopes of shedding light on these issues-that

is, the experiences of teenagers. What I found instead were the theories of "experts"


that did not at all fit what I had experienced as a teenager, or what I had observed in my

later interactions with high schoolers. From 1994-2001 I was an intern with a local youth

organization of more than 150 teenagers. During my internship I spent about 10 to 20

hours per week with the organization and facilitated a small discussion group of 12-15


In my first year of graduate level research methods, I began a quantitative

analysis of a large probability data set called Monitoring the Future (MTF). MTF is often

cited in the popular media for its statistics on drug use, though it actually includes a wide

range of variables and explores changes in important values, behaviors, and lifestyles of

contemporary American youth. I was interested in the future aspirations and

expectations of American teenagers. The study I conducted at that time was concerned

with the increasing "pressure" on high school students. It seemed that students were

faced with extremely high expectations: to have high GPAs, excel in at least one sport,

and be involved in multiple extracurricular activities. This phenomenon has since been

backed up by the literature in school counseling. I had planned to use these data for my

master's thesis, but ended up doing a rather timely project on Columbine, as I was

privileged to travel to Littleton with 70 teenagers. While in Colorado, I interviewed them

about social pressures in high school and their reflections on the tragedy at Littleton.


In this dissertation, I examine the future goals of American youth, using both

quantitative and qualitative approaches. I begin with a quantitative analysis of Monitoring

the Future (1999) to see with what importance teenagers rate various life goals. Results

from the 1999 MTF indicate that over 89% of American teenagers consider "being a

success" quite or extremely important-where only 22% of those teens said it was

important to "make a contribution to society." Unfortunately, large scale surveys such as

MTF do not provide information about the ways in which teenagers define success. To

address this gap in the literature, I supplement the data available in the MTF with

information drawn from in-depth interviews with members of a local youth organization.


Very little sociological attention has been focused on the experiences of youth

that are not considered juvenile delinquents, according to the distinguished family

sociologist, Frank Furstenberg (2000). Furthermore, there has been essentially no

research on white, upper-middle class, college-bound teenagers and how these young

people construct their adult identities. Furstenberg states that much of the existing

literature on youth focuses on "juvenile delinquents" and treats the lives of teenagers as

potentially problematic. He emphasizes that there is a great need for research that

provides a rich description of the actual lives of teenagers: how they experience,

perceive, and organize their social world, focusing on their positive attributes and roles

as agents.

Specifically, I hope that this study will provide insight into the ways in which

young people construct their goals and values and how these constructions might be

influenced through their "small world" experiences. There are few works in sociology or

the social sciences that explicitly utilize a "small worlds" approach, though this

perspective is especially advantageous when exploring the experiences of youth. "Small

worlds" is a phrase coined by West and Petrik (1992). Their premise is that the

interactions of young people occur within a variety of seemingly separate but often

overlapping and interconnecting "small worlds," including but not limited to their family,

friends, school, and other groups and various other assemblies and settings. I extended

the notion of "small worlds" to explain the orientation of this dissertation research. In


addition to the obvious three (family, school, and peers), young people in contemporary

American society experience "small worlds" in each of the sports, activities, clubs,

organizations, and programs in which they are involved. Sonlight operated as one such

"small world" in which the youth interacted and constructed their own definitions of

"success," goals for the future, and values (ideas about what is important in life).


Defining Terms

A number of terms are used synonymously with the words "teenager" for labeling

young Americans. "Adolescent," "juvenile," and "youth" are three such terms common in

the academic literature. Other words, such as "high schooler" and "student" are also

often heard. Some terms seem so noticeably inappropriate that it may seem redundant

to address them. However, I feel it is important to define my population of interest (and

alternative conceptions) as precisely as possible. Before discussing the terms I use to

define the population of my research, I would like to review alternative concepts, and

why I consider them to be problematic.

Although seldom used, the phrase "young person" is too broad. Depending on

the context, it could be used in reference to a child in elementary school or a middle-

aged adult (if, for example, the speaker was an elderly individual). The words "kid" and

"child" are technically correct if it is a parent who is speaking about their own offspring.

However, many youth over the age of 12 or so become rather offended when called

"kids," interpreting it as an insult, meaning "immature." According to a 1990 Gallup poll,

71% of American 13-17 year olds said it was "not acceptable" to describe persons of

their own age as "children" or "kids." It would be accurate to use the words

"highschooler," "high school student," or "student," but they are also flawed.

"Highschooler" is not grammatically correct, as indicated by the spell-check on the

computer and a professor's red pen. "High-school student" and "student" are both

precise terms; however, they are too specific because they ignore other roles or

identities (such as friend, athlete, family member) and seem to reduce individuals to

their educational status.

Adolescent, juvenile, youth, and teenager each capture certain aspects of, and

share much similarity, with each other, but they also tend to exclude essential qualities

or carry their own distinct connotations. The term "Gen Y" or "the Millennials" is not

included on this list because they were generally aschewed by the youth with whom I

worked. I will explore the notions of adolescent, juvenile, youth, and teenager below,

discussing which is most appropriate for usage in this study.


"Adolescent" is most often used by psychologists to speak of individuals who are

within a period of development that precedes maturity, and by sociologists and

anthropologists to speak of a period between physical and social maturity. Though there

is disagreement as to exactly when this term was coined- whether credit goes to

Artistotle, Rousseau, or if it is a modern invention--it gained salience and notoriety at the

turn of the twentieth century. In the 1904 tome, Adolescence: Its Psychology, and It

Relations to Physiology. Anthropology. Sociology. Sex. Crime. Religion and Education,

G.S. Hall promoted the notion of adolescents as incompetent, troubled, half-mad, and

dangerous, along with the stereotype of having "raging hormones." This stereotype of

adolescents promoted by Hall, as an "expert" has a veneer of being accurate and

unquestionable, and becomes essentialized. I find such stage theories to be problematic

and will detail this in a later section of this paper. Accordingly, I generally avoid the term

"adolescent" unless speaking specifically of developmental experiences.


Juvenile is not used as often in common speech as the other terms, but

according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the noun juvenile refers to a "young

person; youth." However, the term is usually paired with the word "delinquent" to form

the phrase "juvenile delinquent" and thus frequently carries connotations of deviance.

Actually, the term "juvenile delinquent" was coined by social workers in the early

twentieth century. Platt (1969) explained that it part of an early effort to save children

from themselves, as older generations have always viewed younger generations as a

threat and something to be feared. Thus, I avoided use of the term juvenile in order to

avoid associations or inferences to deviance.


Youth is a broad term, but it answers the question, "if none of the

aforementioned terms are appropriate, what term should be used?" How should one

best conceptualize this population? Youth? There are inadequacies with the word

"youth" but at least it is not associated with such negative concepts as are juvenile and

teenager. Some would assert the term is too broad, however.

In America and other industrial societies the distinction between youth and

adolescence is often blurred. Some social scientists further complicate the matter by

ascribing their own highly specific definitions to the term. For example, Keniston (1968)

studied the increasing numbers of young people who experienced particularly delayed

entry into adulthood. He coined the time between adolescence and adulthood "youth,"

applying it specifically to those aged 18 to 26. The label "youth" in this context was

applied by Keniston to the growing segment of America's young who are highly talented,

affluent, and educated, but who have not yet assumed the roles and responsibilities of


"adulthood." He hypothesized that these young individuals prolong experimentation with

life's possibilities and their personal potentials. Their identities are tied up with a

generation and not with a tradition. Since generations succeed each other quickly, these

individuals stuck between adolescence and adulthood are worthy of study as such

"youth." This is further complicated because Roszak (1976) called this same youth

culture "counterculture" thus attributing even more connotative meanings to the concept.

It is important to note how "youth" has been literally loaded with these other notions.

The choice of term should be governed by the nuanced meaning one is trying to

communicate. As commonly used, the term youth has an inclusive connotation (Sebald


From a sociological perspective, individuals can be defined in terms of their

status within society as indicated by their self-sufficiency; these young people are not

self-sufficient, and thus, according to this perspective, they are not adults. Yet they are

not completely dependent, and are thus not children either (Bakan, 1971). "Youth" and

"adolescence" have both been used to refer to a transitional period between childhood

and adulthood. The markers indicating both its beginning and end are ambiguous.

When exactly does childhood end: with the completion of elementary school, with the

start of puberty, or at age thirteen? It could be any one of or none of these markers for

different individuals. The end of this period is just as unclear: when one graduates from

high school, at age 20 when one is no longer a teen, as early as 13 or 14 when puberty

is complete and one is able to have a baby, or at age 18 when one is legally an adult?

Legally, adulthood begins at age 18, when persons are no longer sheltered by

protections enacted for "minors." However, as social scientists (such as Bakan 1971,

C6te 2000, 2002, Csikszentmihalyi & Schneider 2000, Elkind 1998, Furstenberg 2000,

Schneider & Stevenson 1999,) suggest, complex social conditions in the United States,

including the attendance of college becoming a more normative experience,

necessitated the prolongation of childhood, thus delaying adulthood.

Industrialization also created a shift in the distribution of the population from rural

to urban. Large numbers of young people, of the same age, became concentrated in

one place. Furthermore, a growing middle class made it possible for parents to send

their children to schools (where there were more students than the "one-room

schoolhouse," divided in class by age) in order to prepare them for the better jobs that

were becoming available. The first high schools in the U.S. were in the industrial, urban

centers in the early 1900s. The youths who attended them were a recognizable group.

More recently, especially with the post-World War II baby boom, the time of

transition into adulthood has become even more delayed. Some social scientists

contend that this "long goodbye" phenomenon has a number of underlying factors

related to the "baby buster" generation. The high cost of living, coupled with diminished

earning power, is resulting in a significant increase in the average age at which

individuals leave home. Thirty five percent of young men in their twenties still live with

their parents (Zill & Robinson 1995).

Even among current researchers who agree that adolescence exists, the age at

which they believe it to end and begin varies dramatically. Cobb (1997) contends that

adolescence is the period from age 13 to age 19. Sebald (1992) holds that adolescence

begins with puberty and ends at age 18, with legal adulthood. Zill and Robinson (1995)

insist that adolescence continues well into the twenties, and ends sometime after the

individual finally leaves home.


'Teenager" is a term that was first coined in a 1941 article in Popular Science

magazine (Hine 1999, p. 8). The word came into use during World War II and was in the

title of a book by 1945. It seems to have leaked into the language from the world of

advertising and marketing, where demographic information was becoming an

increasingly important part of predicting which sales approaches were most effective

with particular buyers. References to a person in his or her teens had been part of the

language since the 1600s. But such references had always been used to describe

individuals. With the rise of the industrial era, during the late 1800s and early 1900s,

large groups of people became increasingly identified by single characteristics. People

aged 13 to 19 became "teens" or "teeners" or "teen-agers." After World War II, they

were largely in the same place, high school, sharing a common experience, and were

young and open to new things. They were in short, easy to sell to (Hine 1999) In age-

graded societies, people are classified by chronological age and are assumed to be

similar on many important dimensions.

The term "teenager" is especially problematic because it is imbued with a sort of

mystique that is full of conflicting ideas. Teenagers seem to occupy a special place in

our society. They are envied and sold to, studied and deplored. The teenage years have

been defined simultaneously as both the best and freest time of life and a time of near

madness and despair. Our beliefs about teenagers are deeply contradictory: They

should be free to become themselves. They need many years of training and study.

They know more about the future than adults do. They know hardly anything at all. They

ought to know the value of a dollar. They should be protected from the world of work.

They are frail and vulnerable figures. They are children. They are sex fiends. They are

the death of the culture. They are the hope of us all (Hine 1999). The very qualities that

adults find exciting and attractive about teenagers are entangled with those we find

terrifying. According to Hine (1999) the energy of a teenager can be perceived as

threatening anarchy. Their physical beauty and budding sexuality intimidate moral

standards. Their assertion of physical and intellectual power makes their parents both

proud and aware of their own aging and mortality at the same time. These qualities, the

things we love, fear, and know about the "basic nature of young people," constitute a

mystique: a seductive but damaging way of understanding young people. This

encourages us to see teenagers (and youths to see themselves) not as individuals, but

instead as potential problems (Black 1999, Hine 1999).

Most people treat teenagers as some self-evident phenomenon, an unavoidable

stage of life (Black 1999, Hine, 1999). Adults both lament and fondly recall their teenage

years. Children are encouraged to look forward to being teenagers. Yet the concept of

teenager remains both arbitrary and confusing. The word "teenager" tells us only that

the person is older than 12 and younger than 20. This seven year period represents an

enormous component of a person's life, one in which most of us experience physical,

emotional, intellectual, and social changes. The word "teenager" actually hides

tremendous differences in maturity and the experiences of members of the age group,

and it masks the differences within individuals as they pass through their teen years.

The trouble with creating a distinct group defined solely by age is that we conjure

up phenomena that do not really exist and essentialize or reify those that do (Black

1999, Hine 1999). We tend to make assumptions about an entire group of people based

on the actions or characteristics of a few. For example, in both the 1950s and the 1990s

there was much in the popular press about an epidemic of youth violence, when the

actual rates were declining. Today's teenagers almost seem to serve a sentence of

presumed immaturity, regardless of their achievements or abilities. Furthermore,

teenagers spend much of their lives (eight hours a day in school alone) dealing with

people who often do not know them as individuals and under the control of institutions

that strive to deal with them uniformly.


At most, we can say that a "teenager" is a social invention that took shape during

the first half of the twentieth century, not some objective reality. I would assert that

remnants of this "mystique" remain. In our time, teenagers are often judged to be less

able than they are (Furstenberg 2000). The concept of the "teenager" seems to be a

sort of impediment that keeps youths from becoming the people they are ready to be.

Appropriate Terminology

In this dissertation, I resolve this dilemma of terminology by deferring to the term

that the members of the population themselves prefer and utilize most often:

"teenagers." Depending on the context or situation, they will often rely on phrases such

as "youth," "young people," "high-schoolers," and "students" to refer to themselves and

other members of this group to which they belong. Using the language of the group

members puts their experience at the center instead of imposing the preconceived

notions of the researcher upon the participants and their lives (Holstein & Gubrium

2000). According to Holstein and Gubrium's interactionist perspective, it is important to

pay attention to how and what people use as they talk themselves into being. This is

also consistent with feminist perspectives that assert the importance of using the

language currently being embraced because that is part of a reclaiming effort and part

of a construction of oppositional knowledge (Collins 2000). Interestingly, a nationally

representative survey indicated that the preferred terms that most American teenagers

use to call themselves include: "teenagers," "young adults," "teens," "young men and

women," "youth," and "adolescents" (Gallup 1990).

In an effort to avoid being redundant and repetitive, teenagers,' 'youth,' 'young

people,' and 'high school students' will be used somewhat interchangeably when

referring specifically to the participants of this study. However, the use of 'adolescent'

and 'juvenile' will be avoided. Additionally, when discussing issues of gender, I will not

use "young women" and "young men" as frequently seen in the literature, nor the term

"boys," as is common in educational settings. I have observed both of these options to

have "chilling effects" when working with teenagers. Instead I will again rely on the terms

that the participants themselves utilized: "girls" and "guys." Not all teenagers may prefer

these terms, however, within the "small world" of Sonlight, consisting of white, privileged

high school students, they were the words of choice. In many circles, the usage of the

term "girls" when referring to (young) women is not considered as diminutive as it was in

the past. According to Baumgardner and Richards (2000, p. 52), "calling an adult

woman 'girl' was once insulting, like calling and adult black man 'boy.' But now that we

can choose and use the word ourselves and not have it forced on us, "'girl' is

increasingly rehabilitated as a term of relaxed familiarity, comfy confidence, the female

analogue to 'guy' and not belittling."

Theoretical Background

Throughout the 20th century, a number of theories have emerged about children

and youth which can be categorized into three types: determinist, constructivist, and

interactionist. In this section, I will appropriate the theoretical explanation outlined by

Corsaro in his "Sociology of Childhood" (1997) to discuss these three major approaches

to studying childhood and youth in the social sciences, outlining the advantages and

disadvantages of each. I will explain how I employed both constructivist and

interactionist approaches in this work. I will also discuss the potential benefits of a fully

interactionist approach, endorsing its use in future research endeavors.

Deterministic Approaches

Much of traditional theorizing about youth was from a deterministic perspective.

This includes the aforementioned work by G.S. Hall, as well as Coleman's Adolescent

Society. Deterministic models of youth focus on the process of socialization,

characterizing the young person as a passive being who is largely being guided and

shaped by society in order to be a functioning member. This model tends to be

individualistic, calling out the ways in which young people are appropriated by society.

An advantage of these early theories of youth is that they legitimized the study of young

people within the social sciences and were ground breaking, opening the door to this

field of study.

"Adolescent society"

In 1951, James Coleman published The Adolescent Society: The Social Life of

the Teenager and its Impact on Education. The research was conducted between 1957

and 1958. Coleman originally conceived of the project in the early 1950s after reading A.

B. Hollinshead's Elmstown's Youth (1949), a ground breaking study of youth culture and

cliques. According to Coleman, there were two reasons why he engaged in his study:

First, a deep personal concern for the "better functioning" of high schools; and second,

an interest in different kinds of status systems, particularly the distribution of status and

the consequences and rewards of given systems. Coleman's structural-functionalist

standpoint becomes evident. According to Coleman's opening statement, "Educating its

young is probably a society's second most fundamental task- second only to the

problem of organizing itself to carry out actions as a society. Once organized, if a

society is to maintain itself, the young must be so shaped as to fit into the roles on which

the society's survival depends." He sets out to describe his project as objectively making

evident the ways in which society goes about this aforementioned task, with funds from

the U.S. Department of Education, by surveying ten midwestern schools.

Coleman describes adolescents of the time as being shaped entirely by their

surroundings, mere players of an ascribed role. The following passage is representative

of Coleman's descriptions of "adolescent subculture."

This setting-apart of our children in schools... He [sic] is
"cut off" from the rest of society, forced inwards towards
his [sic] own age group, made to carry out his [sic] whole
social life with others his [sic] own age. With his [sic]
fellows, he [sic] comes to constitute a small society, one
that has most of its important interactions within itself, and
maintains only a few threads of connection with the
outside adult society. In our modern world of mass
communication and rapid diffusion of ideas and
knowledge, it is hard to realize that separate subcultures
can exist right under the very noses of adults- subcultures
with languages all their own, with special symbols, and
most importantly, with value systems that may differ from
adults. Any parent who has tried to talk to his [sic]
adolescent son or daughter recently knows this, as does
anyone who had recently visited a high school for the first
time since his [sic] own adolescence. To put it simply,
these young people speak a different language. What is
more relevant to the present point, the language they
speak is becoming more and more different (Coleman, 2).

Coleman views adolescent subculture as deviant because it goes against what

he perceives to be the natural order of the world. Coleman seems to imply that the

"adolescent subculture" he described is problematic, as if there was something

inherently wrong with youths associating with one another. He explains that the

education of adolescents is a "normal process" yet he seems to think that the trend

during his time, of an increasing amount of time spent at school, is adverse. His

concerns largely echoed those of Talcott Parsons, an oft cited functionalist: young

persons are a threat to society, they must be trained to conform.

Deterministic models of childhood and youth consider young people as

potentially functioning to maintain and sustain the social order, yet these theorists view

youth as a sort of "'untamed threat', who must be controlled through careful training"

(Corsaro 1997, p. 9). Weaknesses of the deterministic model include an overemphasis

on the outcomes of the process of socialization while discounting the active and

innovative capacities of young people. In addition, it tends to ignore issues of

contextuality (historical and local specificity), instead inferring that interaction occurs in a

vacuum of sorts. I adopt Corsaro's sociology of childhood to critique such deterministic

models of youth that were dominant in the U.S. throughout the first half of the twentieth

century in order to assert that these abstract models simplify highly complex processes,

and overlook the importance of youth in society (Corsaro 1997, p. 10). Hall, Coleman,

and other determinists tend towards a reductive approach, considering the activities and

interests of youth to be inconsequential or nonfunctional. They tend to ignore or are

dismissive of the idea that young people do not just internalize society, they are active

beings and, as such, can even bring about positive changes.

Constructivist Approaches

During the 1960s, constructivist approaches to youth studies emerged as an

alternative to the essentialist deterministic models. Constructivist perspectives address

the issue of the young person as an active agent, much more so than did the

functionalists of the deterministic model. In terms of the issues explored in this study,

constructivist theories are a preferable option to deterministic models; however, they

have some drawbacks which make them less than ideal. Constructivist approaches, as

typified by developmental stage theorists will be discussed below.

Developmental stage theories

Developmental stage theories share many of the same assumptions about the

role of young people purported by the determinists. They focus on the process of

development from childhood to adulthood as unilateral. Much developmental stage

theorizing is from the discipline of psychology, explaining that young people are


"shaped" by behaviorism, reinforcement and punishment of their actions. In this section,

I will briefly discuss the major developmental stage theorists including: Piaget, Erikson,

Kohlberg, and Gilligan, and their approach to studying youth. I will place particular

emphasis on the ways in which they explain young peoples' values, under the rubric

"moral development." The developmental stage theories of Piaget, Erikson, Kohlberg,

and Gilligan are theories about the development of young people and are constructivist

in orientation. Beginning with Piaget, these theories were the first to systematically study

human intellectual development. Erikson built upon Piaget's work and generated a

theory of adolescence as a moratorium period of identity search. He said it was a time

when young people explore their identities-their ideas, ideals, and goals for the future.

Kohlberg derived his theory of moral development from the basic stages of human

intellectual development delineated by Piaget, focusing on the question of how people

make their decisions about "right" and "wrong." Gilligan was a student of Kohlberg who

criticized his work for being based entirely on the experiences of men, and its culturally

bound assumptions. She developed a theory that took gender into consideration and

emphasized the ways in which people care for each other rather than compete. Some

developmental stage theorists have come to recognize, but do not emphasize, the active

role of young people, organizing and constructing their world. They also ignore the

contextuality of such interactions, unlike interactionists, who make this their starting

point. These developmental stage theorists share a set of constructivist assumptions

which function as limitations and thus lead to the conclusion that an interactionist

perspective is the best framework for the current study, though there were

methodological limitations to the extent to which it was employed, as discussed later.

Piaget's Theory of Intellectual Development. Piaget has been recognized as

the founder of stage theories of development. He integrated biology and the study of

knowledge to form a theory of children's intellectual development, explaining that

cognitive capacities in humans develop in a series of stages. Piaget asserted that

beginning at birth, humans interpret, organize, and gather information about their

environments to construct conceptions of their physical and social worlds. He believed

that young people do not merely accumulate facts and skills at random, instead, they

progress through a series of qualitatively distinct stages of intellectual ability. Piaget

reminds us that the cognitive perceptions of children and young people can be very

different from those of adults. He theorized that people progress though four stages,

according to their age: birth to age 2, sensorimotor; age 2-7, preoperational; age 7-14,

concrete; and age 14-adulthood, postoperational. Piaget held that as children age, they

naturally gain more cognitive ability and begin to see things from perspectives other

than their own, and that once they progress to the last of the four stages, they will be

able to think abstractly. This sequence is useful because it describes the way that

reasoning develops for most people, emphasizing young people as actively promoting

their own intellectual development.

Approximate Age Stage Typical Developments
Range ____________
Birth to age 2 Sensorimotor Children develop the concept of
object permanence and the ability to
form mental representations.

Age 2 to 7 Preoperational Children's thought is egocentric; they
lack the concept of conversation and
the ability to decenter.

Age 7 to 11 Concrete Children can decenter; they acquire
Operations the concept of conversion; but they
cannot reason abstractly or test
hypotheses systematically.

Starts at age 11 or 12 Formal Operations Children begin to reason abstractly.

Figure 1-Piaget's Stages of Intellectual Development


Piaget's work is particularly relevant to this study because in his early writing, he

focused specifically on the moral lives of children, studying the way children play games

in order to learn more about their beliefs regarding right and wrong (Piaget 1932/65).

According to Piaget, all development emerges from action; that is to say, individuals

construct and reconstruct their knowledge of the world as a result of interactions with the

environment. Based on his observations of children's application of rules when playing,

Piaget determined that morality, too, can be considered a developmental process

(Piaget 1932/65). Piaget theorized that during the concrete stage, children have a

dualisticc morality," seeing things as only right or wrong, as they are primarily concerned

with classification as a task of reasoning. Once they progress to the formal stage, they

are able to move from a dichotomous view of social rules, morals, and values to one

where they incorporate the views of others with their own. Weaknesses of Piaget's

theory include: the assertion that development occurs linearly, in one direction, from one

distinct stage to the next; the assumption that development is primarily individualistic,

ignoring its collectivity and contextuality; an underestimation of the role of the

environment, where each child is viewed individualistically in their discovery and

development of capacities; and that the instruments utilized by Piaget were culturally

specific, dependent upon exposure to western schooling.

Erikson's Theory of Identity Development. Erikson was a colleague of Piaget

who generated a model of human social development. Erikson's theory of development

is useful in that it addressed the notion of continuity and transitions instead of

emphasizing the discrete boundaries between stages. He draws connections between

early childhood experiences, noting their effect on the young person's continued

development (where Piaget tended to speak of intellectual capacities as just emerging

from within the person at certain ages). Erikson also attempted to account for the

importance of social interaction and how relations with others stimulate personality

development throughout the life course. He outlined a series of eight stages through

which human development progresses: age 0-1, Trust/Mistrust Stage; age 2-3,

Autonomy/Doubt Stage; age 3-6, Initiative/Guilt Stage; age 7-12, Industry/Inferiority

Stage; age 12-18, Identity/Identity Diffusion Stage, late teens-early twenties,

Intimacy/Isolation Stage, age 20-60, Generativity/Stagnation Stage; age 60 and beyond,

Integrity/Despair Stage.

Erikson was especially interested in and emphasized adolescence, the

"identity/identity diffusion stage," which he said occurred naturally from ages 12-18. He

said that adolescence was a moratorium period in which youth may find their identities

and, only after successfully accomplishing this task, may progress on to adulthood.

According to Erikson (1968) adolescence is the period in one's life when choices are

made and identities are formed. It is through this process that peer groups, cliques, and

subcultures flourish. Central to this period is the choice of a future career (Epstein

1998). In addition to its linear, one-way model of progression, Erikson's theory has been

criticized for being an idealized description of developmental patterns with an

inadequate explanation of individual differences. I assert that another weakness is his

construction of youth ("adolescence") as necessarily a time (he called it a "moratorium

period") in which young people feel angst and alienation for the future. This has the

effect of discounting their abilities and roles as agents, capable of accomplishments.

Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development. Kohlberg was a contemporary of

both Piaget and Erikson who modified and elaborated Piaget's work. His theory is often

recognized for laying the foundation for the debate within the social sciences on moral


development. Though notions of morals, values, and goals were components of Piaget's

and Erikson's theories, Kohlberg was the first to delineate stages of moral development.

Consistent with Piaget, he proposed that people form ways of thinking through their

experiences, including understandings of moral concepts such as justice, rights,

equality, and human welfare. Kohlberg extended Piaget's formulation to include

adolescence and early adulthood, and determined that the process of attaining moral

maturity took longer and was more gradual than Piaget had proposed. He maintained

that each stage consisted of a unique conceptualization of the requisites of social

interaction, with each successive stage exhibiting greater cognitive complexity and a

greater range of perspectives taken into account (Sunar 2002). Kohlberg's six stages of

moral development are summarized in the table below.

Approximate Age Stage Developments
Birth to 9 years Preconventional Decisions based on self-
1. Punishment and interest
2. Instrumental Hedonism
9 to 20 years Conventional Decisions based on opinions
3. Interpersonal of others
Concordance (seeking
4. Law and Order
Age 20+ Postconventional Decisions based on
5. Social Contract self-legislated, self-imposed
6. Universal Ethical universal principles

Figure 2-Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development

According to Kohlberg, as people progress through the stages they are less

likely to make moral decisions based only on their own perspective, instead taking into

account the perspectives of others and the impact that their own actions might have. In

the preconventional stage, moral decisions are egocentric and the reasoning upon

which they are based is in terms of getting rewards and avoiding punishment. The

conventional stage is based on the ability to take into account the perspectives of

others, and the postconventional stage occurs when a person is able to make

"universal" decisions, which, according to Kohlberg, are not culturally bound. In this

model, youth are members of the conventional stage, where they make decisions in

order to gain or avoid approval, and out of emotions of duty and guilt.

Kohlberg's theory has been criticized for numerous weaknesses. Implicit is an

assumption that teenagers are too young to achieve the ability to make moral decisions

based on their effects on others and overarching (so called "universal") standards.

Though he and his students conducted extensive interviews with children, youth, and

adults, presenting them with situations and asking them their reasons for the moral

decisions they made, his sample was remarkably limited. First, Kohlberg implied that the

sequence of his six stages was invariant even though evidence suggests that people

can and sometimes do regress with age (Peta 1999). He does not offer an explanation

for how or why people progress through the stages. Additionally, Kohlberg places too

much emphasis on individual thought processes and fails to take into account the

importance of social interaction. As such, it is more a theory of moral reasoning than of

moral behavior. Contemporary research has found that more people than Kohlberg

estimated are able to make decisions based on the principle of universal morality if they

are asked to recognize instead of generate responses (Peta 1999). Finally, Kohlberg's

theory of moral development was based largely on the experiences of boys and men, all

of whom were white Americans. Kohlberg's theory has significant limitations in that it

makes "universal" conclusions based on a select group of participants who are not

representative in terms of their gender, race/ethnicity, nor socio-economic status.

Gilligan's Theory of an Ethic of Care. Carol Gilligan was a student of

Kohlberg. She was particularly taken with a stage theory approach of moral reasoning.

However, she disagreed with some of Kohlberg's underlying assumptions about the

context of peoples' decision making. From her own experiences as well as patterns in

data she gathered, she found that women' moral reasoning was often based on criteria

other than those included in Kohlberg's theory. For example, in Kolhberg's fourth stage,

he indicates that decisions are based on duty and guilt; yet Gilligan (1992) found that

women in this stage were thinking more about what the most caring thing to do would

be, rather than doing what the rules required of them. Gilligan asserted that it was not

that women were less morally developed than men (as they often scored lower on

Kohlberg's test than did men), but rather that they possessed a different sequence of

moral development. Women's morals were more likely to be focused on social

interaction (connection versus separation with others) instead of rules and competition.

Age Stage
not listed Goal is individual survival
Transition: from selfishness -+ to responsibility to others

not listed Goodness is equated with self-sacrifice
Transition: from goodness to truth (honesty & integrity)

maybe never I Principle of of non-violence (do not hurt self or others)

Figure 3-Gilligan's Stages of the Ethic of Care (Huff, 1998)

Thus, Gilligan created a theory of moral development that emphasized an ethic

of care. In doing so, she challenged the assumption that there is only one dimension of

moral reasoning. Additionally, she connected the process of moral decision making to

concerns about individual selves and the social context in which they live (Huff 1998). As

a constructionist, she continued to focus on outcomes rather than the interactions


Critiques of developmental stage theories

The four developmental stage theories mentioned above share a common set of

assumptions, which leads to a number of weaknesses and limitations. In these theories,

development is seen as unilateral, that is, irreversible progression through the stages

occurs in one direction, and each stage is necessarily separate from the previous stage.

The theories differ somewhat as to the extent to which they recognize the young person

as an active agent, though Piaget, Erikson, Kohlberg, and Gilligan all asserted that

young people are not merely passive sponges, shaped through behavioral

reinforcement and punishment. They are involved in using information from their world

to organize and construct their understandings and interpretations. However,

developmental stage theorists persist in viewing human development as a largely

individualistic task, occurring within the person; their capacities and abilities naturally

emerge over time, as they grow older. In focusing on the individual, developmental

stage theories ignore, fail to acknowledge, or de-emphasize contextual and cultural

factors. Kohlberg was particularly culpable as he made claims of the "universality" of

morality, ignoring issues of gender, racial, and socio-economic variation, as well as the

notion that people's moral judgements vary according to the factors associated with the

context of the situation. Furthermore, developmental stage theories tend to overlook the

fact that the stages, as normative expectations, are constructed, in part through social

exchange. The process by which children grow into adults is not internal, natural, innate,

without variation, hierarchical, or independent of context and culture, though

developmental stage theories tend to present it this way.

Critiques of the Constructivist approach

According to Corsaro (2000, p.17), the focus of constructivist approaches tends

to center on the effects of interpersonal experiences on individual development. There is

insufficient consideration of how young people, through their participation in

communication and social interaction, become part of interpersonal relations and

cultural patterns, reproducing them collectively. Another weakness of constructivist

approaches, such as developmental stage theories, is that they are primarily concerned

with the endpoints and "outcomes" of development, as young people move from

immaturity to competent adults. Finally, constructivists fail to ask questions about the

realities experienced and constructed by the young people themselves. For example,

there are few if any studies about the complex and interactive ways in which young

people interact with their friends in various setting encountered in their worlds of school,

activities, and families. The constructivist perspective has been the prevailing approach

to youth studies for the past three decades (Corsaro 1997). Examples include Erikson

(1965), Levitt & Rubenstein (1972), Austin & Willard (1998), and Lesko (2001).

Contemporary research on youth

At the beginning of the 21st century, the role and place of youth in our society is

changing. There are more of them than ever before. In the U.S. there are currently more

young people between the ages of 8 and 25 (puberty to adulthood) than there were at

the peak of the baby boom. Although adolescents comprise a smaller proportion of the

population than the elderly, their absolute numbers are growing and will continue to do

so for the next few decades. By the year 2005 there will be over 40 million young people

in their second decade of life, roughly half between the ages of 10 and14, and another

half between the ages of 15 and 19. Moreover, the population of youth in the U.S. is


already more ethnically diverse than the adult population. As the young people age, the

adult population will become increasingly diverse. By listening to this generation, we

may all learn how to value differences, instead of allowing differences to contribute to

conflict (Hamburg 1998).

It seems that in the U.S. we are not analyzing and approaching the experiences

of youth with the degree of care they merit. Since the baby boom in the 1960s,

researchers have concentrated on the ways in which adolescents differed from younger

children or adults. These differences have been cast as problems that are unique to or

characteristic of youth. Categorical approaches and programs devoted to each problem

(e.g. adolescent suicide, unintended pregnancy, drug use) evolved, yet failed to listen to

the authentic concerns of such youth. Emphasizing the problems related to youth

brought attention to the age group, but results of this attention have been mixed. In

some cases, increased awareness has led to a massing of resources to lessen

problems facing youth. In other cases, the focus on youth has led to a sense that

problems are inherent in their age group and therefore not amenable to intervention.

The portrayal of young people in the mass media has tended to focused on the more

spectacular events (such as the tragedy at Columbine High School) and has continued

the practice of labeling entire groups of young people as problems because of these

incidents. In some cases, reactions have led to the demonizing or blaming of young

people for these problems (Epstein 1998).

The time of transition from childhood to adulthood has expanded. Youth are

physically maturing earlier, thereby engaging in some adult behaviors at earlier ages,

while at the same time, the age for assumption of meaningful adult responsibilities, such

as economic independence, is being delayed (the aforementioned "long goodbye"

phenomenon). Thus, the experiences of youth today can arguably be said to be

profoundly different from youth of other generations.

Emerging adulthood. A new body of literature has recently emerged in the field

of interdisciplinary youth studies called "emerging adulthood." Arnett (2000)

conceptualizes emerging adulthood as a period that begins in the late teens and lasts

through the mid-twenties. He asserts that it is a transitional period, when youth move out

of adolescence into adulthood, characterized by experimentation and exploration. Arnett

(2000) draws on Erickson's developmental theory (1968) to propose that during this

liminal period, young people often experiment with various possibilities in terms of their

priorities, values, and beliefs. Thus, this theory provides some promise for orienting this

dissertation project. However, upon closer examination, I discovered that even within the

emerging adulthood perspective, there is little existing literature specifically about of

teenagers' future goals and values. This is a new field that offers promise in the near


Research on career development and occupation. Within the vast body of

literature on career issues, the aspirations and expectations of young adults have been

studied extensively. Drawing from Piaget's developmental theories (1977), career

theorists have studied the career choices of young adults. Ginzberg, Ginsberg, Axelrad,

and Herma authored a foundational book entitled Occupational Career Choice: An

Approach to a General Theory in 1951. They proposed that around the age of 15 or 16,

young people begin to take their goals and values into consideration when thinking

about their future careers. They weigh abstract questions about priorities, such as

whether it is important to make money or to help others. (Ginzberg et. al 1951). Super

(1990, 1997) a renowned career theorist, adapted the work of Ginzberg, et. al. in his

work on young people's attitudes and knowledge about their careers. However, Super

does not address young people's values in his analysis. A survey of contemporary

career development research offered nothing in terms of goals and values-instead the

studies center on education attainment and career/occupational aspirations.

Research on future goals. Although numerous studies have been conducted

on the data from the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey series in its 23 years of

existence, the overwhelming majority have focused on the core data or drug use and

delinquency of American youth. Some studies have analyzed gender and/or race

differences on various factors. The MTF researchers themselves have published a

number of articles indicating the trends of their data over time. Only one study could be

found that examined MTF data on high school seniors' plans for the future. These

researchers, Easterlin and Crimmins (1988), looked at personal aspirations and life

goals of students from 1987 MTF data and found that, in the preceding decade,

materialism was on the rise. Making money had become much more important as a life

goal, and this emphasis on finances had affected attitudes towards jobs, work, and

leisure time. Coupled with two recent articles on teens' future goals (Mogelonsky 1998)

and college education, and career aspirations of youth (Zill & Robinson 1995), an

exploration of the expectations, aspirations, and future goals of American youth today is

an important undertaking.

Today's youth, more than those of the past, place a strong emphasis on the

importance of earning college degrees. A vast majority of students aspire to graduate

from college, regardless of whether or not they expect to do so, taking practical factors

into consideration (Austin & Martin 1992, Looker & Pineo 1988, McCartin & Meyer 1988,

Plucker & Quaglia 1998, Smith, 1989, 1991). The students feel that these credentials

are the passport to higher earnings and are enrolling in college at record rates (Zill &

Robinson 1995). Furthermore, they tend to place much more of an emphasis on making

money as a life goal, over other goals such as "finding purpose and meaning in life,"

"giving my children better opportunities than I've had," or "having time for other things in

life (besides a job)" (Easterlin & Crimmins 1988). In addition, today's youth tend to rate

both "financial success" and "helping others who need help" as extremely high

(Mogelonsky 1998).

Research on moral development and values of youth. Since Kohlberg's

studies in the late 1960s, there has been quite a bit of work on moral development

within the fields of developmental psychology, philosophy, and education. However,

sociologists have largely been left out of the conversation. Surveys of the recent

research in the field of moral development (Kerka 1992, Mulder 1997, Sunar 2002)

indicate that the prevailing theories fail to challenge the assumptions of the

developmental stage theorists and instead attempt to apply or test these classic theories

in various settings, such as the cross-cultural comparisons by Bersoff and Miller (1993),

Miller and Bersoff (1992) and Miller, et. al. (1990), or with diverse populations of young

people, such as Wark and Krebs' (1996) assessment of Gilligan's critique of Kohlberg's

theory. Within the field of education, there has been a proliferation of work on moral

education since the 1970s. Nucci (1997) offers a synthesis of contemporary

developments, which is almost entirely applied in orientation. Almost without exception,

these works do not challenge the assumptions of universality and linearity of the

developmental stage theorists, and are largely formulations of curricula built upon the

earlier theories (see Berkowitz 1998, Kohn 1997, and Nucci, 1997). Though the terms
"morals" and "values" are similar, I argue they are not synonyms and have distinct


In this study, I define "values" as the ideas and ideals of what is important to a

person. Though morals are also ideals, they seem to carry a connotation of judgement

or obligation, sort of an imperative tone. Additionally, a person can have a value that is,

quite possibly, considered "immoral." For example, a person can value financial success

but in order to do so they might have to step on the backs of their families or betray their

best friends. That is not "moral" behavior. This illustrates how values can actually be

negatively regarded, and can lead to behavior that is not judged "moral." Morals are

thought of as dichotomous, as actions that are "right" or "wrong" (Figurski 2000). Values

are more accessible, they are simply "what is important" (Karp 2000). For this reason,

this project focuses on young peoples' values, goals, and the experiences by which they

are influenced.

Interactionist Approaches

Interactionism offers an advantage over constructivism in that it captures the

innovative and creative aspects of young peoples' participation in society, actively

contributing to cultural production and change (Corsaro 1997, p. 18). Youth are not

merely socialized, like sponges, absorbing or internalizing normative expectations of

society-instead they engage in what Corsaro calls "interpretive reproductions," that

young people create and participate in their own unique peer cultures by creatively

taking or appropriating information from the adult world in order to address their own

concerns (2000, p. 298). Young people and their youth cultures are affected by the

societies and cultures of which they are members and are in the process of co-

constructing. Interactionist approaches are particularly interested in the importance of

language and everyday interactions. This view is consistent with Holstein and Gubrium's

perspective offered in Inner Lives and Social Worlds (2003), emphasizing that people's

interactions with one another assemble both their inner lives and social worlds. "As

people interact, what they say and do creates a working sense of what is real for them.

They establish, negotiate, and modify who and what they are in the course of the give-

and-take of daily living, constructing and reconstructing their social worlds in the

process" (2003, p. 5).

This study draws from both constructivist and interactionist perspectives. It is not

entirely interactionist because the methodological approach I utilized focused on the

patterns that emerged in the definitions of success the teenagers articulated more than

how their definitions of success were constructed through the our interactions in the

interview and/or during the activities and focus lessons of the program. By relying

primarily on questions of "what," this project addresses the content of meaning as

articulated through interaction and mediated by culture (Gubrium & Holstein 1997, p.

14). Studies about youth from an interactionist perspective are few as this is a newly

emerging approach (see Epstein 1998, Farran 1990, and McDonald 1999). A more

interactive approach would have focused on how the youths' definitions of success and

articulation of their goals and values were produced in conversation and through the

activities in which they were engaged. I would have employed a methodology different

from that on which I relied, using more observational data and truly active interviews,

more reflexive in nature. In the future, I hope to be able to conduct such interactive

studies. In this study, however, I do draw from principles of interaction (& la Corsaro) as

this work is based on the assumption that young people are active agents, engaged in

co-creating the worlds in which they live. As a means of employing both constructivism

and interactionism, I found the theoretical approach "small worlds" to be particularly

useful in orienting to this project.

Small worlds

It seems that there are few works in sociology or the social sciences that

explicitly utilize a "small worlds" approach, though this perspective is especially

advantageous when exploring the experiences of youth2. "Small worlds" is a phrase

coined by West and Petrik in their 1992 edited volume, Small Worlds: Children and

Adolescents in America, 1850-1950. The authors asserted that little had been written

about young peoples' active roles and even less consideration of context and location

that complicate and enrich such negotiations (1992). How children act depends partly on

their surroundings and what the children bring to them (1992). The authors' premise is

that the interactions of young people occur within a variety of seemingly separate but

often overlapping and interconnecting "small worlds," including but not limited to their

family, friends, school, and other groups and various other assemblies and settings.

Phelan, et. al. also employed the notion of "small worlds" in their 1999 study of

students' multiple worlds, "Adolescent Worlds: Negotiating family, peers, and school."

They used a qualitative and generative approach, relying on data gathered from

interviews and observations to form a model that emerged inductively, placing the

perspectives of the youths at the center of their analysis called the "Student Multiple

Worlds Model" (1999, p. 18). Accordingly, the term "model" referred to cultural

knowledge and behavior found within the boundaries of students' particular families,

It is interesting to note that within the discipline of Information Sciences and Technology
the term "small worlds" has also been utilized to refer to expectations of normative
behavior that occur within specific settings. Burnett et. al. (2001) appropriate the works
of sociologists and social psychologists and attribute the roots of a "small worlds"
approach to Cooley (1956), Douglas (1970), Anderson (1978), Watts (1999), and
others. They explain that people look at the world, with its everyday realities, as defined
by the horizons of the "small worlds," the specific, localized contexts in which we live and
work (2001, 536).

peer groups, and schools; presuming that each world contains values and beliefs,

expectations, actions, and emotional responses familiar to insiders (1999, p. 7).

Holstein and Gubrium indirectly refer to this notion of "small worlds" in The Self

We Live By (2000). They speak of "local culture" and "organizational embeddedness"

both of which are components of "small worlds." According to Holstein and Gubrium,

local culture is a constellation of ways of understanding and representing things and

actions, and of assigning meaning to lives (2000, p. 161). Local cultures offer resources

for self construction and hold people accountable thorough their situated discourses.

Holstein and Gubrium also assert that self construction is "organizationally embedded"

(2000, p. 165). They explain that localized meanings are mediated by organizational


Adler and Adler did not explicitly refer to "small worlds" in their study on

preadolescent clique stratification and the hierarchy of identity, but they address the

situationality of interaction by stating, "Identities symbolize meanings, and are acquired

in particular situations based on people's comparison of their roles to others and others'

counterroles" (Adler and Adler, in Holstein and Gubrium 2003, p. 431). Although Alder

and Adler do not call these particular situations of identity production "small worlds," they

are speaking to the same notion. That is, young people do not passively internalize their

social world and define themselves in those terms; instead, they are engaged in

constructing their selves through the ways they act and interact in particular peer groups

and settings (Holstein & Gubrium 2003).

Thus, I borrowed from the above works to extend the notion of "small worlds" to

explain the orientation of this dissertation research. It is my assertion that in the course

of their everyday lives, teenagers today experience many "small worlds." Phelan, et. al.

(1999) referred to family, school, and peers as three such locations; however, I argue

that there are many more and they vary greatly in size and character. For example,

school can be called a "small world," but there are many smaller "small worlds" that

constitute the "small world" of school. The ride to school on the school bus, morning

assembly in the auditorium, Ms. Smith's first period English class, the hallway and

lockers where students rush between classes, the picnic tables under the oak tree in the

courtyard where the "popular" students eat lunch, the dean's office where students sit

nervously awaiting punishment, the Key Club meeting in the computer lab of the library,

the back corner of parking lot after school-these are all locations and contexts that

operate as "small worlds" within the "small world" of school. In addition to the obvious

three (family, school, and peers), young people in contemporary American society

experience "small worlds" in each of the sports, activities, clubs, organizations, and

programs in which they are involved. Sonlight operated as one such "small world" in

which the youth I interviewed interacted.

Conceptual Model

In this project I combined both qualitative and quantitative modes of analysis,

focusing on the results from semi-structured interviews rather than relying solely on

highly structured surveys. These formats tended to allow the participants more flexibility

and room to express themselves in a manner they deemed appropriate, instead of

forcing them into my preconceived categorizations. Additionally, when engaging in

participant observation I made an effort to "check-in" with the participants from time to

time in order to assess my interpretations. The following conceptual model emerged

inductively in the process of gathering and analyzing the data gathered through

interviews and participant observation.

Experiences Values -* Future Goals
%A "Being a Success'*
-being a success in my line of work
-having lots of money
-being able to find steady work
-giving my children better opportunities than I've had
*Connecting with others
-having a good marriage and family life
-making strong friendships
-Self Realization
-having plenty of time for recreation and hobbies
-discovering new ways to experience things
-finding purpose in my life
-Philanthropy ("making a difference", "helping others")
-making a contribution to society
-being a leader in my community
-working to correct social and economic inequalities

Figure 4-Conceptual Model

The model above shows that young peoples' future goals are influenced by their

values, which are impacted by and affect their experiences. In this project, I used direct

questions about future goals and definitions of success in order to understand their

values. Goals are more concrete and easily definable than values. Asking a young

person to explicitly state their ideals would likely elicit "canned," socially desirable

responses. In order to avoid this as much as possible, I asked a series of questions,

following the interview instrument, but unfolding in conversation. I began by asking

about the importance of future goals, and then I asked the youth to define "being a

success," to explain how they envisioned their own future success, and to describe a

model of someone who was successful. Through analyzing this data, patterns in their

responses emerged.

"Success" is commonly thought of as the epitome of future goals, it is the highest

achievement. It became clear that their discrete definitions of success and the future

goals by which they planned to realize this notion of success were informed by ideas


of what is important in life. In other words, their values influenced their experiences.

Notice the arrow between values and experiences goes both directions, that is, their

experiences both influenced and were influenced by their values. Additionally, their

experiences could have a direct effect on their goals. In the sections that follow, I

articulate the methods by which this research was conducted, the quantitative and

qualitative results, and conclude with an exploration of how participating in Sonlight was

a "small world" experience that affected the teenagers' values and future goals.



This dissertation concerns the lives and experiences of teenagers. Specifically, it

focuses on how American youth make the transition to adulthood, looking at their future

goals and values. This research is based on Monitoring the Future, a quantitative survey

of over 60,000 high schoolers, as well as qualitative interviews of 70 local teenagers, all

members of a community youth organization. In this chapter, I first describe the data

from Monitoring the Future, then the methodology I used to conduct my qualitative


Data Collection

Quantitative Analysis of Monitoring the Future

The quantitative portion of this study consisted of a secondary data analysis of

the 1999 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. An annual survey in its 23rd year, MTF is

a probability sample of high school students in the U.S. MTF explores changes in

important values, behaviors, and lifestyles of contemporary American youths, as well as

tracking demographics and drug use trends. It is the most appropriate survey for the

current study because it is a large probability sample of high school youth with the most

current data available. It provides both an accurate and systematic description of the

youth and quantifies both the direction and rate of change of trends over time. Large,

distinct, and nationally representative samples of high school students are asked to

respond to questions on demographics, drug use, and a variety of subjects including


attitudes towards social issues, changing gender roles, parental influences, educational

and career expectations and aspirations, self esteem, exposure to sex and drug

education, deviant behaviors, and crime victimization. Different versions of the

questionnaire were administered to the sub-samples of the students. This file is

available to download from www.icpsr.umich.edu.

Sampling. MTF is a probability sample design of a multi-state area. There are

three selection stages involved: primary sampling units (PSUs, consisting of geographic

areas), schools within PSUs, and students attending the sampled schools. Eight of the

80 PSUs were selected with certainty, while the other 72 were selected with a probability

proportionate to the number of students. If the school had fewer than 400 students, all

were asked to participate. Each school was asked to commit to two years of

participation so that each year, one half of the sample could be replaced. Any school

that refused to participate was replaced with a school of similar geographic location,

size, and type (e.g. public or private). The total sample of students was divided into six

sub-samples averaging 2,700 respondents each. The sub-samples were administered

one of six different forms of the questionnaire containing the "core" drug and

demographic questions, as well as various questions on the other topics. Since MTF

began in 1975, the participation rate of the schools has ranged from 66-80%. In 1999,

the overall response rate for students was 83%.

The sample data are weighted for the characteristics of the school which the

students attend. The focus of this study is limited to an analysis of the data obtained

from students who identified their race as white. The available data did not provide

specific information about those students who reported being a race other than white or

black. Responses were coded "white," "black," or "other," because I felt uncomfortable


analyzing and making generalizations about minorities without being able to speak to a

specific group; I chose to exclude all students whose responses were in the "other"

category, thus the 0. This is one major limitation of the data, and future studies should

take this into consideration or even opt to place their focus on the experiences of

students of color.

Measurement. The various content areas of MTF measure a wide range of

topics. The current study will focus on the "future goals" subject area. Selected

demographic variables were used to create cross-tabs to examine the relationship

between the importance students place on certain future goals and some of their

ascribed (age, gender, race, parents' education), achieved (high school program, GPA),

and aspired (plans to obtain college and graduate/professional degrees) characteristics.

Demographics. MTF provides demographic information about the respondents.

I selected eight of the demographic measures, for descriptive purposes, in order to

create cross-tabs. All missing data or extraneously coded responses were deleted. The

variables included: Age ("In what year were you born?" 1 = <1981, 2 = >1981), Gender

("What is your sex?" 1 = male, 2 = female), Race ("How do you describe yourself?" 1=

white, 2 = black), Father's level of education ("What is the highest level of schooling

your father completed?" 3 = high school graduate, 4 = some college, 5 = college

graduate, 6 = graduate or professional school), Mother's level of education ('What is the

highest level of schooling your mother completed?" 3 = high school graduate, 4 = some

college, 5 = college graduate, 6 = graduate or professional school), High school

program ("Which of the following best describes your present high school program?" 1 =

college prep, 2 = general, 3 = vocation/technical, 4 = other), and Grade point average

('Which of the following best describes your average grade so far in high school?" 1 =

D, 1.5 = D+, 2 = C, 2.5 = C+, 3 = B, 3.5 = B+, 4 = A). Father's education and mother's

education were used as both an indicator of highest level of parents' education obtained

and as a measure of SES of the student, since no other SES variables were available in

MTF (Bennett and Gist 1964, Popenoe 1998, Grusec, Goodnow, and Kuczynski 2000,

Wilson et.al. 1992). Additionally, the education of the parents is likely to influence not

only the resources to which the student has access, but also their own future plans (JodI

et.al. 2001, Marjoribanks 1994, 1998, Rojewski 1997). GPA is a quantitative measure of

students' high school grades and is often used in studies as a "classic" indicator of

motivation and achievement; GPA is often utilized for predicting graduation rates and

job success levels (Bennet & Gist 1964, Nam & Terrie 1981, and Powers 1981).

Future goals. MTF included a section of variables measuring the importance of

14 life goals. The question about future goals was worded as follows: "How important is

each of the following to you in your life? A. Being successful in my line of work. B.

Having a good marriage and family life. C. Having lots of money. D. Having plenty of

time for recreation and hobbies. E. Having strong friendships. F. Being able to find

steady work. G. Making a contribution to society. H. Being a leader in my community. I.

Being able to give my children better opportunities than I've had. J. Living close to my

parents and relatives. K. Getting away from this area of the country. L. Working to

correct social and economic inequalities. M. Discovering new ways to experience things.

N. Finding purpose and meaning in my life." Responses were given in the following

categories: "Not important, Somewhat important, Quite important, and Extremely


Readers should note that the "future goals" section of MTF includes 14 items, yet

for the purposes of this study, I omitted two: "J. living close to my parents and relatives"


and "K. getting away from this area of the country." In conversations with teenagers and

undergraduate college students, students commented that the responses to these

questions may be more a reflection of their "senioritis" (the "illness" that befalls many

students as they approach high school graduation) than measuring a desire to live near

or away from that which is familiar to them. As these two goals did not seem to fit into

the themes addressed in this study, they are not included in this research. The

remaining 12 goals can best be conceptualized in four themes: Career/Financial,

Connecting with Others, Self Realization, and Philanthropy.

1. Career/financial
-being a success in my line of work
-having lots of money
-being able to find steady work
-giving my children better opportunities than I've had
2. Connecting with others
-having a good marriage and family life
-making strong friendships
3. Self Realization
-having plenty of time for recreation and hobbies
-discovering new ways to experience things
-finding purpose in my life
4. Philanthropy ("making a difference, ""helping others")
-Making a contribution to society
-Being a leader in my community
-Working to correct social and economic inequalities

Figure 5-12 goals, listed by theme

I examined both the chi-squares of the cross tabs, noting the associations to see

if the relationships between the demographic variables and each of the goals were

significant. I then created a sub-group, limiting the sample to white students whose

parents had attended college. This sub-group better compares to the 70 students that I

interviewed, as they were all white high school students who, with the exception of one

student, planned on graduating from college, and the majority of whom came from

families where the parents had at least a college education. The number of cases of the


entire MTF sample included 2168 to 2186 participants. The number of cases in this sub-

sample of MTF varied from 917 to 921.

Qualitative Interviews of Sonlight Members

A second data gathering technique for this study derives from interviews with

and participant observation of 70 high school students who were all members of a youth

organization called Sonlight. Sonlight Youth Ministries was a "youth choir" located at

Trinity United Methodist Church in Gainesville, Florida. However, it was not a "typical"

youth choir. In 1999 there were more than 150 youth involved, led by a team of 30

officers elected by the members, and guided by the selected president and vice-

president, two high school seniors. (See Appendix B for the Organization and

Leadership of Sonlight.) Each summer a group of 70 singers and 20 instrumentalists

and sound technicians, along with staff and chaperones, traveled for ten days on a tour

to major cities across the U.S. The participants were comprised entirely of youth from all

of the local high schools, both public and private.

History of Sonlight. From 1984-2001 Sonlight Youth Choir was a dynamic

youth organization at a large United Methodist Church in a mid-sized, southern college

city. Under the direction of Rebecca Brown, this group grew from 15 to over 200

members, all students from the local high schools. Over the years it grew and changed

from a "church choir" playing "rock n' roll" music into a multifaceted youth program with

committees, projects, and activities. Although it was housed at and supported by the

United Methodist Church, Sonlight's message was one of pluralism. The young people

who participated were not required to take part in any service, nor were they even asked

to become "Christians." Unlike popular stereotypes of youth choirs, there were no "altar

calls," where students were expected or pressured to partake in religious activities. The

message was one of interfaith spirituality-that "god's stuff' is in everything, from the

lyrics of the latest pop song to the books read in literature class.

Philosophy of Sonlight. Brown's philosophy led her to create a program that

was seen by local teenagers as "cool." Many young people around the community knew

of Sonlight, even if they were not a member. Each year brought a new flood of young

people-the first few weeks they would number well over 200, sitting on each other's laps

and on the floor, packing the room and pouring out the door. Rehearsals and meetings

were often loud and rowdy. Brown ran a "loose" program because she was well aware

that strict rules would not appeal to most young people. They already sat quietly in

desks at school for hours each day; doing so on the evenings and weekends was not

likely to keep their attention.

The reason the program was effective was because Brown did not talk "ar' the

teenagers or tell them how they "should" be acting or what they "should" be thinking or

believing, nor did she pass judgement on them for experimenting with alcohol, sex, or

drugs-she viewed this as a "normal" part of adolescence. She respected that they were

in an intermediary period between childhood and adulthood, often experiencing a sense

of angst and trying on different identities in an attempt to "find themselves." Instead of

giving pat answers, Brown asked questions. Brown played the role of counselor and

friend to many of the youth. She talked about values and priorities, something rarely

overtly discussed in the lives of young people today. Over the years Sonlight has been

the subject of a number of articles in the local media. A few of the recent stories give a

glimpse of the enthusiasm that teenagers in the community have had for this unique

program, and how Sonlight has affected their lives (see Appendix C for a list of the

articles, and Appendix D for a discussion of the activities of Sonlight from 1984-2001).


Focus Curriculum of Sonlight. Within Sonlight, a Focus was a message time

(about 15 minutes) that Brown conducted every week in rehearsal. Rather than a

"boring lecture,"Brown attempted to engage in discussion with 120+ teenagers gathered

in the choir room. Focus was an integral part of Sonlight. When surveyed in 1996 and

2000, an overwhelming majority of the youth indicated that, for them, it was the most

meaningful part of the program. In an effort to reach the youth through as many

avenues as possible, Brown used a variety of techniques such as illustrations, surveys,

props, diagrams, guest speakers, panels, debates, and videos. Most Focuses were

accompanied by a handout, and many members would take extra copies to share with

their friends. The reason that Focuses were so popular was because they dared to talk

about the issues and ask the questions in which the youth were most interested.

Through forms of popular media (music, movies, etc.) and by using their "language,"

Focuses reached the teenagers, challenging them to think about their beliefs, priorities,

and assumptions about the world.

Membership of Sonlight. While there was no "typical member" of Sonlight,

most of the students were from upper-middle class families. No data were gathered

specifically about income, but almost all of the youth who were over 16 years old had

their own car and affording the cost of travel for the summer tour to Colorado in the

summer of 1999 was not a financial hardship for most, suggesting that the students

came from a somewhat affluent background. Less than half grew up in, or had families

that belonged to, the church. Each year a certain number (for 1999, this number was

70) of participants were selected to travel on a ten day tour. This selection was based

on an evaluation process that weighed the students' level of participation in the program

as well as their seniority (as opposed to a strictly "talent-based" criteria). Specifically, the

sample used in my study consists of all of the youth who went on tour to Colorado-70

high school students, aged 14 to 18 (median age equals 16). Sixty-eight percent (48/70)

were females, and 32% (22/70) were males. The distribution across grades was roughly

equal with 19% (13/70) ninth graders, 27% (19/70) sophomores, 24% (17/70) juniors,

and 30% (21/70) seniors. The vast majority of the youth identified themselves as "white."

Racial and ethnic minorities were considerably under-represented, with less than 5% of

the youth identifying themselves as "African American," "Asian American, ""Native

American, ""Latino" or "other."The mean grade point average (GPA) of the youth

surveyed was 3.49 (with a standard deviation of .363). Therefore, in terms of their

socioeconomic status, racial-ethnic identity, and education, these youth differ from the

average American youth. Based on 1999 statistics from the U.S. Census, 63.8% of

young people who lived in families with a median income of $38,885 identified

themselves as "white." Eighty three percent graduated from high school, but only 24%

graduated from college.

Demographically the students involved in Sonlight were quite homogeneous

(mostly white, upper-middle class, and academically successful). It would be an

overstatement to assert they were "diverse," as they were a select group of relatively

affluent students who were privileged to be able to engage in self-actualization. Yet

these youth tended to consider themselves very different from each other, taking for

granted their demographic homogeneity, as they demonstrated a wide range of

extracurricular interests, belonging to various "cliques" that reflected their identities,

interests, and claims of individuality. The sample included a student body president,

band "nerds,"valedictorians, computer "geeks, "members of the varsity football,

baseball, tennis, soccer, and volleyball teams, "rave kids," cheerleaders, kids with body

piercings and tattoos, members of the homecoming court, and students labeled "losers

and rejects" by other students. And each week these youth set aside what they often

perceive to be vast differences to come together to participate in Sonlight's programs.

The youth were involved in ten "teams,"or project groups, and six interest

groups in addition to performing music. The core of the program was the weekly "Focus"

time in rehearsals, from which the "theme" of the year developed. During the year in

which this research was conducted (1999), the theme was "perspective."The songs and

activities revolved around various aspects of "perspective": defining, explaining,

applying, and expounding on the importance of recognizing that people's lives are

contextualized. According to Brown (1999), to view a subject/idea/event in perspective

one needs to place it in space and time. To give something its "relative importance," one

measures personal value against universal spiritual value. An individual's birth date,

birthplace, and upbringing create his/her space, time, and value index. Achieving

perspective begins by realizing that one's point of view is just that...a view from one

point in space and time. It involves seeing one's part as a mere piece of the whole.

Thus, Brown and 70 members of Sonlight, along with chaperones, sound technicians,

and staff traveled to Colorado in the summer of 1999 for a "perspective jolt"-to see

"natural wonders" that spanned across time and space incomparable to those found in

north central Florida, and to engage in activities and share experiences that emphasized

a pluralistic point of view. Readers may recall that on April 20,1999, two Columbine High

School students took the lives of 12 of their classmates, one teacher, and themselves as

they held their high school captive in a terrorizing act, becoming a symbol of the

proliferation of violence in schools. Sociologists have noted that this type of violence is

often taken for granted in urban, lower socioeconomic schools, where the majority of

students are persons of color, which explains why the violence at Columbine a majority

white, affluent school garnered such media attention (Adler 1999, Dryfoos 1999,


Gegaz & Bai 1999, Janosky 2001, Males 1999). Although the Sonlight itinerary was set

months before the murders at Columbine, coincidentally the first stop was to pay tribute

to the high school in Littleton.

Participant observation and interviews of Sonlight members. Brown allowed

me to accompany the youth on their trip to Colorado so that I could complete this

research. (It might be important to note that the local newspaper, The Gainesville Sun,

ran a series of stories about Sonlight's trip to Colorado and pleaded with Brown to allow

one of their journalists to travel with the choir. She refused, emphasizing that she did not

want to sensationalize the event, nor place too much focus on the shootings at

Columbine.) Brown also worried that a having a stranger along on the trip might have a

"chilling effect" for the youth involved.

My presence was not obtrusive since the members were familiar with me through

my past involvement with the program. I was a member of the choir in middle school

and high school (1988-1994) and returned after graduation to serve as an intern,

working closely with the program from 1994-1999. From 2000-2001 I worked more

behind the scenes on an archiving project, but was still involved and often present.

During the 1998-1999 school year when I conducted the interviews, I was actively

involved with the program. I was present at all of the weekly activities, interacted with

the members at rehearsals and meetings, and facilitated the "women's group."

As an intern (a position that I shared with another college student) I was a liaison

with the youth, helping the committees carry out the activities and programs that they

designed and planned. Although I did not primarily assist with the musical end of things,

the musicians all knew me, as I gave them reminder calls each week throughout the

school year, recorded the weekly message on the phone line, set up the equipment for


their rehearsals, copied their music and maintained their music notebooks and files, as

well as a multitude of other tasks. The majority of my responsibilities centered around

assisting the leadership teams and working on the "Focus" themes. I worked

approximately 10-30 hours a week as an intern for Sonlight. Most, if not all, of the

members who went on summer tour in 1999 already knew who I was. Actually, due to

the "script" I relied on to introduce and identify myself in frequent reminder calls and

announcements, I was known as "Kristin from Sonlight" (said in a very high pitched

voice, with inflection at the end of the phrase). The youth did not see me as an adult

"authority figure," instead I was somewhere between "member" and "adult." I was in a

liminal stage of "college-age graduate," just a few years older than the current members,

but not far enough removed that I was treated as imposing or as other authority figures

in their lives.

Two weeks before the choir departed on its summer tour, the informed consent

of each youth's parent was obtained. This was an efficient process because the parents

were required to sign a number of forms and make the final payments for the trip at an

event called "Parents' Night."l approached each parent with the Instructional Research

Board approved materials and explained that I was a graduate student at UF conducting

research for my dissertation. All of the parents willingly signed the consents, and I

reassured them that it would be up to their daughter or son whether or not they were to

be interviewed, based on their response to the assent script. Each parent was given a

copy of the consent document along with contact information in case of questions or


Before departure, and again on the first night of tour, it was announced to the

youth that I would be approaching each of them to request an interview, and that I would

be observing and taking notes along the way. The majority of the interviews were

conducted on bus rides. I was careful to select individuals who did not appear to be

otherwise occupied, choosing those who were sitting quietly, listening to CDs on a

walkman, looking out the window, or resting. I reassured them that the interview would

not last long and that they could discontinue their participation at any point. None of the

youth refused to do an interview. Most were more than willing, and a number of times

enthusiastic (or bored) youth asked if I wanted to interview them or repeatedly reminded

me that they were waiting to be interviewed. Some of the interviews took place during

extended periods of free time, while "hanging out" in the afternoons, or in the evenings

at hotels, or on the flight back to Florida.

Due to technical difficulties, six interviews were conducted by phone the week

following the trip, with the help of the choir president. The quantitative data pertaining to

the importance of various goals from 12 of the interviews are not reported, as they were

lost due to equipment failure. However, their qualitative responses addressing the

definition of "success" were intact and are included in the analysis. The interview

instrument also included questions specific to the events at Columbine High School,

which was the focus of my master's thesis.

In addition to the 70 interviews, observations attained during my extensive work

with the youth and the program provided a plethora of information about the experiences

of white, upper-middle class youth in America today and their future goals, expectations,

and aspirations. The qualitative data analysis software package, QSR Nud*st was used

to examine the data. Although the findings cannot be generalized to all high schoolers,

this study provided rich and vivid qualitative accounts of the future goals of a select

group of relatively privileged, motivated, and engaged young people.


See attached IRB approved interview Instrument.

Assumptions and Limitations of the Study

Limitations of Monitoring the Future Analysis

The sample data were weighted for characteristics of the school which the

student attended. The majority of this study was limited to an analysis of the data

obtained from students who indicated their race to be "white." Black students were also

included in the overall MTF analysis, but because the available data did not provide

specific information about those students who reported having a race other than white or

black, I did not attempt to include the "other" category in my analyses. Since all of the

youth I interviewed identified themselves as white, black students were excluded from

the analysis of MTF that matched the demographic of the interview sample. This is one

major limitation of the data, and future studies should certainly take issues of race and

ethnicity into consideration, focusing on the future goals and values of students of color.

Another major limitation of the sampling procedure is that it does not include the

youth who drop out of high school within the few months before graduation. It is

estimated that this exclusion is just a small proportion of each cohort, around 15%

(Johnston, Bachman, & O'Malley 1999). These youth are not unimportant; they exhibit

certain behaviors, such as illicit drug use and delinquency, at levels that tend to be

higher than the norm. However, the additional costs related to including the drop-outs

would be immense because of the difficulty in locating these youth, and their general

resistance to being interviewed. Furthermore, the current study is specifically interested

in the attitudes of high school students, especially those that are engaged, and thus the

small percentage who drop out are not included in this target group, although they may

be an important focus for other studies. Additionally, the conclusions drawn from the

current study are not meant to be extrapolated to all youth of this age group; they

remain valid for only high school students.

Although the samples for this study are meant to be representative of high

school students throughout the U.S., there are four additional ways in which the survey

data may not be fully representative of all high school students, according to the MTF

codebook (Johnston, Bachman & O'Malley 1999). These considerations may limit the

degree to which the collected data are valid.

First, some sampled schools refused to participate, and this could introduce

some bias. In the 23 years of Monitoring the Future's annual surveys, participation of

schools has ranged between 66% and 80%, and those who refused were replaced with

similar schools in terms of size, geographic area, urban/city, and size of senior class.

Second, the failure to obtain questionnaire data from 100% of the students

sampled in participating schools may also introduce bias. Completed questionnaires

were obtained from three-quarters to four-fifths of all students sampled. The most

common reason for having missed a student is their absence from school. However, the

difficultly in rescheduling interviews is difficult. Students with high rates of absenteeism

tend to report more drug use than the average, therefore, there is some degree of

biased introduced by excluding the absent students, but estimates have determined the

percentage to be quite small, so the use of weighting procedures is not necessary.

Some students refused to complete or turn in a questionnaire, but this proportion is only

about one percent.

Third, the validity of self report data may be questioned, especially in regards to

drug use and delinquency issues. Still, the present study does not include direct,

objective validation of the measures because existing inferential evidence suggests that


the self report questions produce largely valid data. Furthermore, the questions used in

this survey have been developed specifically for this project through a process of

question writing, pilot testing, pre-testing, and question revision or elimination. Fourth,

sample size and/or design limitations could restrict the accuracy of estimates.

Issues of selectivity of the Monitoring the Future samples

It is important to mention issues of the selectivity of the samples, as they make it

impossible to draw conclusions about all American teenagers. Each of the three

samples involve different selectivity concerns. When looking at the data from the overall

MTF, being limited to only students who were present in school when the research was

conducted tends to exclude from the sample young people of the same age who have

dropped out of school and students with poor attendance. For example, the importance

ratings of some of the future goals may have been overestimated in favor of higher

aspirations relating to career and philanthropic issues (as the data indicated that

students with lower GPAs were more likely to value money and less likely to value

helping others).

Additionally, the overall MTF includes only students who identify themselves as

white or black (other persons of color were marked "other" and deleted from the

analysis). This may potentially lead to an understatement of the goals of persons of

color and persons from lower socioeconomic statuses. This may have the effect of

skewing the goal ratings in favor of the values of representing a privileged white voice.

For instance, one minority group that is completely excluded from all three samples are

Asian-American students. These students are often more academically engaged than

most, and are likely to place importance on goals related to being a success in their

lines of work and having good marriage and family lives. In addition, African-Americans


have historically placed high value on the importance of community and collectivity, but

by under-representing students who identify themselves as black in the overall MTF and

excluding them entirely from the rest of the study, the importance ratings of goals

related to connecting with others may be understated, when compared to the entire

population of teenagers.

There are also issues of selectivity when comparing the data from MTF to the

sample of youth who participated in Sonlight. As previously mentioned, just under half of

the youth in Sonlight grew up in the church, and about half of the remaining youth were

from a Protestant Christian background. Therefore, those who were conservative or

fundamentalist Christians, Catholics, Jews, or affiliated with other religious traditions, as

well as those who were not affiliated with any religion, were under-represented in this

study. This may potentially affect the importance ratings of goals by placing greater

emphasis on more liberal ideals, such as educational attainment or philanthropic

notions of equality and social justice. Additionally, only 32% of the sample of Sonlight

members were guys, which is substantially lower than the proportion of all American

teenage guys. This potentially has the effect of overemphasizing the importance of

goals related to connecting with others and making a difference in the world, and under-

representing goals related to careers and financial success. Research consistently

indicates that high school girls place more value on social values, while guys tend to

emphasize career and financial achievement.

It should also be noted that the members of Sonlight were all residents of a

medium sized university town located in the South; therefore they were more affluent

and their family lives were more stable than those of a random sampling of American

teenagers. These youth may have been more likely to emphasize the importance of

philanthropy and self-realization than all young people, because of their privileged

status. Finally, the members of Sonlight who participated in this study were a select

group of the larger organization. As previously mentioned, not all members of the

program go on the summer tour. Those who have high attendance, are involved in the

leadership teams and service groups, and are musically or artistically talented are more

likely to go on tour. Recall that all of the youth who went on tour in 1999 participated in

this study. These highly involved youth were potentially more likely to stress the

importance of education and career goals, as many were high achieving students. Most

importantly, they were also likely to make statements reflecting the values curriculum of

the Sonlight program (emphasizing the importance of philanthropy and self-realization

over financial and material success). Although these statements addressing the possible

selectivity of the samples should not be ignored, they do not discount the importance of

the findings.

These limitations should not impede on the significance of the findings of this

study. These data are the most appropriate survey for the current study because MTF is

the most current large probability sample of high school youth data available. It

succeeds in providing both an accurate and systematic description of the youth on

important issues such as expectations, aspirations, and future goals in a manner that no

other survey addresses. Furthermore, the 83% response rate of the students is

impressive and allows the sample to be useful and nearly representative of high school

students in America today.

Limitations of the Data from Sonlight

The students who participated in my interviews were all white, upper-middle

class, academically successful, and engaged in extracurricular activities. Thus, this

sample cannot not be generalized for all American teenagers. Additionally, these young

people were all members of a local youth organization and may offer similar accounts,

given their shared experiences. However, it is an important beginning, and in the future I

hope to expand the qualitative component of my research to other diverse groups such

as racial and ethnic minorities and those of lower socioeconomic status.

Data Analysis

First I did a preliminary analysis of the 1999 MTF and noticed significant

disparities between the importance ratings of various future goals. I decided to interview

local teenagers in hopes of finding out how they defined "success," and what their future

goals might be. After conducting the interviews I went back to the MTF data and

constructed a sub-sample with demographic characteristics more similar to those of the

youth I interviewed to enable a closer comparison between the national data and the

accounts of the teenagers I interviewed. The sub-sample consisted only of students who

identified themselves as "white" and whose fathers had attended college (and were thus

likely to be of a higher than average socioeconomic status). I created and analyzed a

series of cross-tabs looking at the associations between various demographic variables

and how importantly young people rated these future goals. A number of tables were

generated, listing the goals in descending order of importance (that is, the goals

considered important by the most students are listed at the top, and those which the

least students rated important are at the bottom).

I then began to analyze the qualitative interviews, utilizing Nud*ist. I created

similar tables as to their importance rating of four goals, and then focused on the

responses to the open-ended questions about defining "success." I selected quotes

based on their frequency (those that appeared most often), salience (statements that

offered rich detail, about which the respondent was remarkably passionate, or held deep


and profound meaning), as well as mentioning quotes which seemed atypical (the

exceptions to the patterns, those that differed from the others). As patterns emerged,

the data were coded and sorted into various groups and categories by theme. As a

result, four clear themes of what "success" means to young people became clear.

Implicit in these themes were notions of what the youth considered most important-that

is, their values.


Popular images and stereotypes lead one to assume that young people today

are focused on "making lots of money" and "being a success in their line of work," rather

than helping others and valuing quality family life. While working on a paper for an

introductory methods course my first semester of graduate school, I ran across statistics

from a national representative study of American high school students supporting these

assumptions: 89% of the students reported that it was quite or extremely important to

"be a success in their line of work," 66% of the students reported that it was quite or

extremely important to "have lots of money," while only 22% of the students reported

that it was quite or extremely important to "make a contribution to society" (Johnston,

Bachman, & O'Malley 1999). I found this interesting and speculated as to what was

behind these numbers and what implications they inferred. At the time, I was working

with a local youth organization and thought that these statistics were somewhat

contradictory with the future goals and values of the 150+ teenagers that I observed.

The young people I worked with did care about the well-being of others. They

often talked of not really knowing what they wanted to do after college, but they aspired

to "make a difference in the world." Yes, many of the teenagers were also very focused

on material possessions: wearing the newest fashions, and driving the "cool" cars with

phatt" sound systems. At the same time, many of the youth were highly motivated,

academically successful, involved in numerous activities and sports, and struggling with

planning for their future. GPAs, SAT scores, and college applications were a burden and


the source of much stress. Competition to "succeed" and "be the best" academically,

athletically, and even socially were constant pressures. Taking the scene at face value,

one could have easily concluded that these were just a bunch of stereotypical teenagers

and that most, if not all teenagers were the self-centered adolescents often portrayed in

the media. But when speaking to the youth and listening to them struggle with questions

about "who they are" and "what they want to do with their lives," superficial is an

inappropriate label for the teenagers.

Not only did these youth talk about their philanthropic aspirations, their actions

evidenced their convictions to "change the world." Each year groups of these teenagers

put together teams and committees in an effort to "make a difference." They donated

thousands of dollars of products for people living with AIDS, served meals at a local

homeless shelter, built and renovated homes in the Appalachian mountains, developed

an after school tutoring program, went on service projects to Mexico and the streets of

Philadelphia, among other activities. During the interviews, as well as in my roll as a

"college student intern" they spoke to me of their college plans, especially seniors, who

were required to declare their major in college during the spring of their senior year.

Applying to college and worries about admission were frequent topics of conversation.

More often than not, they expressed a sense of confusion or conflict- wanting to pursue

a career that was meaningful but clear as to how that translated into a college major. In

general they lacked basic information about the possibilities from which to choose. It is

important to mention that this was not a representative sample of all American

teenagers. As mentioned in the previous chapter, the students were all white, college-

bound, and from relatively privileged families (middle/upper-middle class).

I wondered what factors might have caused the vast differences between my

own observation of teenagers and the statistical portrayal in MTF (showing that the vast

majority of high school students are focused on career and money goals, where very

few consider it important to help others and work for societal change). Was it entirely

due to the demographic differences between the privileged white youth with whom I

work and the much more diverse sample of the probability survey (including students

from all socioeconomic classes and various racial/ethnic backgrounds)? Has it always

been this way or is this a 90s/Millennial trend? Maybe the difference stems not just from

the demographic homogeneity of the youth with whom I worked, but is instead an

outcome of their common experience in a program (a "small world") that encouraged

them to think critically about their values, priorities, and goals.

In order to investigate these questions, I decided to begin by interviewing some

of the youth in the program about their future goals-how important they considered

"being a success" versus "making a contribution to society." The interviews were

qualitative in nature-asking the teenagers to define "success," give examples of people

they considered to be "successful," and to talk about their personal goals and

aspirations. I also planned to concurrently analyze data from MTF to take a closer look

at the results from the surveys and attempt to control for demographic characteristics.

Due to a timely opportunity to accompany the youth on a trip for 10 days during the

summer of 1999, I completed the interviews before analyzing the MTF data. However,

this enabled me to utilize the 1999 MTF results which were not released until late in

2000 so that the youth I interviewed were of the same cohort as the high school

students in the nationally representative survey.

Having described my research question, the existing literature, and the

population of interest in the previous chapters, this chapter and the subsequent chapters

of this dissertation are about the results of this study. Chapter 4 consists of the analysis

of the future goals of American youth through a data analysis from the full 1999 MTF. In

Chapter 5, I present the results from a sub-sample of MTF which is controlled for

race/ethnicity (only including students who identified themselves as white) and

socioeconomic status (selecting only those students whose fathers had a college

education or higher). Chapter 6 begins with trend data as a transition between the

quantitative survey analysis and the qualitative interviews. It may or may not come as a

surprise that this emphasis on "being a success" and "making lots of money" over

"making a contribution to society" is a relatively recent phenomenon. In order to better

understand how teenagers today define "success," given that aforementioned trends

indicate its importance has increased remarkably, the focus of this chapter is the

analysis of 70 interviews with local teenagers, all members of the same youth

organization, detailing the patterns and themes that emerged in their accounts of "what

it means to be a success." Finally, Chapter 7 concludes with a discussion of use of

statistics and large scale probability surveys like those from MTF, discussing in

particular how these types of "normative" studies can hide smaller patterns within

distinct subgroups ("small worlds") of the population. I close with an exploration of the

implications of the results.

Results from Monitoring the Future: Overall Importance of Future Goals

In order to examine the overall importance of 12 future goals to American

teenagers, I began by looking at the frequency distribution of the responses of 2224

high school seniors. (Note: though MTF is administered to a probability sample of over

60,00 students each year, the section of questions about future goals is only given to

high school seniors.) The students did not rank the 12 goals in order of importance;

instead, they were asked to evaluate each goal individually, and rate it as "extremely,"

"quite," "somewhat," or "not" important. In order to evaluate and compare the goals, I

have listed them in "ranked" order. The goals which the highest portion of students

ranked "extremely important" are first, and those ranked "extremely important" by the

lowest percentage of students are last (see Table 1). It is also telling to look at the other

extreme, that is, students who responded that the goal was "not important." One would

think that these two lists would be mirror opposites, and for the most part, they are.

However, it is significant to notice the vast difference in the percentage of students who

rate some goals as "not" important versus those who consider other goals "extremely"

important. (I also did similar rankings by adding the proportion of the students who

reported "extremely" plus "quite," and usually the rank order came out almost identical.

See Table 1.)

Looking at the table of results, one can see that certain goals were considered

"quite or extremely important" by a vast majority of the students. Being able to find

steady work, having strong friendships, being able to give children better opportunities,"

"having a good marriage and family life, and "being successful at work" were all rated as

being "quite or extremely important" by more than 89% of American teenagers. Yet, less

than 1/4 of the students ranked making a contribution to society, working to correct

social and economic inequalities, or being a leader in their community as extremely

important. Looking at the other end of the scale reiterates that same point. Over 20% of

students said working to correct inequalities or being a leader in their community were

"not important" to them, versus less than 2.1% of students who said that having strong

friendships, finding steady work, having plenty of time for recreation and hobbies, being

successful at work, and giving their children better opportunities were "not important" to

them. It is clear that overall, American high school students rate certain goals,

specifically those that relate to career/financial issues and connecting with others, as

"very important" in their lives, while they tend to consider philanthropic goals as "less

important," or not important at all.

Race and Students' Future Goals

Race is controlled for in the sample as a means to determine whether

differences between the responses of the MTF and sub-sample can be attributed to

students' social locations. In MTF, 83.4% of the sample identified themselves as white

and 16.6% of the sample identified themselves as black. Those who identified

themselves as "other" were omitted, resulting in an N ranging from a low of 1780 to a

high of 1796. There was a statistically significant difference between black and white

students' rating of future goals in all but two goals (having a good marriage and family

life and making a contribution to society). Black students were more concerned with

financial security and connecting with friends and family than self-realization or

philanthropy. For example, the top five goals rated as "quite or extremely important" by

over 82% black students included finding steady work, giving children better

opportunities, finding purpose in life, having a good marriage and family life, and having

strong friendships. In comparison, the top five goals for over 89% of the white students

were having strong friendships, finding steady work, having a good marriage and family

life, giving children better opportunities, and being successful at work. A notable

difference is that 77% of black students consider making lots of money "quite or

extremely important" compared to only 58% of white students. Additionally, looking at

the goals rated "not important" also provides interesting differences. The goal that both

black (15%) and white (22%) students rate as "not important" is working to correct

inequality. A summary of these data appears in Table 2.

Father's Education and Students' Future Goals

This study utilized father's education as an indicator of SES. In order to confirm

that there are differences due to SES, father's education was controlled for in the sub-

sample. The highest level of education for 27.8% of the students' fathers was high

school graduation. A college degree is the highest level of father's education for 23.8%

of the students. MTF included seven categories for this variable, however, I combined

the categories and only those that were similar to the parents of the youth who

participated in Sonlight were included in this analysis. There were no significant

differences between students whose fathers had high school diplomas and those whose

fathers had college degrees for five of the twelve goals: being a success at work,

having a good marriage and family life, finding steady work, being a leader in the

community, and finding purpose in life. The two notable differences between students

whose fathers only graduated from high school versus those whose fathers earned

college degrees was the percentage of students who rated having lots of money (68%,

61 %) and making a contribution to society (59%, 67%) "quite or extremely important."

Students whose fathers had higher levels of education were more likely to consider

making a contribution to society important and less likely to say having lots of money is

important. A comparison with existing literature indicates that students from high SES

families tend to aspire to high SES careers, and students from low SES families tend to

have occupational goals consistent with the SES of their families (Wilson, Peterson, and

Wilson, 1993). Some theorists, like Biblarz, Bengston, and Bucur (1996) disagree,

asserting that the influence of SES on young people's job choices is weaker now than it

has been in the past. My results indicate that SES (as indicated by father's education)

has a significant effect on the future goals of teenagers, at least for the majority of the

12 goals measured. A summary of these data appears in Table 3.

Mother's Education and Students' Future Goals

Mother's education was controlled for in the sample as a means to confirm that

there were statistical differences due to mother's education but that it was not as sizable

as father's education. Again, MTF included seven categories for this variable, but I

combined the categories and only those that were similar to the parents of the youth

who participated in Sonlight were included in this analysis. The highest level of

education for 29.1% of the students' mothers was high school graduation. A college

degree was the highest level of education attained by the mothers of 25.7% of the

students. It is interesting to note that the percentage of students whose mothers had

both high school and college diplomas was higher than the percentage of students

whose fathers had the same. It is likely that more than one factor can account for these

phenomena. Women now comprise 57% of all college graduates in the United States

(U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of

Education Statistics 1998). However, more men complete graduate or professional

degrees. A summary of these data appears in Table 4.

There were no significant differences in the rankings between students whose

mothers had high school diplomas and those whose mothers had college degrees on

five of the twelve goals. For mothers as well as fathers, the two goals for which mother's

education seems to make a difference were having lots of money (66%, 60%) and

making a contribution to society (59%, 66%). That is, students whose mothers had

higher levels of education were more likely to consider making a contribution to society

important and less likely to say having lots of money was important.

Gender and Students' Future Goals

The number of participants for the entire MTF sample ranged from 2168 to 2186,

depending on missing values. Fifty two percent were identified as girls, and 48% as

guys (see Table 5). Throughout this study, I refer to the high school students with the

colloquial terms "guys" and "girls," as opposed to the academic tradition of "young men"

and "young women." My rationale for using this terminology is to remain consistent with

the language most often used by the students themselves.

Overall, there were statistically significant differences between the responses of

the girls and the guys for all of the goals. Differences are especially notable when

looking at the extreme levels: guys were much more concerned with monetary goals and

having time for recreation than were girls, though they were similarly interested in career

goals. There were a number of goals that girls rated as more important than did guys.

Finding purpose in life was rated as "extremely important" by 63% of girls versus 55% of

guys. Girls and guys had similar evaluations of the importance of making a contribution

to society (both 22% of girls and guys considered it "extremely important") yet only 3%

of girls compared with 8% of guys said it was "not important" to make a contribution to

society. In general, girls indicated they were more concerned with socially oriented goals

than were guys, though the differences were not vast. A summary of these data appears

in Table 5.


Next I will be detailing the results from the matching MTF. The matching MTF is

a sub-sample of the entire MTF, which controlled for race and socioeconomic status; it

was restricted to just white students whose fathers graduated from college. Its design

was intended to "match" or approximate the demographic characteristics of the 70 youth

I interviewed, as they constitute a more privileged group. This analysis was conducted in

an effort to investigate whether the differences between the youth I interviewed and the

statistical "norm" of high school students on their importance ratings of future goals can


be attributed to demographic variables such as racial characteristics or relative access

to resources due to SES. Also in Chapter 5, I present the importance ratings of

quantitative results from the teenagers interviewed in comparison with both the

matching MTF sample and the statistics from the entire MTF, hypothesizing that the

responses from the interviews I conducted will be more similar to those of the matching

MTF than the overall MTF. It is expected that their relative evaluations of goals related

to "making a difference in the world" versus the importance of financial and material

goals may show an even wider variation from the overall MTF than the do the matching

MTF, due to their unique experiences as members of a local youth organization, which

will be discussed in Chapter 7. At the end of Chapter 6, I conclude the quantitative

portion of this dissertation by looking at trend data which examine how high school

students' importance ratings of future goals has changed in the past 30 years, becoming

more focused on career and financial goals while the importance of philanthropic goals

has decreased. The importance ratings teenagers give to goals related to self-

realization (achieving one's own goals) and connecting with friends and family members

have not changed significantly over time.

Table 1- Importance Ratings of Future Goals from MTF

Theme & Goal Rating Rating
(q+e ranks, not ranks) q + e (%) not (%)
Career & financial 89.3 2.0
Being a success in my line of work (5, 9)
Having lots of money (8, 5) 62.7 5.8
Being able to find steady work (1, 11) 94.1 1.5
Giving my children better opportunities than I've had 92.0 2.1
Relationships 91.7 2.8
Having a good marriage and family life (4, 7)
Making strong friendships (2, 12) 92.5 1.1
Self realization 75.9 1.8
Having plenty of time for recreation and hobbies (7,
Discovering new ways to experience things (10, 3) 60.8 6.5
Finding purpose in my life (6, 6) 86 3.6
Philanthropy 62.5 5.9
Making a contribution to society (9, 4)
Being a leader in my community (11,2) 41.4 21.1
Working to correct social and economic inequalities 33.6 21.4
N = 2337

Table 2- Race & Importance Ratings of Future Goals from MTF

Theme & Goal n/p Rating White Black
(Ranks: white, black, entire) ____ ____ (83.4%) (16.6%)
Career & financial n=1791 q + e 89.0 77.3
Being a success in my line of work LR=.000a
(5,6,5) not 1.3 2.7
Having lots of money (10, 7, 8) n=1793 q + e 57.8 76.4
not 7.1 4.3
Being able to find steady work n=1792 q + e 93.6 97.4
(2,1,1) LR=.00OOOt 1.
not 1.5 1.0

Giving my children better n=1780 q + e 90.3 96.7
opportunities than I've had (4, 2, 3) LR=.000 .
not 2.3 2.0

Relationships n=1970 q + e 93.0 91.0
Having a good marriage and family LR=.642
life (3, 4, 4) not 2.4 3.0
Making strong friendships (1, 5, 2) n=1796 q + e 96.3 82.0
not 0.5 4.7
Self realization n=1796 q + e 78.5 63.5
Having plenty of time for recreation LR=.000' -
and hobbies (7, 8, 7) not 1.1 3.3
Discovering new ways to n=1796 q + e 60.0 61.0
experience things (9, 10, 10) LR=.025 n 7 7
not 7.5 7.7
Finding purpose in my life (6, 3, 6) n=1793 q + e 85.0 91.4
not 4.2 0.7
Philanthropy n=1786 q + e 63.6 62.5
Making a contribution to society LR=.303 ----
(8, 9, 9) not 5.6 7.1
Being a leader in my community n=1794 q + e 39.9 48.5
( 1 1 1 1 1 1 ) L R = .0 0 0 n t2 .1 5
not 21.1 15.4
Working to correct social and n=1793 q + e 30.3 43.5
economic inequalities (12, 12, 12) LR=.000 n --
onecelnot 22.8 15.7
a = one cell with less than minimum expected value

Table 3- Father's Education & Importance Ratings of Future Goals from MTF

Theme & Goal n/p Rating College High School
(Ranks: college, high school, (23.8%) (27.8%)
entire) _____ _______ ______
Career & financial n=2034 q+ e 91.0 90.8
Being a success in my line of work LR=.235a not 1.7 1.8
(4, 5, 5) ____not ____ _____
Having lots of money (10, 8, 8) n=2036 q+ e 60.8 67.6
LR=.009a not 7.0 5.7
Being able to find steady work (1, n=2035 q + e 94.9 95.6
1, 1) LR=.433' not 1.2 0.5
Giving my children better n=2024 q + e 90.8 93.8
opportunities than I've had LR=.0Oa not 0.
(5, 2, 3) ____not___ ___07__
Relationships n=2033 q+ e 93.2 92.1
Having a good marriage and LR=.846a not 1.9 .1
family life (3, 4, 4) 1____not___ 9___ 2_____
Making strong friendships n=2041 q+ e 93.6 93.5
(2,3,2) LR=.001a not 1.2 0.7
Self realization n=2039 q+ e 77.9 75.5
Having plenty of time for LR=.000a not 1.0 1.1
recreation and hobbies (7, 7, 7) ____ not________ 1_____
Discovering new ways to n=2040 + e 60.9 58.6
experience things (9, 9, 10) LR=.045a not 7.0 7.6
Finding purpose in my life n=2037 q + e 86.2 86.7
(6, 6, 6) LR=.603a not 4.3 3.4
Philanthropy n=2030 q + e 67.1 58.5
Making a contribution to society LR=.0008 not 5.8 5.5
(8,10,9) not___58____55_____
Being a leader in my community n=2036 + e 43.4 37.3
(11, 11, 11) LR=.428 not 19.0 23.5
Working to correct social and n=2036 q + e 32.6 31.8
economic inequalities LR=.064 n 2 2
(12, 12,12) not 1.1 1.9
r = some cells (5 or less) with less than minimum expected value

Table 4- Mother's Education & Importance Ratings of Future Goals from MTF

Theme & Goal n/p Rating College High
(Ranks: college, high school, (23.8%) School
entire) __ ____________(27.8%)
Career & financial n=2107 q+ e 91.3 90.7
Being a success in my line of work LR=.458a not 1.5 1.6
(5, 5, 5)___________________
Having lots of money (10, 8, 8) n=2109 q+ e 59.3 65.7
LR=.098a not 7.9 5.4
Being able to find steady work (3, n=2107 q+ e 93.8 95.0
1,1) LR=.901a not 1.5 1.1
Giving my children better n=2097 q+ e 95.6 92.6
opportunities than I've had LR=.OOO" not 2.6 1.8
(1,4, 3)_________________________
Relationships n=2107 q+ e 93.0 93.0
Having a good marriage and LR=.371a not 2.0 3.1
family life (4, 3, 4)__ ____________
Making strong friendships n=2112 q+ e 94.2 93.4
(2,2, 2) LR=.021a not 0.9 1.1
Self realization n=2112 q+ e 77.9 74.3
Having plenty of time for LR=.014a nt 1.1 1.3
recreation and hobbies (7, 7, 7) ____n ___ _____ ________
Discovering new ways to n=2113 q + e 60.3 57.5
experience things (9,10,10) LR=.591" not 6.8 7.0
Finding purpose in my life n=2110 q + e 84.4 84.8
(6, 6, 6) LR=.053a not 3.1 4.4
Philanthropy n=2103 q + e 65.9 58.7
Making a contribution to society LR=.020a not 5.0 6.8
(8, 9, 9)____ ______________
Being a leader in my community n=2109 q + e 42.6 38.0
(11, 11, 11) LR=.148 not 18.6 23.3
Working to correct social and n=2109 q + e 32.4 29.6
economic inequalities LR=.012 not 21.7 1.8
(12,12,12) r_____ o_____ 2
= some cells (4 or less) with less than minimum expected value

Table 5- Gender & Importance Ratings of Future Goals from MTF

Theme & Goal n/p Rating Girls Guys
(Ranks: girls, guys, entire) ___________(52%) (48%)
Career & financial n= 2181 q + e 91.5 88.9
Being a success in my line of LR= .003
work (5, 5, 5) not .06 2.5
Having lots of money (10, 8, 8) n = 2183 q + e 58.5 67.7
LR =.000
not 6.8 5.2

Being able to find steady work n= 2181 q + e 95.7 92.7
(1, 1, 1) LR=.021 n2 2.
not 1.2 2.7

Giving my children better n= 2168 q + e 92.1 91.4
opportunities than I've had LR= .068
(4,3,3) not 1.2 2.7

Relationships n= 2179 q + e 94.1 90.0
Having a good marriage and LR= .000
family life (2, 4, 4) not 2.3 2.7
Making strong friendships (3, 2, 2) n= 2186 q + e 92.9 92.5
not 1.1 1.5
Self realization n=2185 q + e 69.8 83.0
Having plenty of time for LR= .000
recreation and hobbies (7, 7, 7) not 2.0 1.4
Discovering new ways to n= 2185 q + e 58.7 63.1
experience things (9, 9, 10) LR =.054
not 7.3 6.9

Finding purpose in my life (6, 6, 6) n= 2182 q + e 84.3 88.3
not 5.2 2.1
Philanthropy n=2176 q + e 65.4 62.0
Making a contribution to society LR= .000
(8, 10, 9) not 2.9 8.2
Being a leader in my community n=2182 q + e 29.5 44.1
( 1 2 1 1 1 1 ) L R = .0 1 5 n t1 .2 .
not 19.5 21.5

Working to correct social and n= 2182 q + e 34.6 33.3
economic inequalities (11, 12,12) LR= .000 n 1 2
_________________ ______not 17.3 24.5


In an attempt to more closely approximate the demographic characteristics of the

teenagers I interviewed, the analyses in this chapter are restricted to students who

identified themselves as "white" and whose fathers had a college education or higher.

Each of the variables below-gender, GPA, high school program, and expectations to

graduate from college- were selected because they are measures on which the youth

from which the qualitative data were gathered differ from the statistical mean of the

overall MTF.

Comparison of Future Goals Ratings:
Overall Monitoring the Future and Sub-sample

Looking at the summary table of the results from the matching MTF sample, the

five goals that were most likely to be rated "quite or extremely important" are consistent

with those included in the overall MTF, though they are in a somewhat different order

(see Table 6). The top five goals according to the white, higher SES students include:

having strong friendships, having a good marriage and family life, finding steady work,

giving children better opportunities, and being successful at work; over 89% of white,

privileged youth consider these goals "quite or extremely important." Yet, less than 1/4

of the students ranked working to correct inequalities, being a leader in the community,

having lots of money, and making a contribution to society as "extremely important."

This list is the same as the overall sample, representative of all American high school

students, with the addition of the goal of having lots of money. This may be because the

higher SES students take for granted their positions of privilege. When looking at the

other extreme, the five goals most frequently rated "not important" include working to

correct inequality, being a leader in my community, having new experiences, having lots

of money, and making a contribution to society. Again, these are the same five goals

that the overall MTF sample rated "not important." Thus, it is clear that the matching

subgroup of white, higher SES students does not differ notably from all American high

school students in terms of how important they consider these future goals. They rate

certain goals, specifically those that relate to career/financial issues and connecting with

others as very important in their lives; while they tend to consider philanthropic goals as

less important, or not important at all. A summary of these data appears in Table 6.

Gender and Sub-sample Students' Future Goals

When controlling for Race and SES, the gender differences within five of the

twelve goals became insignificant (see Table 7). Those goals included: being a success

in my line of work, being able to find steady work, giving my children better

opportunities, discovering new ways to experience things, and being a leader in my

community. Contrasting the entire MTF with the matching MTF, four notable differences

became apparent. Overall, being a success was rated as less important by both the girls

and the guys in the matching sub-sample MTF which is restricted to white, affluent,

college-bound students. This pattern is reversed for one other goal; the privileged

students were less likely to indicate that having lots of money was extremely important.

Clearly these data show that gender matters in terms of young peoples' future goals.

Furthermore, how gender matters varies by socioeconomic status, in that the

differences between the girls and guys were more apparent among those youth who

were less privileged.

Focusing on the responses of the matching MTF sub-samples, there are four

goals in which a significant difference between the ratings of the girls and guys

materialize. One quarter of the guys compared to 9.1% of the girls rated having lots of

money as extremely important. Forty-two percent of the guys said having plenty of time

for recreation and hobbies was extremely important, versus 28.6% of the girls. Almost

three times as many guys than girls reported making a contribution to society was not

important, though this is still a small portion of the overall sample (8.2%, 2.9%). A

summary of these data appears in Table 7.

Grades and Sub-sample Students' Future Goals

Although MTF examines grade point average (GPA) along the complete 4.0

scale, I restrict my analyses to A, B+, and C, as conceptually this seems to be the most

appropriate, as only 12.7% of the MTF sample reported having GPAs below C, thus they

were excluded from this analysis. Although it may be more traditional to examine A, B,

and C, I selected to use the B+ category in order to directly compare the MTF sample to

the youth I interviewed (who reported their mean GPA to be a B+). When controlling for

Race and SES, the GPA differences within three of the twelve goals lost its significance.

Those goals included: being a success in my line of work, being able to find steady

work, and discovering new ways to experience things. Contrasting the entire MTF with

the matching MTF, all of the ranks were similar except for the goal of having plenty of

time for recreation and hobbies; this goal was fourth of on the list of importance in the

entire MTF and it went down in rank to seventh for the matching MTF. A summary of

these data appears in Table 8.

Overall, students with higher grades were more concerned with philanthropic

goals than were students with lower grades. Interestingly, the students with lower


grades gave more importance to having lots of money than did the students with higher

grades. This finding is notable because doing well in school is positively associated with

income, so it seems that the students who are earning the lower grades might have

unrealistic expectations for their future earnings. Also, students with lower grades were

less concerned with philanthropic goals than were students with higher grades. This

might indicate that they were less motivated overall to engage in school, work, or

helping others. Students with lower grades (16.7%) were four times more likely than

those with higher grades (4.2%) to indicate that making a contribution to society was not

important. Finally, students with an A grade point averages (10.9%) were more than five

times as likely to say that working to correct social and economic inequalities was

extremely important than those with C grade point averages (2.8%).

High School Program and Sub-sample Students' Future Goals

Students were also asked in the MTF study to indicate which high school

program best describes their course of study: college prep, general,

vocationaVl/technical, or other. Consistent with GPA results above, the students in vo-

tech programs were more concerned with financial success and less concerned with

helping others than were students in college prep or general education tracks (see

Table 9). Again, this finding is notable because college bound students are likely to earn

thousands more each year than youth who do not attend college, thus the expectations

of the vo-tech students seems somewhat unrealistic, as Adults age 18 and over with a

bachelor's degree earned an average of $50,623 a year in 2001, while those with a high

school diploma earned $26,795 and those without a high school diploma averaged

$18,793 (U.S. Census Bureau 2002).

Focusing on the responses of the matching MTF group, there are five goals with

a significant difference between students in different high school programs. Students


enrolled in vocational/technical programs (35.6%) were twice as likely to rate having lots

of money as extremely important than those enrolled in college prep programs (15.0%).

At the other end of the spectrum, those students enrolled in college prep programs

(8.2%) were four times more likely to rate this goal as not important. The vast majority of

college prep students (84.8%) said that having a good marriage and family life was

extremely important compared to 68.9% of vocational/technical students. Students

enrolled in college prep programs were more than twice as likely to emphasize the

importance of philanthropic goals than were students in other educational tracks. A

summary of these data appears in Table 9.

Expectations to Graduate from College and Sub-sample Students' Future Goals

The MTF study queried students about their intentions to graduate from college;

responses were categorized as: "definitely will," "probably will," "probably won't," and

"definitely won't." Fully 70.5% of students said they definitely intended to graduate from

college (see Table 10). When controlling for Race and SES, three of the twelve goals

became insignificant. These goals included: making strong friendships, having plenty of

time for recreation and hobbies, and discovering new ways to experience things. Similar

to the findings for GPA, when contrasting the entire MTF with the matching MTF, all of

the ranks remained identical.

Again, consistent with the findings in the prior two sections, the students who

intended to attain college degrees were less concerned with financial success and more

concerned with self-realization and philanthropic goals. Focusing on the responses of

the matching MTF group, there were significant differences between students who

indicated they will definitely graduate from college with those who definitely will not on

six goals: having lots of money, having a good marriage and family life, finding purpose


in life, making a contribution to society, being a leader in their community, and working

to correct social and economic inequalities. For example, seven percent of students who

definitely plan to graduate from college said having lots of money was not important,

compared to just 1.8% of students who said they definitely will not graduate from

college; more than twice as many students who definitely will graduate from college

(29.5%) said making a contribution to society was extremely important, compared to

students who definitely won't graduate from college (13.0%). A summary of these data

appears in Table 10.

Goal Ratings of Monitoring the Future Sub-sample Compared with Sonlight

The teenagers who were interviewed for this study differ significantly from the

representative sample attained by MTF. Specifically, the Sonlight sample consists of all

of the youth who went on tour to Colorado-70 high school students, aged 14-18

(median age 16). The gender distribution was 68% girls and 32% guys. The distribution

across grades was roughly equal with 19% ninth graders, 27% sophomores, 24%

juniors, and 30% seniors. The vast majority of the youth identified themselves as

"white"; racial and ethnic minorities are considerably under-represented with less than

five percent of the youth identifying themselves as "African-American," "Asian-

American," "Native-American," "Latino," or "other." The mean grade point average

(GPA) of the youths surveyed was 3.49 (with a standard deviation of .363). Most of the

students were from upper-middle class families. No data were gathered specifically

about income, but almost all of the youth who are over 16 years old had their own car

and their parents were professionals. Allreported that they expected to graduate from

college. Therefore, in terms of their socioeconomic status, racial-ethnic identity, and

education, these youth differ from the average American youth, who, based on 1998

statistics from the U.S. Census, live in families with a median income of $38,885. Of

these average American youth, 63.8% identify themselves as "white," 83% graduate

from high school, and only 24% graduate from college. Due to technical difficulties (data

lost in recording), these data are only available for 57 of the 70 youth interviewed. The

adjusted number of girls is 42 (72%) and guys is 16 (28%). Again, it is important to keep

in mind that this is not a probability sample and is in no way intended to be

representative of the experiences of all American teenagers.

*Gender: 46 Girls & 22 Guys
-Grade in School: 13 Ninth graders, 19 Sophomores, 17 Juniors, and 21 Seniors
*Median Age: 16 (range = 14-18)
-Grade Point Average = 3.493 (s.d. = .363)
*Race: all identified as white
*SES: Majority from upper-middle class families

Figure 6-Demographics of the Sonlight Members

During the interviews I asked the 70 youths to rate the importance of four goals.

Since the focus of the interviews was qualitative, I did not query the participants on all

12 of the future goals. Instead, I selected the three most relevant: being a success,

having lots of money, and making a contribution to society. Being a success is

commonly thought of as the epitome of future goals in our culture, it is the highest

achievement. The Focuses in Sonlight often asked the youth to think critically about the

material values that are often promoted and perpetuated in American society, and to

consider the importance of more philanthropically oriented goals such as helping and

connecting with others. Thus, for the purposes of the interviews, I asked the youth to

rate the importance of only these three goals. (Another reason for doing so was that the

focus of the interviews was to gain an understanding of how the youth constructed the

notion of success. I feared that if I first asked them to rate the importance of a series of

twelve goals before asking how they themselves defined the concept, they might be

likely to define the concept using the same goals that I had just mentioned. I did not

want to restrict the possibilities of their responses by offering them a list prior).

They were asked to use a rating scale identical to the one from MTF, ranging

between "extremely important," "quite important," "somewhat important," and "not

important." Note that the first question is truncated from the version in MTF which says,

"being a success in my line of work." The meanings of these two question differ

somewhat, as does their interpretation. The question from MTF is more specifically

career oriented than the open-ended version I asked. However, my purpose for doing so

was to open up the topic of "being a success" and not limit or specifically associate

"success" with work/career issues. Therefore, a direct comparison cannot be made

when looking at interview participants' ratings of the goal "being a success," and those

in MTF.

Eighty-three percent of the youth interviewed indicated that being a success was

"quite or extremely important," loosely compared with 88% of the MTF sub-sample who

responded that being a success in my line of work is "quite or extremely important" (see

Table 11). These statistics seem to suggest that being successful is both very important

to the youth I interviewed, and consistent with many white, upper-middle class American

youth, demonstrated in the sub-sample of MTF. However, a stark difference is seen

when looking at how important the interviewed students rated the other two goals:

having lots of money and making a contribution to society. Only 5% of the youth I

interviewed said having lots of money was "extremely important," compared with 18% of

the sub-sample from MTF. When I added those who rated having lots of money as quite

important, the percentage increased to just under one-quarter, compared with over half

of the sub-sample of MTF. Fully 22% of the students I interviewed said that having lots

of money was "not important," versus just 7.5% of the matching MTF sample. We can

see from these telling statistics that a substantial variation exists between the youth I

interviewed and other teenagers with similar demographics-as the teenagers with whom

I worked did not place the same value on having lots of money as do many young

Americans. Additionally, the youth placed much more emphasis on the importance of

helping others and making a difference in the world than do most high school students.

Almost half (48%) of the youth I interviewed said making a contribution to society was

"extremely important"--coupled with "quite important," the percentage rose to fully 86%.

In comparison, just under one-quarter of the matching MTF sample rated making a

contribution "extremely important" and when added to "quite important" the statistic rose

to just over two-thirds. Moreover, not a single participant in the interviews I conducted

reported that making a contribution to society was not an important future goal in their

life. A summary of these data appears in Table 11.

Some of these differences may be attributed to gender, as there were

substantially more girls interviewed than guys. There is a body of existing literature

supporting the notion that girls and women tend to value social and caring roles more so

than do boys and men (Gilligan 1992, Danzinger 1983, Marlino & Wilson 2002). To

examine these issues a bit more closely, I separated out the responses of the youth I

interviewed by gender. Contrary to findings in existing literature and popular notions, a

larger percentage of girls (45%) than guys (31 %) said that being a success is "extremely

important." However, when combining this number with those who said that it was "quite

important" the percentages are very similar: 81% of girls and 88% of guys. Only two

girls and none of the guys said that it was not important that they be a success. When

looking at the future goal of having lots of money, the responses of the youth

interviewed was remarkably different from the matching MTF sub-sample. Yet, a

comparison between girls and guys shows that there is not much difference. About half

of both girls and guys said that having lots of money was somewhat important, and

almost exactly one quarter of girls and guys rated this goal to be "quite or extremely


The greatest difference between the girls and guys interviewed appears in their

ratings of the importance of making a contribution to society. While none of the girls or

guys rated making a contribution to society as "not important," a much larger percentage

of girls consider it important than do guys, especially when looking at those who

consider it "extremely important." Sixty percent of girls rated making a contribution to

society "extremely important," while only 19% of guys did so. Almost all of the girls

(93%) and only 69% of the guys rated this goal "quite or extremely important." Even

though the girls seemed to value this goal more so than guys did, the emphasis here is

that the vast majority of both the girls and guys I interviewed said that it was very

important to them that they make a difference in the world, compared with two-thirds of

the matching MTF sample, and even less than the sample representative of all

American teenagers. Fewer of the young people I interviewed said that it was important

to make lots of money or be a success than the national sample of high school students

with "matching" demographics. A summary of these data appears in Tables 12-14.

Summary of Goal Rating Comparisons Between MTF and Sonlight Members

At the end of the 1990s, the high importance ratings for being a success and

having lots of money seemed almost understandable, given the context of

unprecedented economic prosperity, technological innovation, and political peace.

Pursuing a career and having a steady job was important, if not an economic necessity

for both girls and guys. Additionally, the late nineties brought about a time of increased

academic pressure on young people to have higher GPAs and standardized test scores.