The Impact of College Students’Life Stage


  • This article is based on the Carolyn Wood Sherif Award lecture by Irene Hanson Frieze, presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Boston, August 1990. This award is given annually by Division 35 (Psychology of Women) of the American Psychological Association in recognition of the recipient's research, teaching and mentoring, and leadership. We thank Josephine Olson and Margaret Signorella for their helpful and very insightful comments on an earlier version of this article

Address reprint requests to: Dr. Irene H. Frieze, Department of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260


Although a large body of research has investigated the possibility of motivational or attitudinal differences in women and men that would explain observable differences in levels of achievement, much of this research has failed to produce the expected results. It is proposed that the failure of researchers to consider the personal and contextual characteristics of their college student samples may have contributed to this lack of results. Some of the relevant variables include those provided by the (lack of) context of the typical laboratory experiment. Other context cues emerge from an analysis of the life stage of the typical research study participant. Predictions about achievement differences across the early adult years are outlined. This same life stage analysis is also briefly applied to other areas of gender research.