Linking Women's Roles and Personality at Midlife


  • The research reported in this article has been conducted with support from Boston University Graduate School, National Science Foundation Visiting Professorships for Women, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, the MacArthur Foundation Network for Research on Successful Midlife Development, Radcliffe Research Support and Midlife Program Grants from the Henry A. Murray Research Center, The University of Michigan Horace H. Rackham Graduate School, NIMH subgrant 6-30236A under prime grant 1-RO1-MH47408, and National Institute of Aging Training Grant T32-AG0017. Computer-accessible data and copies of some of the raw data for several waves of this study have been archived at the Henry A. Murray Research Center, Radcliffe College. This article extends an exploratory analysis of the issues presented at the Midlife Research Program, cosponsored by the Murray Research Center and the MacArthur Foundation Network for research on Successful Midlife Development.

  • We are grateful to the participants in the study for their generous contributions of time over the past 16 years, to Ravenna Helson, Joan Ostrove, and Brent Roberts, for comments on earlier drafts of this article: to Laura Klein, for her generous contributions of time and statistical consulting: as well as to Kathy Marait, Dan Mroczek, Thomas Popoff, and David Winter for their helpful comments and untiring assistance.

Address correspondence and reprint request to: Elizabeth A. Vandewater, Department of Human Ecology, #A2700, University of Texas, Austin, Texas 78712. E-mail:


This study examined the midlife personality implications of different long-term patterns of commitment to work1 and family in a sample of educated women. Women with different work commitment patterns differed on both observer and self-report of instrumentality, and on observer report of interpersonal orientation and valuation of social norms. Women with different family-role commitment patterns differed only on self-report of valuation of social norms. Multivariate analyses also indicated that interpersonal orientation and instrumentality may not represent bipolar ends of the same personality continuum, and that interpersonal orientation as a broad personality domain may be comprised of distinct qualities (i.e., warmth vs. dependence). Taken together, these findings imply that when variations in the nature of women's work and family commitments are taken into account, a more comprehensive understanding of the similarities and differences in their personalities can result.