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What do Australians most value in life?

Landmark study shows how our values influence everyday behaviours 

SYDNEY, MARCH 8, 2019– What values do Australians hold dear individually and collectively? What values underpin how Australians spend their time and money? 

Answers to these questions are revealed in the report, What do we value?, the initial findings of The Values Project, a three-year longitudinal study. This project is a joint initiative undertaken by The University of Western Australia in partnership with global data and insights company Pureprofile (ASX:PPL) and in collaboration with researchers from Royal Holloway University of London in the United Kingdom, Vrije University Amsterdam in The Netherlands and The University of Queensland. This research was also supported by a grant from the Australian Research Council.

Analysis of surveys obtained from almost 7500 respondents, recruited from the Pureprofile Australian panel, were used to understand and describe Australian values and how they relate to everyday behaviour across the adult lifespan. Specifically, the analysis uncovers the ways in which individual’s values relate to how they spend their time and money.

Ultimately, the findings aim to help Australian businesses and institutions better serve the needs of their employees and customers through a deeper understanding of societal and individual values.

The research is conceptually underpinned by the Schwartz Theory of Human Values, which identifies a set of near-universal basic human values: Benevolence, Societal-universalism, Nature-universalism, Self-direction, Stimulation, Hedonism, Achievement, Power, Security, Tradition and Conformity.

Some interesting research findings relating to personal values and social categories are:

  1. Males are significantly more likely to hold Self-direction, Achievement, Power or Conformity as their most important value than females. Females are more likely to hold Benevolence as their most important value than males.
  2. People without children are more likely to hold Self-direction, Stimulation, Hedonism, Achievement or Societal-universalism as their most important value than people with children. People with children are more likely to hold Benevolence as their most important value than people without children.
  3. People with a Bachelor’s degree or higher are more likely to hold Self-direction or Achievement as their most important value than people with less education. People with less education are more likely to hold Benevolence as their most important value than those with a Bachelor’s degree or higher.
  4. People who are high on religiosity are more likely to hold Tradition as their most important value than people low on religiosity. People who are low on religiosity are more likely to hold Self-direction or Hedonism as their most important value.

The research also aimed to gain insights into societal values of Australians by examining what individuals think the values of MOST Australians are. It also compares how these findings relate to the official Australian values statement.

The research revealed that people’s perceptions of Australians’ values are clearly influenced by their own value priorities. 

The study found that respondents believe most Australians attribute the highest importance to Security and Benevolence, followed by Hedonism, Self-direction and Societal-universalism. Interestingly, the three values seen as most important to Australians reflect each of the three basic universal requirements of human existence: (1) the biological needs of individuals (e.g., hedonism); (2) coordinated social interactions (e.g., Benevolence); and (3) the welfare and survival needs of groups (e.g., security). The respondents also believe most Australians attribute the lowest importance to Power, followed by Tradition, Achievement and Conformity.

From these results, it is clear that Australians are motivated to care about the welfare of others, especially those close to them (Benevolence ranked 1st), but also those who are more distant and different from us (Societal-universalism). However, Conformity (ranked 8th), which motivates compliance with the rule of law, is far less important for respondents than the official Australian values statement might suggest.

The research also examined the relationship between values and how people spend their time on a typical work day and a typical day off. A clear link between personal values and time use was found. This was especially evident when activities were less constrained and more a matter of choice, as they typically are on days off.

The research found that the 11 basic values relate to following specific behaviours:

•       Those high on the Self-enhancement values of Power and Achievement spend more time on work and education activities and less time on Family and Social activities and personal needs activities than those low on these values. In contrast, those high on the opposing Self-transcendence values of Benevolence and Societal-universalism spend more time on family & social activities and less time on work and education activities.

•       Those high on the Openness to change values of Self-direction and Stimulation spend more time on Personal Leisure activities and less time on either work and education or family and social activities than those low on these values. In contrast, those high on the opposing Conservation values of Tradition and Conformity spend more time on family and social activities and less time on personal leisure activities than those low on these values.

Values have a systematic influence not only on how we spend our time but also how we spend our money. Indeed, they influence a wide range of consumer behaviours.

The research findings reveal the following: 

●     Those high on the Self-enhancement values spend more money on housing, clothing and footwear, transport, education, and savings, and less money on food and non-alcoholic beverages, medical care, communication,and donations to charity. In contrast, those high on the opposing Self-transcendence values spend more money on food and non-alcoholic beverages, housing, medical care, communication, and donations to charity, and less money on clothing and footwear.

●     Those high on the Openness to change values spend more money on alcohol, tobacco, and gambling, recreation, housing and transportation,and less money on medical care, education, and donations to charity. In contrast, those high on the opposing Conservation values spend more money on medical care and education, and less money on alcohol, tobacco, and gambling, clothing and footwear, transport,and recreation.

“We hope that this landmark piece of research will help Australian organisations and institutions better understand their greatest asset – people,” said Dr Uwana Evers, Data Scientist, Pureprofile and Research Fellow, The University of Western Australia.

Pureprofile CEO Nic Jones said: “We’re proud to be associated with such esteemed institutions of higher learning in a bid to better understand Australian values. With Pureprofile’s core capability to provide a better understanding of human motivations and behaviours, the knowledge gained from research like The Values Project demonstrates the power of understanding more about consumers to help brands better communicate to their audiences.”

“In this fast-paced world where instant gratification is increasingly becoming the norm in some age groups, it is encouraging and very promising to find from the research that Australians are still motivated to care about the welfare of others,” Mr Jones said.

About Pureprofile and the University of Western Australia

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The Australian Market & Social Research Society Limited (AMSRS) is a not-for-profit professional membership body of over 2,000 market and social research professionals who are dedicated to increasing the standard and understanding of market and social research in Australia. The Society assists members to develop their careers by heightening professional standards and ethics in the fields of market and social research.

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