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Men, Women, and Ways They Find Meaning in Their Lives

Do men and women build purpose-filled lives in the same ways?

Where and how do men and women find purpose in their lives? We asked more than 1,500 men and women these questions to learn how men and women are similar and different. Guest bloggers Alex Evans and Petra Richer describe what we found in the Life Paths Research Project.

Family and Meaning Making:

Women are more likely to find meaning and purpose through family roles than men, although men do this too—perhaps more and more in the modern age. Men reported that they cook less for their families (39 percent) than women (61 percent), while women stated that they took care of older and younger family members (61 percent) more than men (49 percent). A female participant stated: “I also want to feel like I am responsible and I can handle and take care of my family that need me to be there for them.”

Finding Meaning in Healthy Living:

Health has been a pressing issue in the United States and our Southern sample share this concern; both men (61 percent) and women (61 percent) equally agreed that they try to eat healthy. However, a greater number of men (42 percent) claimed to have run a race or participated in a team sport, while only 27 percent of women reported the same.

Traditional Meaning Making:

Maintaining traditions and rituals is essential to keep up family and cultural heritage. Although women were more active in following rituals or traditions to mark certain moments in life (80 percent), males still perceived it important to celebrate these occasions (69 percent).

The Values of Meaning Making:

Traditional values seem to be a source of meaning making for both genders; however, men (73 percent) claimed that they made choices based on traditional values less than women (80 percent).

The Meaning in Creativity and Learning:

When it comes to finding meaning in recording one’s feelings, 29 percent of women said they kept a journal, diary, or blog, while only 15 percent of men reported the same. On the other hand, men (54 percent) and women (60 percent) seem to be similar in creative activities like playing an instrument, writing, or making arts and crafts.

A Meaningful Community:

Communities have been a quintessential part of Southern small-town living. Southern living is reinforced by the fact that both men (63 percent) and women (68 percent) work hard to be active members of their communities. There was a greater difference in how much time men (70 percent) and women (79 percent) spend working on their relationships each day. This attitude of community engagement is demonstrated by a female teacher who felt she “was able to provide a safe environment for [students] and be a part of their future, and help them every day.”

Meaning Through Achievement:

Today’s men and women find that setting goals and achieving success are vital in a professional setting as well as the community. There was very little difference between females (86 percent) and males (85 percent) on this area of meaning making, since they both reported that they set goals for themselves and worked hard to achieve them. However, men (63 percent) reported slightly higher on being leaders at their jobs or organizations than women (60 percent).

Although there were differences in various areas of meaning making, men and women were similar in many categories. The largest differences were apparent in finding meaning through healthy living and family life.

You are welcome to email us at if you would like to learn more about meaning making. If you would like to know more about the project visit our website at

This project is conducted by Dr. Sherry Hamby, Dr. John Grych, and Dr. Victoria Banyard and is based at the Life Paths Research Program at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN. This project was made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this work are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.

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