Values have remained largely unchanged since the end of WWII. The most common values are security, safety, love, family, and financial security. There are many reasons why people change, and all of them are connected to their values. Young people who value pleasure can change if their behavior has negative consequences. A person who values independence will change in their effort to achieve more freedom.
Values change depending on how you live
Differences in values between generations have more to do with lifestyle than the values themselves. Values are not unlike a lifecycle. Toddlers value nurture, care, safety, security, and food. When children start going to school, their values can be modified by the education system, but also through activities outside school or the influence of family members.
In our teens and 20s, we set out to explore the world. We might reject the values we grew up with and were taught and start looking for our own. We begin building careers and networks. Throughout our professional lives, there is a focus on outworking our values. Our family, community, and personal values are also liable to change. At the same time, we try to stick to them and live accordingly.
When we retire, we start to focus more on what we’ll leave behind. We begin to prioritize security and care again.
The potential for misalignment
Different values can cause misalignment and miscommunication between generations. Imagine three people coming together: one 60+, one in their 40s, and the third in their 20s. The first is focused on their legacy. The second is trying to outwork their values. The third is consumed with exploring theirs.
Below, we break down typical core values by age group, from 0-5 to 60+.
Values until аgе 5
Young children value safety, security, comfort, and care. Interestingly, people return to these values as older adults. The parent’s role can be of paramount importance when the child is very young. In the ideal case, parents will try to teach their children values like integrity and honesty, respect, sharing, and kindness.
Integrity and honesty
All children go through a stage of learning to lie. The peak of this stage is when they start school, and it comes with peer influence. It’s helpful to lay the groundwork for an honest outlook before this period comes.
Children lie because they’re afraid of getting in trouble. A child that’s not punished for telling the truth will be less likely to lie. This can be achieved if the punishment for lying is bigger than for admitting wrongdoing.
Respect is an important value to hold, starting at the earliest age. Ideally, it will be revisited in cycles throughout childhood. Laying the foundations for respectful behavior in the future should happen before a child turns five.
As with behavior in general, children will learn by example. They will mirror the behavior of parents who treat each other with respect and respect the home and the items in and around it.
Sharing and kindness
As children grow up, they become more and more aware of property and territory. To some, sharing comes more naturally than to others. The value of kindness is also important to hold at this age as it builds the basis of harmony in future relationships. Children should be encouraged to be generous.
Values until age 10
A key value that develops between the ages of 5 and 10 is accountability, which builds on the value of honesty nurtured earlier. It’s crucial that children learn this value because it sets the expectation for their everyday behavior. There is an unofficial “contract” between parents and their kids about the latter’s behavior. Children should be aware that there will be consequences for breaking the rules.
Accountability put to the test
While this value finds its basis in the parent-child relationship, the real test starts at school age, when the child has to take responsibility for their actions without their parent always being there to guide them. Value complexity increases with this transition. It becomes about more than simply setting expectations for right and wrong.
The concept of how to behave in the face of an ethical dilemma that contradicts family’s values is too complicated for young children to grasp. As they start going to school, grasping the reasoning behind accountability as a value will help them sustain it when faced with difficult issues like peer pressure.
Around age 4, children start with their “why” questions, reflecting curiosity as a core value. Their questions run the gamut of the banal “why does it get hot” to ones with an element of insight, such as “why do some people hate each other.” It’s important to feed curiosity because this value can morph into a sense of fairness and justice in adulthood. A child that wonders why some people are rich, and others aren’t will question social and economic norms in adulthood and fight against injustice.
Values in our teenage years
There are two common pitfalls specific to these years – just accepting or just rejecting others’ values without considering them. Generally, people hold the following core values in their teens. Some of them remain unchanged from childhood.
Values in young adulthood
Typical core values in young adulthood include one’s career, family, responsibility, and respect. This age sees the biggest shifts in values. A study using the Portrait Values Questionnaire at three points in time, separated by four years, looked at four types of stability and value change in young adulthood. Two hundred and seventy people between 20 and 28 took part.
The mean importance of power values, conservation, and self-transcendence increased with age. Conversely, achievement values decreased in importance. Openness to change remained unaltered.
Another relevant study of a multinational sample as part of the European Social Survey examined value changes over time. Researchers predicted certain values would indicate age differences that would be unchanged across gender, two sample cohorts (2002 and 2008), and a dozen industrialized nations. The ESS measured the following value categories:
- Openness to change values (self-direction, hedonism, and stimulation)
- Conservative values (tradition, conformity, and security)
- Self-enhancement values (power, achievement).
- Self-transcendence values (universalism, benevolence)
Of these values, stimulation showed the biggest decline with age, and tradition showed the biggest increase. As for groups of value, openness to change declined with age, while the importance of conservative values increased. As predicted, these value groups did not show any cohort or gender differences.
The importance of self-enhancement values declined with age in all nations, with the exception of Spaniards, where age wasn’t a factor. In this category, men in all age groups scored higher than women.
Self-transcendence values were less important for young adults than for middle-aged and older adults, and they were lower in men than in women.
Values in our 40s
When you think of the age of 40, what comes to mind? We guessed it: the proverbial midlife crisis. It is very real. Studies have shown up to 20% of people experience it. According to an article in the LA Times, slumps in the 40s manifest in cultures and countries all over the world.
What is a midlife crisis? It is closest to a shift in values, away from competition and achievement and toward interpersonal connection and community. It is a period of social and emotional transition, similar to adolescence in that respect, but with the blessed exceptions of immaturity, weight gain or loss, pimples, etc.
Midlife is a time of achievement and mastery but also of unexpected need and vulnerability.
Values in our 50s
Typical core values in one’s 50s include patience, community, mentorship, and overall satisfaction.
Researchers have found increasing evidence that life satisfaction and happiness slightly decline in our 20s and 30s, then dip further in our 40s and increase thereafter. The happiest decade seems to be 50-60 for most people.
Common core values in the 50s include friendship, efficiency, community, and organization. Older people feel less regret and stress, tend to be more capable of regulating their emotions, and dwell on negative information more rarely. Competition and status rarely remain among their core values.
Why does this happen? When people are young, they can be over-optimistic about how much satisfaction their future successes will bring. They achieve their goals in their 30s and early 40s, but they’re not content to relax and enjoy that. They want more and more. The same drive that made them hungry for status makes them hungry for more. They start to think there’s something wrong with their lives because they don’t feel satisfied.
After the “midlife crisis” passes, many people find they don’t care about status and achievement as much as before. They also don’t care that much about what others think. They find relief from these and other pressures, which makes savoring alternative pursuits like volunteer work, a hobby, or spending time with children or grandchildren easier.
Values at 60+
Strong bonds with family and friends keep people at this age from feeling lonely and isolated. After the fifth decade of life, companionship becomes more important than ever before. Other typical core values at this age include health, routine, community, exercise, financial security, comfort, and autonomy.
Most people associate good health with independence, freedom, and being active. Common illnesses like arthritis, osteoporosis, and incontinence can have an adverse impact on one’s quality of life.
Having a routine in place provides consistency and stability for older adults who may otherwise feel depressed about having to relinquish some control over their daily lives. With a routine of activities and meals, older people feel more comfortable because they know what to expect and don’t have to deal with uncertainty.
Strong connections are vital at this age, and services and facilities for seniors that encourage social interaction improve their quality of life.
Having a sense of belonging becomes crucial with age, whether finding companionship or participating in activities.
Physical movement and activity benefit the mind, body, and spirit at any age. Walking or light exercise is beneficial for maintaining coordination and balance in older people, which can improve their mood and prevent falls and other accidents.
Stress about money is a fact at any age, but it can be especially painful for seniors. Funds tend to be more limited after retirement, and money management can be more difficult due to cognitive impairment.
Both emotional and physical comfort are vital for seniors, especially those in long-term care. The ability to feel at home and relaxed in one’s environment relieves anxiety and stress and makes a great contribution to the overall quality of life.
Most people value their autonomy and want to be self-reliant for as long as possible. However, we generally need more help as we age. Older people who keep trying to stay independent have higher self-esteem. The relationship seems to be bidirectional.
Final thoughts: the origin of values
Children learn their first core values from their parents or caregivers. They internalize them without knowing it. Caregivers provide a blueprint in this sense. As people grow and become more mature, they start adjusting those values based on experience.
Hard work and professional success might have been a value for a child to emulate, who saw their parents work long hours and come home exhausted and incommunicative. The child might develop the opposite core value in adulthood and strive for a better work-life balance.
Families that have faith- or spirituality-based practices encourage associated values in their youngest members.
People are exposed to certain values at school, which are presented by peers, teachers, and other children’s parents. These might include tolerance, learning, compromising, creativity, etc. Society presents and imposes a variety of values. As children grow and mature, their behavior aligns with the core values they are most attracted to.
The media are a powerful influence when it comes to adopting values, from material things to views on economics and politics. Many media target young people because their core values are in the process of transformation, making them impressionable.