Andrea Laudadio, Research & Development Director, e-LABORANDO SpA, Rome, Italy

Giuliana Franciosa, Head of Euroguidance Italy

Lavinia Mazzocchetti, Consultant, e-LABORANDO SpA

Antonietta Maiorano, Researcher at Euroguidance Italy

Francisco Javier Fiz Pèrez, Professor of Bioethics – European University of Rome




The purpose of this study is to verify the existence of a relationship between subjective well-being and values in adolescents. In addition, this research explores the influence of the value system on subjective well-being, showing possible gender differences. Two questionnaires were used as research instruments: the Portrait Values Questionnaire (Schwartz, Melech, Lehmann, Burgess & Harris, 2001; Capanna, Vecchione & Schwartz, 2005) and the Satisfaction with Life Scale (Pavot & Diener, 1993). Results showed significant correlations between the two constructs and important differences between males and females.


Key-words: values; well-being; adolescents; gender differences.



IFSW, the International Federation of Social Workers (2000) provides a widely accepted definition  (Tunney & Kulys, 2004) according to which ‘social work’ can be defined as a profession aimed at promoting social change, problem solving in human relationships as well as individual emancipation with the aim of promoting subjective well-being, which is an internal phenomenon connected to individual experiences (Diener, 1984) and refers to the way people perceive and assess their life (Zani & Cicognani, 1999).

Starting from this perspective, counselling acquires a key role within social professions due to its ability to: support the self-assessment of one’s life and promote the development of one’s resources (Laudadio, Colasante, D’Alessio,. 2010), i.e. overcoming past difficulties, strengthening one’s expectations and ambitions, as well as using skills and knowledge belonging to the individual, to the family, to the group and to the community (see Saleebey, 2001 as reference).

As a consequence, there is a shift from theoretical models focusing on ‘pathology’ to new models based on the promotion of well-being. Therefore, new questions and new research perspectives arise (Laudadio, D’Alessio, 2009). In particular, analyzing the direct (or indirect) relationship between well-being and other deep dimensions, like values for example, becomes extremely interesting.

Values are defined as desiderable goals with varying levels of importance, which act as guiding principles in one’s life (Rokeack, 1973; Schwartz, Melech, Lehmann, Burgess & Harris, 2001). Schwartz (1992) developed a theoretical approach (which is widely accepted in the literature) where ten types of universal values are identified. These values are organized on the basis of a circular model: values related to Self-transcendence (Universalism and Benevolence) which are opposed to the values related to Self-enhancement (Power and Success); values related to change (Self-direction, Stimulation, Hedonism) which are opposed to values related to continuity (Conformism, Safety, Tradition). Each individual has his/her own scale of values, at the top of which there are the values that he/she rates as the most important.

According to Sagiv and Schwartz (2000), the dominant value type directly affects the perception of subjective well-being: there are values – corresponding to the basic needs of the individuals – which would allow to increase the perception of well-being, if pursued.

Within the theoretical model of Self-determination, Kasser and Ryan (1996) classify values in two categories: intrinsic values (able to meet basic needs, which are internal to the individual) and extrinsic values (related to external satisfaction). According to the authors, subjective well-being is negatively correlated to life goals related to extrinsic values, and positively correlated to goals related to intrinsic values.

There are many studies in the literature supporting this theory. The majority of them examined the relationship between materialistic (extrinsic) values and subjective well-being in adults and University students (La Barbera & Gürhan, 1997; Chan & Joseph, 2000; Kasser & Ahuvia, 2002).

Moreover, studies carried out on adolescents confirm the results from the studies carried out on adults (Cohen & Cohen, 1996; Keng, Jung, Jiuan & Wirtz, 2000; Brown & Kasser, 2005).

In disagreement with these results, Sagiv and Schwartz (2000), on the basis of the value classification proposed by Schwartz (1992), did not detect any significant relation between Power, Universalism, Benevolence and subjective well-being.

According to Kasser and Ahuvia (2002), these results are determined by a different definition of materialistic values provided by the Authors: Power is not alone on the scale of values that fall under the definition of materialistic values. Moreover, according to the Authors, the items included in the scale are not sufficient to provide an appropriate assessment of these values.


Purpose and hypothesis

The main aim of this study is to replicate the one by Sagiv and Schwartz (2000), keeping an hypothesis system which is consistent with what has been detected in the literature and deepening the results on the basis of the gender differences.

The main hypothesis is that a direct relationship between values and well-being can be detected also among adolescents, similarly to what was detected among adults. Our hypothesis is consistent with the data from the literature, i.e. values related to Self-transcendence (Universalism and Benevolence) are positively correlated with well-being, while values connected to Self-enhancement (Power and Success) are indirectly related to well-being.

This hypothesis can be divided into three specific hypothesis:

  • The existence of a relationship between values and well-being;
  • The existence of a positive relationship between Self-transcendence and well-being a negative relationship between Self-enhancement and well-being;
  • The possibility to make a distinction between individuals with a high and with a low level of well-being in relation to specific value dimensions, such as Universalism and Benevolence (higher for individuals with high well-being) and Power (lower for individuals with high well-being).

The presence of gender differences will also be explored.


Method and Techniques


Participants were selected by means of random sampling on a first-responses basis. 800 subjects aged between 16 and 21 years took part in the study (Average = 17 years and 2 months; SD= 1 year and 4 months); the group was equally divided between males and females. With reference to the type of school attended, 52,25% comes from a technical school, 24,13% from the Scientific Lycée, 6,75% from a vocational training school, 6,25% from a Linguistic Lycée, 4,63% from a Classical Lycée, 4,13% from an Artistic Lycée and 1,88% from other types of school. Participants were recruited during guidance activities carried out in the year 2006.


In addition to the personal and social particulars form, the following tools were administered: the Portrait Values Questionnaire (Schwartz et al., 2001; Capanna, Vecchione & Schwartz, 2005) made up of 40 items, classified on the six point Likert scale (ranging from 1= Not at all like me to 6= Exactly like me). Each item provides a short description (‘portrait’) of a typical person and his/her goals, aspirations or desires, on the basis of ten values described by Schwartz. The Satisfaction with Life Scale (Pavot & Diener, 1993) is made up of 5 items, classified on a seven point Likert scale (ranging from 1= Completely disagree to 7 = Completely agree), aiming at assessing satisfaction of one’s life.


Two questionnaires were administered, to which participants responded anonymously. During an external interview, subjects were provided with standard information about the questions.


Data analysis

Internal consistency was evaluated with Cronbach’s alpha of reliability. For the Portrait Values Questionnaire, the reliability index was calculated for each sub-scale.

Average, standard deviation, asymmetry and kurtosis coefficients were calculated for the reference group in order to provide preliminary quantitative information about the trend of the different variables and establish whether they match with a normal distribution.

Correlation analysis (Pearson’s r coefficient) was performed to analyze the relationship between values and well-being; correlation analysis was carried out both on total scores and on gender-based scores.

Moreover, the linear regression analysis was performed to assess the influence of values on perceived well-being. The Satisfaction with Life Scale was used as an independent variable and the Portrait Values Questionnaire subscales as a dependent variable.

In order to deeply analyze the relationship between values and subjective well-being, the method of opposed groups was used. From the total sample, two subgroups were selected: a) subjects with a high level of well-being and b) subjects with a low level of well-being. In order to check if there was any difference between the two groups with comparison to the dimensions measured with the tools, a multivariate variance analysis with independent subjects (MANOVA) was performed. Univariate effects were broken down by means of the ANOVA test.



Descriptive statistics

First and foremost, the prerequisites necessary to carry out further analysis were identified: normal distribution and reliability. As far as the Portrait Values Questionnaire subscales have a different number of items, scores were weighted on the number of items constituting the scale in order to compare averages. The same procedure was adopted for the Satisfaction with Life Scale.

Table 1 – Descriptive analysis

  Average S.D. Asymmetry Kurtosis
Statistic Std. Error Statistic Std. Error
Power 2,65 1,25 0,650 0,086 -0,143 0,173
Success 3,68 0,95 -0,183 0,086 -0,322 0,173
Hedonism 4,39 0,97 -0,258 0,086 -0,536 0,173
Stimulation 4,39 1,05 -0,307 0,086 -0,424 0,173
Self-direction 4,47 0,86 -0,533 0,086 0,683 0,173
Universalism 5,49 1,14 -0,435 0,086 -0,336 0,173
Benevolence 4,48 0,84 -0,404 0,086 -0,236 0,173
Tradition 3,59 0,92 -0,239 0,086 -0,271 0,173
Conformism 3,92 0,84 -0,194 0,086 -0,165 0,173
Safety 3,96 0,90 -0,190 0,086 -0,126 0,173
Well-being 4,96 1,02 -0,680 0,086 0,463 0,173


The analysis of score distribution shows a complete match with the Gaussian distribution. Asymmetry and kurtosis indexes, indeed, are comprised between 1 and -1.

Table 2 – Reliability

  Alpha   Alpha
Power .654 Benevolence .654
Success .676 Tradition .555
Hedonism .691 Conformism .681
Stimulation .632 Safety .621
Self-direction .576 Well-being .761
Universalism .721


With reference to the ten scales of the Portrait Values Questionnaire, reliability indexes are comprised between .555 and .721.

Satisfaction with Life Scale has a good reliability level, equal to .761.

Correlational analysis

The following table shows the correlations between the 4 value macro-areas and well-being.

Table 3 – Value macro-areas and Satisfaction with Life Scale

Satisfaction with Life Scale
  Total Males Females
Self-enhancement -0,018 0,082 -0,149**
Conservatism 0,327** 0,354** 0,326**
Openness to change 0,036 0,098 -0,012
Self-transcendence 0,269** 0,314** 0,288**

Significant correlations with * p<0.05, ** p<0.01 (two-tailed)

Significant correlations seem to exist between well-being and some value meta-dimensions. For both genders, Self-transcendence and Conservatism have a positive relationship with well-being, while only females have an inverse relationship between well-being and Self-transcendence.

With reference to the correlations between the ten value dimensions and well-being, Universalism, Benevolence, Tradition, Conformism and Safety have a positive relationship with well-being for both genders. Moreover, Self-direction has a positive relationship with well-being for males, while Power has an inverse relationship with well-being for females.


Analysis of multiple regression

Being the four value meta-dimensions and the ten value scales related among each other (Capanna et al., 2005), the correlation analysis may hide the role of each value in the explanation of the heterogeneous scores in satisfaction with life.

In order to explain the role of each dimension, a multiple regression analysis with the standard method was carried out; value dimensions were used as predictors and satisfaction with life as a criterion variable.

With relation to the value meta-dimensions, the multiple regression coefficient is significant both for males [F(4,399)= 18,03, p<0,001] and females [F(4,399)= 19,58, p<0,001]. For both genders, Conservatism and Self-transcendence contribute to the explanation of well-being. For females, Self-enhancement has an inverse relationship.

If we analyze each single value, the multiple regression coefficient is significant for males [F(10,399)= 8,39, p<0,001]; Benevolence, Tradition and – inversely – Hedonism, contribute to the explanation of well-being.

Multiple regression coefficient is significant also for females [F(10,399)= 8,51, p<0,001]; Safety, Tradition, Universalism and – inversely – Success and Power, contribute to the explanation of well-being.


Group differences: High well-being vs. Low well-being

From the total sample, two subgroups were selected: a) subjects with a high level of well-being, whose total scores were higher than standard deviation with comparison to the sample average; and b) subjects with a low level of well-being, whose scores were lower than standard deviation with comparison to the sample average.

The two samples selected are made up of 148 and 132 subjects, respectively. The Chi2 test shows a significant gender difference (Chi2=5,143; DOF=1; p<0.05).

In order to take into account gender differences, the mixed model MANOVA was performed with two independent factors (gender groups) and the ten value dimensions as dependent factors. MANOVA showed the interaction effect between the two factors for the value dimensions (F(10,267)=2,99; p<.005).

The breakdown of univariate effects through single-factorial ANOVAs with two independent factors (gender groups) and each value dimension as a dependent factor showed a significant interaction for Power only (F(1,276)=7,98; p<.01). The post-hoc test showed that the score of females with a high level of well-being was different from the one of the other three subgroups. As a matter of fact, females with a high level of well-being have a significantly low average in Power. Consistently with the research hypothesis, variance was broken down by means of single univariate tests (ANOVA) in relation to value dimensions. The following Table shows the averages and ANOVA results.


Table 4 – Group differences

Dimension Group of well-being Average S.D. ANOVA
Power low 0,116 0,973 F(1, 278)= 1,7207, p=,19068
high -0,003 0,961
Success low 0,130 1,055 F(1, 278)=,54086, p=,46270
high -0,047 1,063
Hedonism low 0,078 1,085 F(1, 278)= 1,9903, p=,15943
high -0,094 0,855
Stimulation low 0,018 1,032 F(1, 278)=,04139, p=,83893
high -0,019 0,888
Self-direction low -0,098 1,102 F(1, 278)= 3,9755, p=,04714
high -0,016 0,970
Universalism low -0,302 1,203 F(1, 278)= 36,578, p=,00000
high -0,044 0,973
Benevolence low -0,360 1,071 F(1, 278)= 23,518, p=,00000
high 0,036 1,002
Tradition low 0,151 0,940 F(1, 278)= 65,381, p=,00000
high -0,370 0,913
Conformism low -0,030 1,115 F(1, 278)= 30,877, p=,00000
high -0,374 1,065
Safety low 0,016 1,004 F(1, 278)= 39,159; p=,00000
high -0,341 0,897


Differences among Universalism, Benevolence, Tradition, Conformism and Safety (all of which refer to Self-transcendence and Conservatism) are statistically significant.



With relation to the first hypothesis, the existence of a relationship between values and well-being is confirmed. In particular, the regression analysis showed that the value system is able to explain a share of variance equal to approximately 15% of the total variance.

With relation to the second hypothesis, this is only partially confirmed. The regression analysis showed the presence of gender differences. While Self-transcendence is a positive predictive factor of well-being for both genders, Self-enhancement is a negative predictive factor of well-being for females only. This data was confirmed by the analysis of each value dimension. Power and Success, indeed, are negative predictors of well-being for females only. Moreover, with reference to Self-transcendence, if we break it down into the different value dimensions constituting it, a deep gender difference is detected. Benevolence is a predictive factor of well-being for males, while for females it is Universalism. It is interesting to note that Tradition plays a key role for well-being in both genders, while Hedonism is an inverse predictive factor of well-being for males.

With relation to the third research hypothesis, also in this case the hypothesis is only partially confirmed. As a matter of fact, while Benevolence and Universalism are higher for subjects with a high level of well-being, Power has an inverse relationship with well-being for females only (also in this case).


Conclusions, weaknesses and developments

The apparent contradiction of results in relation to research hypotheses and among the different results does not allow us to draw specific conclusions on the relationship between values and well-being, but rather to outline new research hypothesis and developments.

The most interesting aspects of research refer to gender differences; the inverse relationship between Power and well-being, often recalled in the literature, seems to be confirmed for females only. With reference to this, we might hypothesize that female adolescents have a greater maturity in terms of values and are more similar to adults in comparison to male adolescents. Another hypothesis is that there might be cultural differences between Italian and foreign subjects able to explain the significant difference detected. If this hypothesis is true, we may assume that – due to the Italian culture – females with Power-oriented values experience a low level of well-being because of the cultural pressure to which they are exposed. In other words, within a culture where ‘female’ power is not accepted, these subjects experience a lower level of well-being.

We shall not rule out the hypothesis according to which the relationship between values and well-being is mediated by a spurious relationship with other variables which escaped the attention of researchers. Some important relationships, such as one’s socio-economic status might mediate this relationship, or well-being might be affected by other dimensions playing a central role during adolescence (e.g., satisfaction in sentimental life).

Within the framework, the willingness to take a stance within these hypothesis leads us to opt for the second explanation, i.e. that a cultural context exists where a girl with a high desire for Power is not easily accepted. This might lead girls to have a submissive attitude towards Power in comparison to males.

If further studies confirm this hypothesis, it might explain several aspects that characterize the female labour market. Of course, before analyzing these hypotheses, it is necessary to replicate the experiment on adults, in order to assess if this situation is typical of the adolescence or of the whole Italian culture.

This research is characterized by the weaknesses typical of a correlational study on a random sample. The main weakness is connected to MANOVA, due to its high collinearity among the different value dimensions. Moreover, the interpretation of results would have been more clear if another instrument for value analysis had been used together with the other two tools. We shall not forget that social desiderability of some value dimensions might contribute to hide or magnify some relationships between values and well-being.

Within this perspective, the development of research will be two-fold: on the one side, the study will have to be repeated using at least two tools (in addition to the Portrait Values Questionnaire) for value analysis. On the other, the relationship between value dimensions of the Portrait Values Questionnaire and social desiderability will have to be explored.



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