Arlene T. Metha, Richard T. Kinnier, Ellen H. McWhirter

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    In this pilot study, we surveyed 178 women about their major regrets and priorities in life. Chi‐square analyses were used to compare the women's responses based on their ages, marital and family statuses, occupations, and levels of life satisfaction. Findings indicated that the most frequently cited regrets related to missed educational opportunities and a perceived lack of self‐assertiveness. Women in less prestigious occupations regretted missed educational opportunities most often. Family was the most often cited priority, especially among homemakers and women with large families. Friendships were more important to single and divorced women than to married women. The women who were least satisfied with their lives more often regretted missed educational opportunities and not having taken more risks than did the most satisfied women. The results of this study should be viewed only as data for generating hypotheses for future research. Generalizations are not warranted. This is primarily due to our sampling procedures. The sample was one of convenience‐not a random one. Most of the participants were graduate students at one university and their relatives or friends. Also, our sample (and subsample) sizes were small and we performed numerous comparisons which can result in recurrent false rejections of the null hypothesis. From the results a few interesting themes (and future hypotheses) can be extracted. The regret of missed educational opportunities was most frequently cited. This result could be unique to this particular sample—graduate students and their friends and family. Yet, Baruch et al. (1983) obtained a similar response from their sample, and our culture clearly values education as an important key to success. In our sample, not surprisingly, the educational regret was more prevalent among women in lower‐level occupations. The regret of not having been more assertive was frequently cited. The prevalence of this regret may have been influenced by the cultural milieu of the past two decades (Osborn & Harris, 1975). Ostensibly, both the mental health profession and the media in America have prominently promoted assertiveness as desirable since the early 1970s. The result from this study suggests that many women believe that they may have not been as assertive as they should have been. Perhaps the homemakers' prevalent regret of not having been more self‐disciplined is similarly due to the personal perception of not having lived up to new societal standards. It was the young and middle‐aged professional women with no children who most often regretted not taking more risks in their lives. Perhaps some of those women were referring to risks associated with career advancement. Kagan (1985) found in her survey of 11,000 women that 44% listed taking risks as very important to their careers. The results on the priorities seem consistent with the literature and common sense. The family priority was most often cited, especially by self‐identified homemakers who had large families. Love and friendships were especially important to women who did not have children. Lenz and Myerhoff (1985) have emphasized the growing importance of female affiliations for women. The results of our study suggest that friendships are especially important to women who do not have husbands or children. The results of the comparisons between the most and least satisfied women are intriguing—more of the least satisfied women regretted that they had not worked harder on their education and had not taken more risks in their lives. We can only speculate about what the women meant by “risks.” Our guess is that most were referring to promising but risky career or relationship opportunities. In spite of the obvious weaknesses of this study, the results raise questions and may serve to stimulate future research. For example, are certain regrets more associated with psychological dysfunction than others? Are certain life choices for women associated with more regretfulness than others? To what extent do personality characteristics and cultural variables influence regretfulness? The inquiry about regrets is a novel approach for investigating individual and societal values. Also, the knowledge of other women's regrets can serve as a stimulus to values clarification for any woman.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)167-174
    Number of pages8
    JournalPsychology of Women Quarterly
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Jun 1989

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Gender Studies
    • Developmental and Educational Psychology
    • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
    • General Psychology


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