Jews do it on Rosh Hashanah, Hindus do it on Diwali, Muslims do it over Ramadan, and for those of us who live by the Gregorian calendar, we do it every New Year's. Making resolutions is an almost universal act. And through these yearly pledges, people around the world articulate their idea of the good life, and promise to inch a little closer to it. But people don't agree, it seems, on what the good life is -- or at least the sexes don't.
Men and women have different priorities for self-improvement, according to a survey of 230 adults conducted by The Huffington Post through the online survey services SocialSci and Mechanical Turk. Participants were asked to answer questions about their resolution-making habits, including which resolutions they have made in the past.
According to the survey, women were more likely to resolve to spend more time with friends (61 percent to 49 percent), to have more fun (69 percent to 64 percent), and to be more organized (74 percent to 66 percent). Men, on the other hand, were more likely to resolve to work harder at their jobs (73 percent to 67 percent).
The survey also showed that female participants were less likely than male participants to want to quit smoking or scale back their drinking. Men, by their own confession, succumbed to both these vices more. Fifty-eight percent of the male respondents considered themselves drinkers, and half of them reported having been at some point fairly regular smokers, compared to 46 percent and 33 percent of the women, respectively. But 63 percent of the male smokers had resolved in the past to ditch the habit, compared to 53 percent of the female smokers. And 60 percent of the men who drank had pledged to restrict their intake, which dwarfed the 14 percent of women who drank who had vowed to do the same.
It could be that men who smoke and drink consume greater quantities than smoking and drinking women and are more concerned about getting their indulgences under control. After all, in the U.S. men are twice more likely to be alcoholics than their female counterparts. Or it could be that women are just more committed to their hedonism, or are less likely to admit to themselves when they are doing something unhealthy. Alcoholism and drug addiction programs have pointed out that women are less likely to acknowledge their substance abuse problems.
The rest of the results seem to jibe with what we know about men and women's current reality. While women are not necessarily more social than men, contrary to stereotype, they do use social networks to connect with friends more than men do, which could explain why women hunger for more quality time with in-flesh humans.
The desire to get organized makes sense given the fact that women who have a child under six at home spend an average of four and a half hours a day on housework and childcare, according to a 2010 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Men in the same situation spend less than two and a half. Add it up, and women have the equivalent of an extra four months of eight-hour work days per year. It seems logical then that more women would be interested in getting organized, making their homes less chaotic and home care more efficient.
Better organization would also free up more time for the fun the women surveyed said they want and which several studies suggest women sorely need. Women are more stressed than men during their commutes, more stressed than men when they multitask, and more stressed than men in general.
Men's greater desire to work harder may confirm the old idea of man-as-breadwinner, or it could reflect concern about their income in this economy. Twice as many men as women lost jobs in the recession (although women are losing more in the "recovery"). And while women still earn less than men on average, men have suffered a greater cut to their paychecks in the last few years. In the so-called "crisis of manhood" that has followed, it's little surprise that more men have vowed to work doggedly in the coming year.
Men and women did share some resolutions for the new year, according to the survey. For example, women were only slightly more likely to resolve to lose weight in the coming year (57 percent to 54 percent). With two thirds of adult Americans overweight or obese, the desire to lose pounds is not exclusive to one gender, particularly when you're asking people the week after a holiday that has overeating as a central theme. Significantly more women did vow, however, to up their exercise (78 percent to 70 percent), perhaps because men already exercise more (except for married men, who sweat it out less than single women).
Men and women also reported in almost equal numbers wanting to be more patient (73 percent), to spend more time with their romantic partners (60 percent for men, 61 percent for women), and to spend more time with their kids (59 percent of mothers and 57 percent of fathers).
But women made all of these resolutions more often than men, according to the survey. Sixty-three percent of the female respondents said they make resolutions every year, compared to just over half of the men. Women were also more likely to tell others about their resolutions. Ninety-three percent of the male respondents said they keep their resolutions to themselves some or all of the time, compared to 82 percent of the women. The tradition of making resolutions might serve as a collective slate-cleaning, an expression of our hopes for ourselves as men, women, and people. But it also seems to be a very private one.