Aspiration Orientations Across Time : Do Childhood Aspiration Orientations Predict Mid-Life Aspiration Orientations and Well-Being?

PhD Thesis

Ferber, K. A.. (2023). Aspiration Orientations Across Time : Do Childhood Aspiration Orientations Predict Mid-Life Aspiration Orientations and Well-Being [PhD Thesis]. Australian Catholic University Institute for Positive Psychology and Education
AuthorsFerber, K. A.
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

By uncovering how far-reaching the impact of childhood aspiration orientations are on mid-life aspiration orientations and well-being, this thesis aims to bridge a gap in our understanding about how early aspirations shape well-being. Grounded in goal contents theory (Kasser & Ryan, 1993, 1996, 2001; Ryan & Deci, 2017), this thesis examined the stability of people’s intrinsic and extrinsic aspirations over time, and the long-term implications of aspiration orientations on well-being. Previous research consistently supports the positive link between intrinsic aspirations (affiliation, personal growth, community giving, and physical health) and well-being (Bradshaw et al., 2022). While, extrinsic aspirations (wealth, image and fame) are unrelated to well-being, and positively associated with ill-being. Little research has explored how intrinsic and extrinsic aspiration orientations, within the same individuals, relate to their well-being later in life. Gaining, answers to these questions, aids in understanding how to support individuals to prioritise intrinsic goals, and optimise well-being. This research provides insights into the developmental trajectory and long-term stability of intrinsic and extrinsic aspiration orientations, by utilising a mixed-methods approach, including qualitative data from the National Child Development Study (NCDS) of the same people at different life stages.

People’s natural language about their aspirations could provide a valuable means to understand their intrinsic and extrinsic aspirations, including those who may not be able to complete questionnaires, such as children. In Chapter 2, a coding system was developed to identify intrinsic and extrinsic aspirations in participants’ naturally occurring language about their future. A thematic coding system derived from the themes of the Aspiration Index, demonstrated the greatest validity. The thematic coding system was then used to analyse the stability of participants' intrinsic and extrinsic aspirations orientation between the ages 11 and 50 (Chapter 3) and their influence on well-being at age 50 (Chapter 4). Evidence was found for some stability of intrinsic aspirations over time. Individuals who were intrinsically oriented at 50 had the highest levels of well-being, compared to those with extrinsic aspirations, or no intrinsic or extrinsic aspirations. Benefits to well-being were also found for remaining or becoming more intrinsically oriented between the ages of 11 and 50.

Understanding how parents influence the development of their children’s aspiration orientations would provide insight into how to promote intrinsic aspirations and well-being.
A meta-analysis of the link between parent characteristics and intrinsic aspirations provided support for the notion that children’s intrinsic aspirations are fostered by need supportive environments (Chapter 5).

This research contributes to the knowledge base on how people’s intrinsic and extrinsic aspirations track over time, and offers practical guidance for promoting intrinsic aspirations and fostering well-being across the lifespan.

KeywordsGoals; Intrinsic aspirations; Extrinsic aspirations; Well-being; Goal Contents Theory; Autonomy support; Parenting; Self-Determination Theory; Life trajectories; Basic psychological needs
PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research or scholarlyResearch
Page range1-280
Final version
File Access Level
Supplementary Files (Layperson Summary)
All rights reserved
File Access Level
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
PrintApr 2024
Publication process dates
AcceptedMay 2023
Deposited01 May 2024
Additional information

This work © 2024, Kelly Ferber.

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