Information about The Lifestyle Poll
CA License # PSY23364
The idea of launching The Lifestyle Poll project arose during one of many walks with my husband. In addition to my intrinsic interest in women's issues, when I was conceptualizing this project, I thought about the "tradition of remarkable women" at Harvard-Radcliffe and the many amazing women I have met in my life after Harvard. To test my theory that respect is equally critical for many women as for many men, I set out to profile the marriages of some of the smartest women I have known and their equally capable friends. Equipped with a budget of less than $500 for internet hosting and data collection, I had to get creative. I had been teaching a course in Personal Growth through the University of Florida for several consecutive semesters. Based on my strong interest in personal growth and my belief in the value of self-
examination, I specifically designed The Lifestyle Poll to operate simultaneously as a data collection tool and as a stimulus for the personal growth of my research participants. I assembled more then 200 questions and recruited participants primarily through unofficial networks of Harvard graduates. Word of the project spread organically, mostly through word of mouth and invitations between friends. My goal was to see if I could get 500 respondents (which is generally a large sample size for social science research) within one year. In fewer than eight months, more than 1200 women had completed The Lifestyle Poll.
Moreover, what I had once seen as an obstacle (the need to create a project that would stimulate strong intrinsic motivation because I could not pay anyone to participate) soon showed itself as an asset. In many traditional research studies, there is some inherent acknowledgement that people don't really want to participate in studies, that most people would rather be doing other things with their time. So, in most cases, participation is either made as painless as possible (e.g., very brief online measures that promise to "take only 10 minutes" or a brief reader poll in a widely circulated magazine) or is induced through some extrinsic motivator (e.g., course credit, monetary reimbursement,entry into a raffle to win a big prize). In my opinion, making a measure shorter, and less painful, especially in the case of an anonymous online survey, would seem to produce a lot of "junk" data from people who are not invested in the research. Sweetening the pot with financial inducements may also affect the quality of one's data.
In contrast, when people engage in behavior based on the type of intrinsic motivation that was a defining feature of The Lifestyle Poll project (that is, an opportunity to do some meaningful self-reflection), they are much more likely to invest genuine effort. In this case, because my participants had no extrinsic motivation at all to participate, and The Lifestyle Poll was so long, the significant "response cost" of participation suggests that the data was most likely entered thoughtfully by respondents who were invested in the project due to intrinsic motivations. Along these lines, the unsolicited feedback shared by participants and the lengthy, thoughtful responses to the open-ended questions that were posed over and above the original set of more than 200 questions confirmed my sense of a high level of intrinsic motivation among the participants.
Eight months into the project, in the summer of 2008, I got an offer I couldn't refuse -- an opportunity to move back to my home state of California and accept the very meaningful job I now have at a Veterans Hospital. I put the writing process on hold while learning the ropes of my new position in the VA and sometimes wondered when I would ever get back to writing up the results of The Lifestyle Poll. At times, it felt overwhelming to turn back to this massive data set and begin the process of exploring the hidden truths waiting to be discovered. Ultimately, the biggest force that has compelled me to return to my data and write it up is the investment made by the women who participated in The Lifestyle Poll project. It would not sit well with me to ask this of my respondents and then fail to find a way to make meaning of the stories they shared with me. What I learned was too important to hide under a bushel for "some day maybe when my job slows down."
Marriage, for Equals: The Successful Joint (Ad) Ventures of Well-educated Couples, is in large part an analysis of this data and the compelling stories revealed within the responses of those who participated in The Lifestyle Poll. These truths clarified theories I had studied for many years in graduate school, developing expertise in the area of close relationship formation and maintenance.
Marriage for Equals was published in 2012, released for purchase the very week I had the first of my two children. While it was immensely satisfying to have finished the write-up of The Lifestyle Poll project, any efforts to distribute information about this work became secondary to the all-consuming needs of first one, then, a second newborn. As my husband and I move beyond the extended tunnel of chaos that comes with raising very small children, we find ourselves with additional time and energy to dust off some long-held dreams. It is in this vein that I am now unearthing the "hidden ivy" within the fascinating stories I first heard in 2008.
If you participated in The Lifestyle Poll, I wish to very sincerely express my gratitude. My work on this project, although temporarily suspended for periods of time, has nonetheless been one of my most rewarding professional experiences to date. In returning to your stories and the wisdom they hold, I am hopeful that your insights will greatly benefit others who are striving to fulfill the promise of a marriage of equals.