April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
A new study led by San Diego State University (SDSU) has set out to answer the question: Are today’s youth really more materialistic and less motivated than past generations, or do adults tend to perceive moral weakness in the next generation?
SDSU psychology professor Jean M. Twenge and Tim Kasser, psychology professor at Knox College, show that there is in fact a growing gap for today’s young adults between the desire to work hard and their materialism. The findings of this study were published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
“Compared to previous generations, recent high school graduates are more likely to want lots of money and nice things, but less likely to say they’re willing to work hard to earn them,” said Twenge, author of the book “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable than Ever Before.”
“That type of ‘fantasy gap’ is consistent with other studies showing a generational increase in narcissism and entitlement,” Twenge said.
The researchers drew their data from a national survey of 355,000 US high school students conducted from 1976-2007 that examined the materialistic values of three generations. The survey’s questions focused on the willingness to work hard as well as the perceived importance of having lots of money and material goods.
Today’s high school students are materialistic compared to the Baby Boomers who graduated from high school in the 1970s. Of the students surveyed in 2005-2007, 62 percent reported that they believed it is important to have a lot of money, while only 48 percent held the same belief in 1976-1978.
Owning a home is important to 69 percent of recent graduates, compared to only 55 percent in the 70s. The study shows that materialism peaked in the 80s and 90s with Generation X graduates and remains high today.
The trend reverses when it comes to work ethic, however, as 39 percent of students in the 2005-2007 group admitted they did not want to work hard. In the 1976-1978 group, that number was only 25 percent.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a data analysis also revealed that adolescent materialism was highest when advertising spending made up a greater percentage of the US economy.
“This suggests that advertising may play a crucial role in the development of youth materialism,” said Twenge. “It also might explain the gap between materialism and the work ethic, as advertising rarely shows the work necessary to earn the money necessary to pay for the advertised products.”
Having a firm understanding of generational trends in materialism among youth is important. A strong priority placed on money and possessions has been shown to be associated with a variety of problems, including depression and anxiety, according to prior research by Kasser.
“This study shows how the social environment shapes adolescents attitudes,” said Twenge. “When family life and economic conditions are unstable, youth may turn to material things for comfort. And when our society funds large amounts of advertising, youth are more likely to believe that ‘the good life’ is ‘the goods life.’”