Study: Recession changed young people's values

2013-07-12T00:00:00Z Study: Recession changed young people's valuesThe Associated Press The Associated Press
July 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

CHICAGO - Drew Miller clearly remembers the day his father was laid off.

Miller, now 25, was a freshman at an Ohio college, full of hope and ready to take on the world. But here was this "red flag … a big wake-up call," he says. The prosperous years of childhood were over, and his future was likely to be bumpier than he'd expected.

Across the country, others of Miller's generation heard that same wake-up call as the Great Recession set in. But would it change them? And would the impact last?

The full effect won't be known for a while, of course. But a new analysis of a long-term survey of high school students provides an early glimpse at ways their attitudes shifted in the first years of this most recent economic downturn.

Among the findings: Young people showed signs of being more interested in conserving resources and a bit more concerned about their fellow human beings.

Compared with youths who were surveyed a few years before the recession hit, more of the Great Recession group also was less interested in big-ticket items such as vacation homes and new cars - though they still placed more importance on them than young people who were surveyed in the latter half of the 1970s, an era with its own economic challenges.

Either way, it appears this latest recession "has caused a lot of young people to stop in their tracks and think about what's important in life," says Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University who co-authored the study with researchers from UCLA.

The analysis, released Thursday, is published in the online edition of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Its data comes from "Monitoring the Future," an annual survey of young people that began in the mid-1970s. The authors of the study compared responses of high school seniors from three time periods - 1976-1978 and 2004-2006, as well as 2008-2010, the first years of the Great Recession.

They found that at the beginning of this latest recession, more of the 12th-graders were willing to use a bicycle or mass transit instead of driving - 36 percent in 2008-2010, compared with 28 percent in the mid-2000s. However, that was still markedly lower than the 49 percent of respondents in the 1970s group who said the same.

There were similar patterns for other responses, such as those who said they:

• Make an effort to turn heat down to save energy: 78 percent (1976-1978); 55 percent (2004-2006); and 63 percent (2008-2010).

• Want a job directly helpful to others: 50 percent (1976-1978); 44 percent (2004-2006); and 47 percent (2008-2010).

• Would eat differently to help the starving: 70 percent (1976-1978); 58 percent (2004-2006); and 61 percent (2008-2010).

Psychologist Patricia Greenfield said the findings fit with other research she's done that shows that people become more community-minded, and less materialistic, when faced with economic hardship.

"To me, it's a silver lining," says Greenfield, another of the study's contributors, along with lead author Heejung Park, an advanced doctoral student in psychology at UCLA.

Their analysis found that, of the three groups, the Great Recession group was still most likely to want jobs where they could make a "significant" amount of money. But the authors say that may simply be attributable to the ever-rising cost of day-to-day expenses, from groceries to electric and gas bills.

In comparison, they note that the Great Recession group also showed a bit less interest in luxury items than the students who were surveyed in the mid-2000s.

For instance, 41 percent of high school seniors questioned in 2008-2010 said it was important to own a vacation home, compared with 46 percent in 2004-2006. Again, both percentages are higher than the 34 percent who said the same in 1976-1978.

These findings have a margin of error of plus-or-minus 1 percentage point, or less.

Tina Wells, CEO of Buzz Marketing Group, which tracks youth trends, says the analysis fits with what she's seen in her own work.

Many young people, she says, are living in what she calls "millennial purgatory," unemployed or under-employed, working in jobs below their qualifications, and sometimes still living at home with their parents.

The unemployment rate for 15- to 24-year-olds has risen above 20 percent - more than double the overall rate.

"If you're 22 and trying to jump-start your life right now, it's not so easy," Wells says.

As a result, various 20-somethings have tempered their career expectations in different ways.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activate

Most Popular

Get weekly ads via e-mail

Follow the Arizona Daily Star