July 11, 2013

Study: Youth attitudes shift in Great Recession

It appears the 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 who co-authored the study.

By Martha Irvine / The Associated Press

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Drew Miller, shown here at a building under construction on Wednesday in Silver Spring, Md., quit a steady government job to take a chance on a company that's using "smart technologies" to help big corporations cut lighting costs.

AP

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 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. During the Great Recession 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.

Until the economy improves, "I've been opting for security over the perfect job," says Calvin Wagner, a 24-year-old accountant in suburban Cincinnati. As he bides his time, working for a small company with little chance for advancement, he's studying for the exam to become a certified public accountant.

Like many of the survey respondents, Ashley Rousseau, a 25-year-old in Miami, says she's now more focused on a job that helps her community in some way than in landing "a corner office."

"The recession made it even more clear that I'm not going to find job satisfaction from a high-paying career," says Rousseau, who's getting her MBA and works at the medical school at Florida International University, which she says "improves the medical care in the community."

"I'm proud to be part of that mission," she says.

Miller, the 25-year-old whose dad was laid off, left Ohio when he couldn't find work there in his field, electrical engineering. He moved to Alexandria, Va., after finding a government contracting job. But he recently decided to take a chance on a new company that's using "smart technology" to help big corporations cut electrical usage for lighting their spaces.

Though it meant taking a small pay cut, he says having a job that helps the environment was a "huge" motivator.

It remains to be seen, however, how members of this generation will cope with this economic adversity.

Brent Donnellan, an associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University, has found that how parents handle the stress of an economic situation affects a child's resilience. But so does the child's personality. Perhaps not surprisingly, Donnellan says, studies have found that young people who have more self-control and who do well in school tend to weather economic hardship better.

Still others wonder if the shifts in attitudes noted in the study will last.

Lane Kenworthy, who's looked at the impact of various recessions, isn't so sure.

"In almost every case, public opinion has roughly gone back right back to what it was before," says Kenworthy, a professor of sociology and political science at the University of Arizona, who co-wrote a chapter on this topic for a book titled "The Great Recession."

The biggest exception, he says, is the Great Depression of the 1930s, when unemployment rose as high as 25 percent.

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