May 2, 2013 at 8:12 AM ET
Today’s teenagers are more materialistic and less interested in working hard than the baby boomers were in their teens, according to a new study. But sorry, boomers, the researchers say it’s probably your fault for creating a culture that breeds narcissism and entitlement.
“You’re taught what’s important and how to act by your parents, the media and those around you,” said Jean Twenge, a co-author of the study and professor of psychology at San Diego State University. “It’s the cultural changes that are really bringing these changes.”
It’s not just millennials who are materialistic, according to the study published Wednesday in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. The money-hungriness actually peaked with Generation X and has declined somewhat since then.
Among high school seniors, the need for money was highest around the end of the 1980s. For a cultural reference point, think 1987’s “Wall Street,” which put the phrase “greed is good” into pop culture.
And while GenY is less money-focused than the Gen Xers (but more so than the boomers) they are also the least willing to work hard, according to the research.
In the “don’t want to work hard” category, high schoolers in the mid-1970s agreed 25 percent of the time; in the late-80s that climbed to 30 percent; and by the mid-2000s it was up to 39 percent.
While the teens are now more likely than boomers to want a vacation home, there is a “growing disconnect between their willingness to do the work to pay for these things,” said Twenge, who is also the author of “Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled -- and More Miserable Than Ever Before.”
The study makes a case for the high schoolers’ attitudes being a product of the times they grew up in. (This is where the blame gets passed to the older generations.) Growing up, the teens' values are influenced by the dominant social ideologies, family structures, economic situations, media, political and business messages, the researchers argue.
The research analyzed by Twenge and psychology professor Tim Kasser has been collected in Monitoring the Future surveys with U.S. high school 12th graders every year since 1976. For this study, the researchers did not examine data past 2007, though data are collected annually.
The study defines baby boomers as those born roughly 1946 to 1964; Generation X as those born 1965 to 1981; and Gen Y (known as the Millennials) as those born 1982 to 1999.
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