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For Many Young Adults, ‘Fantasy Gap’ Between Materialism, Work Ethic

For Many Young Adults, 'Fantasy Gap' Between Materialism, Work EthicAfter the Millenials comes “Generation Z,” characterized by lifelong use of new communications and media technology — thus the moniker “digital natives.”

New research by San Diego State University psychologist Dr. Jean M. Twenge — who has written about Millenials and other young adult cohorts in books such as “Generation Me” — compares the last three generations on characteristics of materialism and work ethic.

Twenge, along with co-author Dr. Tim Kasser, a professor of psychology at Knox College in Illinois, set out to evaluate the following 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?

Study results, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, show that there is in fact a growing gap for today’s young adults between materialism and the desire to work hard.

“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.

“That type of ‘fantasy gap’ is consistent with other studies showing a generational increase in narcissism and entitlement.”

In the study, Twenge and Kasser drew from a nationally representative survey of 355,000 U.S. high school seniors conducted from 1976 to 2007.

The survey examines the materialistic values of three generations with questions focused on the perceived importance of having a lot of money and material goods, as well as the willingness to work hard.

Compared to Baby Boomers graduating from high school in the 1970s, recent high school students are more materialistic — 62 percent of students surveyed in 2005-07 think it’s important to have a lot of money, while just 48 percent had the same belief in 1976-78.

Sixty-nine percent of recent high school graduates thought it was important to own a home, compared to just 55 percent in 1976-78.

Materialism peaked in the ’80s and ’90s with Generation X and has continued to stay high.

As for work ethic, 39 percent of students surveyed in 2005-07 admitted they didn’t want to work hard, compared to only 25 percent in 1976-78.

An interesting finding was the discovery that adolescents’ materialism was highest when advertising spending made up a greater percentage of the U.S. 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.”

It is important to understand the generational relationship between money (materialism) and work ethic because mental health issues such as depression and anxiety often surface as adolescents begin placing a strong priority on money and possessions, Kasser said.

“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.’”

Source: San Diego State University

For Many Young Adults, ‘Fantasy Gap’ Between Materialism, Work Ethic

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). For Many Young Adults, ‘Fantasy Gap’ Between Materialism, Work Ethic. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 2 May 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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