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Study: Youth attitudes in Great Recession shift toward helping one another

Great Recession youth are shifting their beliefs, says a new study. Despite media stories that lambast this generation with claims of narcissism, young people are thinking more about others than in generations past.

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

AP/Alex Brandon

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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.

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