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For Millenials, Global Downturn May Have A Silver Lining
The many negative effects of the current recession are familiar to all, but there is a silver lining to the cloud of global economic downturn. For young people seeking the next step in their lives, an ailing economy has meant that some have had to look for work outside of their dream job, while others, much like adults already in the work force, have cut back on luxuries they once enjoyed.
But one positive change for young people, according to a new study, is that it made them more concerned about others and the environment.
High school seniors graduating between 2008 and 2010 were more concerned about social issues, other people, and the environment than students graduating in pre-recession years between 2004 and 2006, according to an analysis of survey data by psychology researchers at San Diego State University and UCLA.
Students who graduated during the Great Recession also exhibited more empathy than students who graduated 30 years earlier, during the mid-1970s, a time point more than 30 years ago but relevant because a similar recession took place in the U.S. during that time (1973-1975), though with a different generation of students.
The findings suggest another aspect to Millennial generation (people born between 1980 and 2000) which has been characterized as having more stressors than previous generations but less skills to cope with them.
The investigators looked at the answers teens gave to a series of surveys entitled, “Monitoring the Future,” data from a nationally representative sample of American high school seniors collected from 1976 to 2010. The researchers compared the high school seniors' survey answers from three distinct time periods: 1976-78, 2004-06 (before the recession) and 2008-10 (during the recession).
Students who completed the surveys during the Great Recession exhibited a greater concern for others and the environment than students from the earlier time periods.
This bodes well for young people since forming good social relationships in school is connected to a greater sense of well-being as an adult.
For example, 63% of recession-era 12th graders responded that they make an effort to turn down the heat at home to save energy. In contrast, only 55% of 12th graders turned down the heat before the recession.
While 36% of recession-era seniors said they would use a bicycle or public transportation to get to work, only 28% of students preferred two-wheels or public transport before the recession.
“The recession has apparently led youth to focus more on others compared to the economic boom times of the mid-2000s,” said Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at SDSU and the author of, Generation Me and one of the authors of the new study.
The researchers also analyzed whether the graduating seniors thought they were smarter than their peers. Despite their social-conscious attitudes, the 12th graders exhibited an inflated sense of self, which was quite different from the attitudes of young people who lived during previous recessions.
This idea that the Millennial generation often displays arrogance while putting themselves first and above others is a subject popularized by Dr. Twenge’s book. However, results from this study suggest that the Great Recession may have dampened the overall “me-first” attitude that has been attributed to young people today.
Furthermore, while an elevated sense of self is often cast in a negative light, it has been linked to a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and other physical health issues.
The study is published in the journal, Social Psychological and Personality Science.
July 15, 2013