Thursday, January 11, 2007

Millennium Generation Seeks Wealth and Fame

Yesterday's USA today reported resulted from a new Pew Research Center survey on the life goals of today's youth generation. Known as the "millennial" cohort, young people today rank wealth and fame at the top of their priorities:

Ask young people about their generation's top life goals and the answer is clear and resounding: They want to be rich and famous.

"When you open a celebrity magazine, it's all about the money and being rich and famous," says 22-year-old Cameron Johnson of Blacksburg, Va. "The TV shows we watch — anything from The Apprentice where the intro to the show is the 'money song' — to Us Weekly magazine where you see all the celebrities and their $6 million homes. We see reality TV shows with Jessica and Nick living the life. We see Britney and Paris. The people we relate to outside our friends are those people."

Eighty-one percent of 18- to 25-year-olds surveyed in a Pew Research Center poll released today said getting rich is their generation's most important or second-most-important life goal; 51% said the same about being famous.

"We're seeing the common person become famous for being themselves," says David Morrison of the Philadelphia-based research firm Twentysomething Inc. MTV and reality TV are in large part fueling these youthful desires, he says.

"Look at Big Brother and other shows. People being themselves can be incredibly famous and get sponsorship deals, and they can become celebrities," he says. "It's a completely new development in entertainment, and it's having a crossover effect on attitudes and behavior."

The results of the Pew telephone survey of 579 young people describe the "millennial" generation (also known as Gen Y), who were born since the early 1980s and were raised in the glow and glare of their parents' omnipresent cameras. While experts say it's natural for humans to seek attention, these young people revel in it. They're accustomed to being noticed, having been showered with awards and accolades.

Add in the anything-is-possible attitude typical of youth overall, and experts say that even among millennials of lesser economic means, there is an optimism that fame and fortune can happen to anyone.

"Society raised us where money is glamorous, and everybody wants to be glamorous," says Jason Head, an aspiring actor who turned 26 just before Thanksgiving. He earned an associate's degree in applied arts. To pay the bills, he's a bar manager and bartender in the Dallas suburb of Plano.

Still, this generation acknowledges the realities of a world in which bills must be paid, Pew found. Money is by far their most important problem; 30% cite financial concerns. College and education was the second-biggest concern at 18%, and careers and jobs were third at 16%.
It's understandable for young people to worry about finances, given the rough-and-tumble nature of economic existence in society, and especially given the media's infatuation with glamor. The piece notes that the cost of living is greater for today's young people than it was for their parents, but it also suggests that the "aquisition culture" of having a lot of cool stuff has accelerated.

The article cites as well 2005 data from the UCLA Higher Education Institute indicating that roughly 75 percent of today's college freshman say that being "very well off financially" is key, whereas just 45 percent rated "developing a meaningful philosophy of life" as essential. Just roughly 42 percent ranked financial well-being as their number one goal in 1967.

Be sure to read the whole article, and especially note the comments of Kristie Molina, who's interviewed in the story. She wants to be a professor and says fame's not as important as using her education to make an impact on society. That's admirable. When I was going to college, I knew I wanted to be a professor, so both financial security and personal philosophy were entwined in my educational goals. I don't begrudge people who want to be materially successful. I am dismayed, though, at what I see as a depreciation of literary life among today's youth, seemingly across racial and ethnic lines. I'm a believer in the mission of college as instilling a classical liberal education -- in the tradition of the great books -- and I believe that those who pursue their life goals with determination and excellence will be rewarded with both personal enrichment and financial security.

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