Kasser Research on Materialism, Youths Gaining Attention

June 04, 2013

Tim Kasser

Knox College faculty member Tim Kasser's research into the materialistic values and work ethic of several generations of youth, including the so-called "millennial generation," recently has been capturing national and international attention.

Kasser, professor of psychology, has been frequently quoted in popular publications about the psychological effects of materialism since publishing his books on the topic, The High Price of Materialism, in 2002, Psychology and Consumer Culture, in 2004, and Meeting Environmental Challenges: The Role of Human Identity, in 2009.

Kasser worked with Jean M. Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, to co-publish an article that has garnered attention lately from major media outlets like Time, Scientific American, Salon, and The (Toronto) Globe and Mail.

Their research examined trends in materialism among three generations of high school seniors, dating as far back as 1976.

Kasser and Twenge assessed how much importance adolescents placed on owning four expensive material items: a single-family home, a motorboat or other recreational vehicle, a vacation home, and a new car every two to three years. They also assessed how important adolescents thought it was to land a job offering them "the possibility of earning a great deal of money."

One aspect of the research found that for members of the millennial generation, their "material desires were higher than their work ethic." The millennial generation generally consists of people born between the mid-1980s and 2000.

According to the research, the discrepancy between materialism and work ethic was associated with societal instability and disconnection (including such factors as unemployment and divorce), as well as with advertising spending.

In other words, explained Kasser, youths' views on materialism and work could be predicted, based on "what was going on in American culture" throughout their lives, and especially during early adolescence.

"Although some may suggest that weaknesses within younger individuals are responsible for increasing levels of youth materialism, these data instead show that certain features of the society created by adults may result in a more materialistic value orientation," states the research article by Kasser and Twinge. "Materialism during 12th grade was most associated with societal instability during middle childhood and early adolescence and with social disconnection and advertising levels in early and late adolescence."