Teaching Appreciation Diminishes the Impact of Materialism
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – January 8, 2007 – The increasing materialistic nature of young Americans has received considerable recognition in recent years and research shows that youth (ages 8 to 18) who are more likely to be materialistic are less likely to be generous. However, generosity is also dependent on a youth’s level of gratitude for the things he or she has. Those who are materialistic but not thankful or appreciative for the things they have are more likely to not display generosity.
These are just some of the results of a survey of 1,213 U.S. children and teenagers (ages 8 to 18) conducted online by Harris Interactive® between October 18 to 26, 2006.
While materialism is just one of many values, research that looks at it in isolation often paints an inaccurate picture. With this in mind, researchers at Harris Interactive recently collaborated with marketing professors Aric Rindfleisch, Ph.D. of University of Wisconsin-Madison, Lan Nguyen Chaplin, Ph.D. of University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, and Deborah Roedder John, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, to provide a more accurate portrait by examining the role of thankfulness in offsetting the negative social effects of materialism. The results of this effort indicate that materialism does not have a uniform effect in children’s lives, and its negative consequences are in fact mediated by other factors. Increasing materialism among youth does not immediately translate into less generous behavior; rather, gratitude plays an important role in influencing their level of generosity.
Buying things is a priority
Results indicate that both tweens (ages 8 to 12) and teens (ages 13 to 18) would rather spend time buying things than anything else. Seventy-six percent (76%) of tweens and sixty-two percent (62%) of teens say they really enjoy going shopping, and seventy-one percent (71%) overall say they would be happier if they had more money to buy more things for themselves. About half of tweens (51%) and teens (48%) say that when they grow up, they’ll be happier if they have more money.
What makes youth happy?
There are some differences between what things make teens and tweens happy, although money is most likely to make both groups happy. Much of the teen focus is on technology, such as CD’s (67%), their own cell phone (65%) and their own computer (63%), as well as money (74%). Tweens are most likely to say money (65%), presents (63%), having popular video/computer games (60%) and their own computer (57%) makes them happy.
Mom is still an important figure in the lives of both tweens and teens, as majorities (91% of tweens and 77% of teens) say that Mom makes them happy. Overall, Friends (85%), Grandma (69%), Dad (67%) and pets (58%) round out the top five of those people and pets that make youth happy.
Generous and thankful tweens and teens
Although youth seem focused on money and possessions, they also enjoy helping others and are appreciative of the things and people in their lives. Three-quarters of youth or more say that they like to help new kids at school (91% of tweens, 81% of teens), raise money for needy people (86% of tweens, 79% of teens), spend time helping others (83% of tweens, 81% of teens), share their favorite things with other people (81% of tweens, 75% of teens) and do favors for friends or family even when they’re busy (77% of tweens, 75% of teens).
Overall, tweens are slightly more likely than teens to say that they have a lot to be thankful for (92% vs. 86%, respectively), but the large majority of both groups feel this way. Most youth also say they can think of a lot of people who have helped them (81%), and that a list of things they have to be thankful for would be very long (76%).
Summing it up
Aric Rindfleisch, Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, views the data in unique terms. "Our results indicate that while materialistic young people display reduced generosity, those who are thankful for their family, friends and possessions are less likely to display these negative effects. This suggests that although parents may be able to do little to squelch materialistic messages, they may be able limit the adverse effects of materialism by cultivating a sense of thankfulness and gratitude in their children."