Young People Expect More Money, But It Won't Buy Them Fun


Despite the ongoing recession, today’s crazy, optimistic youth think they’re going to make more money soon. They might actually be right — but it doesn’t mean they’ll be happy.

Catherine Rampell of the Times Economix blog reports that in one Pew Research Center study, 85% of American 18-29-year-olds said their financial situations were likely to improve in the next year. That’s the highest percentage of any age group — only 35% of people over 65 said the same. So are young people ignorant Pollyannas who don’t know the meaning of “recession?” Maybe not — as a followup post points out, people’s income tends to rise until they hit 45, so it’s not at all irrational for young people to expect to make more next year.

Of course, if they’re currently making zero, that’s not saying a lot. Many young people in that situation probably look forward to some financial security — and according to a new study, people with higher incomes do tend to feel more secure. However, writes Richard Alleyne of the Telegraph, they don’t necessarily feel happier per se. Psychologist Ed Diener explains,

This study shows that it all depends on how you define happiness, because if you look at life satisfaction, how you evaluate your life as a whole, you see a pretty strong correlation around the world between income and happiness.
On the other hand it’s pretty shocking how small the correlation is with positive feelings and enjoying yourself.

Or, in Alleyne’s words, “there is a link between feelings of security and income but not between money and fun.” This makes intuitive sense — a lot of the things that money helps with, from a roof over one’s head to proper medical care, aren’t “fun” per se. And while you can pay for some types of enjoyment (and drinking is pretty expensive these days), one of the best things about being really young is the frequency with which free or cheap excitement seems to present itself. Yesterday a friend of mine told me a story about cutting our high school history class, making a wrong turn down a nearby alleyway, and encountering an ice cream delivery truck whose driver promptly gave her free ice cream. Even if young people’s dreams of cash come true, such moments will remain elusive.

Image via Edd Westmacott/

Money Cannot Buy Total Happiness [Telegraph]
Young People: Hopeful, Or Just Realistic? [NYT Economix Blog]
Young And Hopeful [NYT Economix Blog]
Weak Housing Data Signal That Economy Is Losing Steam [NYT]

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