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The Shifting Values of Youth Essay

From the early seventies through 1986–87, private materialism as a life goal increased greatly in importance among youth, goals relating to family life increased somewhat, public interest concerns diminished modestly, and the goal of personal self-fulfillment declined sharply. Accompanying this shift in values was a change in young people’s college majors and career plans toward those leading to higher paying jobs and a marked increase in the attractiveness of working in large corporations. Jobs offering money and status became more preferred relative to those with opportunities for self-fulfillment or public service.

Support grew for capitalist institutions such as profit making and advertising. At the same time, there was a retreat from political involvement, and a conservative shift in political beliefs. Explanations of the shift in values in terms of the impact on the young of major political and social events or the emergence of a feeling of economic insecurity among the young are not supported by the evidence. Nor are a number of hypotheses relating to changes in young people’s family structure or social ization experience.

The shift in values of the young does, however, apparently correspond to a similar change in the values of adults generally and, thus, may reflect changes in the values transmitted to young people as they were growing up. We speculate that the shift in values among adults was, in turn, caused by a growing feeling of economic deprivation in the post-1973 period as real wage rates declined and material aspirations continued to rise. In the last few years, the shift in the life goals of the young appears to have ended and may even have started to reverse, but young people today are still much different from those 15 years ago.

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