Recession-era teens are greener

Sure, teenagers these days may seem self-centered. But according to a new study, the recession has made adolescents care more about other people and the environment.

Studies show that young Americans have become increasingly focused on the individual rather than collective good. They tend to be more narcissistic, show less empathy, and believe that “people get what they deserve,” the study authors write in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

But during hard economic times, do teenagers become more community-oriented? To test that hypothesis, the researchers analyzed the results of a survey given annually to about 15,000 high school seniors across the United States. The survey measured how much teenagers cared about other people by asking, for example, whether they would be willing to alter their diet to help feed starving people. The survey also gauged environmental attitudes and behavior, such as whether the students tried to conserve energy or believed the government should institute green policies.

The team compared responses from three time periods: 1976-78, 2004-06 (before the recession) and 2008-10 (during the recession). From the 1970s to the pre-recession years, teenagers’ concern for other people and the environment dropped. But from the pre-recession to recession years, that trend reversed. Recession-era students cared more about others, and environmentalism rose.

One thing didn’t change: The students’ opinions of themselves continued to increase throughout the study period. That trend “may reflect the meteoric rise of communication technologies such as Facebook and YouTube that encourage and promote self-display and fame-seeking,” the authors write, and “may be too strong to be stopped by the economic recession.” Roberta Kwok | 12 July 2013

Source: Park, H. et al. 2013. The Great Recession: Implications for adolescent values and behavior. Social Psychological and Personality Science. doi: 10.1177/1948550613495419.

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