So My Kids’ Generation Wants to Live a Balanced LifeMay 2nd, 2010 at 19:34
America is a country shaped in many ways, for better and for worse, by Calvinist principles, both religious and secular (see my piece “American Calvin”). Perhaps the most persistent of these principles is the conventional wisdom that work is good for the soul, more work is better, and a failure to buy into this regimen is a severe moral failing. Our country was built on the hard work of individuals, not by “idle hands”. But a recent study by www.livescience.com, shows that my kids’ Millennial generation is more inclined to “work to live” and live a balanced life than my own Baby Boomer comrades.
According to this article summarizing the study the results suggest that…
Large generational gaps exist, particularly when it comes to work attitudes. The findings reveal young people just entering the workforce, often called GenMe or Millennials, are more likely than their elders to value leisure time over work and to place a premium on rewards such as higher salaries and status.
Key study author Jean Twenge (of San Diego State University) and her colleagues analyzed data from a larger study called “Monitoring the Future”, which has surveyed a nationally representative sample of high-school seniors every year since 1976. The new research involved more than 16,500 students who had answered questions about work attitudes during the years 1976 (Boomers), 1991 (GenX) and 2006 (GenMe).
What I find upsetting about the way the results of this study are being spun, is an implication that my kids’ generation is somehow more narcissistic than my own. According to the article…
The fact that GenMe individuals tend to dislike working overtime while also expecting higher status and compensation at work shows a disconnect between their expectations and reality, one that indicates a sense of overconfidence and even narcissism said Twenge, who is also an author of “The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement” (Free Press, 2009) and “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable Than Ever Before” (Free Press, 2007).
To me, just the names of her articles seem overly provocative and represent the work of someone grinding their axe. Calling out a “disconnect between their expectations and reality” is framing that reality within the conventional wisdom of Calvinism and its Puritan Ethic, and in my opinion, pandering to us Baby Boomers who want to maintain our sense of importance and primacy in the ongoing American cultural development.
Looking at the specific issue of desired vacation time…
Results of the new research suggested vacation and other leisure time have increasingly become more important over time, with GenMe placing significantly greater emphasis on it relative to the other two generational groups. Nearly twice as many people in the GenMe group rated having a job with more than two weeks of vacation as “very important” than did Boomers.
Just 23 percent of Boomers agreed that “work is just making a living,” compared with 34 percent of GenMe respondents. Three-fourths of Boomers said they expected work to be a central part of their lives, compared with 63 percent of GenMe respondents.
So people in my kids’ generation are more likely than mine to have the intention of striving for a balanced life. Is that narcissism or wisdom?
Many of my Boomer comrades have worked very hard (perhaps too hard) to have the big house and all the material comforts, plus plowing money into lessons, training and other external programming for their kids to get those kids on the fast track to prestigious colleges and the highest-paying jobs. Perhaps Millennial kids are witnessing these lives of their parents out of balance, and wisely choosing to move in a saner, more balanced direction.
It is long established that what constitutes our “history” depends significantly on who is writing that history. Perhaps the implications of social science studies are torqued by the generational view of those analyzing the results. Looking her up on the Internet, I could not find Twenge’s age, but she did receive her MA from the University of Chicago in 1993, which might put her birthday somewhere around 1970, which would make her a GenX’er.
So is wanting to live a balanced life, while still having high expectations for pay and status a bad thing, even narcissism? I have strived throughout my 25 year career in information technology as an analyst to find high paying jobs where I did not have to work long hours. I have put myself on a “Mommy Track” of sorts, avoiding managerial jobs with the expected longer hours in favor of spending more time with my family and being involved in my larger community. Unlike some of my peers that try to do all three while working long hours, I have done so mostly without resorting to lack of sleep.
Was my intention to live my life this way narcissistic? Are my kids and their peers similarly self-absorbed? Have I been a bad role model, not glorifying working too hard to give them the best of everything?
I instead celebrate what I see as the more involved position of the Millennials, to strive for a balanced life, more leisure time, yet not lessen their expectations for good-paying and satisfying jobs. In my mind, this is just aiming high.