Notebook > Money

Setting up snares

Money | Surveys suggest that love of riches is gaining in respectability among young Americans

Issue: "The surge is on," Feb. 3, 2007

The love of money is as old as money itself, and everyone has felt it. But results from recent surveys show that America may be raising up a generation for whom strong affection for mammon is more socially acceptable.

Exhibit A: an annual survey of college freshmen, conducted by UCLA's Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. The poll found that nearly three-quarters of respondents said it was very important to them to become "very well-off financially." About the same percentage of freshmen has given that answer for the past several years, but less than half did so in the inaugural year of the survey, 1966.

Another poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center, asked 18- to 25-year-olds to rate their generation's most important goals in life. Eighty-one percent said "to get rich" and 51 percent said "to be famous" were important to people their age. Of the five options the poll offered, those were the only two chosen by more than half of the respondents. Thirty percent chose "to help people who need help" and 10 percent chose "to become more spiritual."

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Part of the reason that young people may want more money is that they will need it to maintain the high lifestyles they have come to regard as natural. With far more spending power than previous generations of young Americans, today's youths are defining normalcy up. "They have a different idea of what's necessary," marketing consultant Ann Fishman told the Associated Press. "For them, a cell phone is normal; an iPod is normal; a Game Boy is normal."

They are, in this regard, getting an early start following in their parents' footsteps. Society-wide lifestyle expectations-and what people consider normal and middle class-keep growing to new levels. The average floor area of a new American home, for instance, grew from 1,645 square feet in 1975 to 2,434 square feet in 2005, according to the Census Bureau. This was at the same time that the average number of persons per household fell from over four to well under three.

The UCLA and Pew surveys are limited in what they reveal, especially with regard to motivations. Some respondents may have a biblical profit motive, wanting to gain more money in order to do more good. But if the sheer desire to be rich is gaining as much social favor as the surveys suggest, then a lot of "snares" that "plunge people into ruin and destruction" (1 Timothy 6:9) are being set.

Balance Sheet

CHARITY: Murphy Oil of El Dorado, Ark., has pledged to give $5 million a year over 10 years to finance college scholarships for nearly all graduates of a local high school. Murphy spokesmen said company officials hope the program attracts more businesses to El Dorado. "We are committed to making El Dorado a great place to live and work," said president and chief executive Claiborne Deming, creating the fund "to further invest in El Dorado's greatest resource, our children."

HOUSING: A 77-square-foot apartment in London that does not have electricity and was once a storage closet is reportedly on sale for $335,000. The apartment is "about the size of a ship's galley," real estate agent Andrew Scott told the Associated Press. "But it's permanently anchored to one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the world."

BUSINESS: With Super Bowl advertising becoming almost as big an event as the Super Bowl itself, ad rates for the big game are continuing to escalate. A 30-second television commercial during the Feb. 4 matchup on CBS will cost advertisers a reported $2.6 million this year, up from $2.5 million last year and $600,000 in 1987.

Timothy Lamer
Timothy Lamer

Tim is managing editor of WORLD magazine.

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