The Life Goals of Kids These Days Part II

This is a follow-up to my January 16 blog post with some new data!  Some of my former students and now colleagues have launched a longitudinal study of college students. In the Fall of 2013 we gave a large sample of first year students the Monitoring the Future goal items.  I thought it would be fun to see what these data looked like and how these goals were correlated with certain measures of personality.  These data are from a school in the Southwest and are drawn from all incoming first-year students.

Students were asked about 14 goals and could answer on a 1 to 4 point scale (1=”Not Important” whereas 4=”Extremely Important”).  Descriptive data for the 14 goals in order of the average level of endorsement are reported below.  I also included the ranking for Millennials as reported in Arnett, Trzesniewski, and Donnellan (2013) and described in my older post.

Table 1: Goals for First Year Students (Unnamed School in the Southwest) using the Monitoring the Future Goal Items

Goal

Rank in MTF for Millennials

M

SD

% Reporting Extremely Important

Having a good marriage and family life

1

3.54

.80

69.7

Being successful in my line of work

5

3.54

.64

61.3

Having strong friendships

3

3.52

.68

61.6

Being able to find steady work

2

3.51

.65

58.3

Finding a purpose and meaning in my life

6

3.35

.84

55.0

Being able to give my children better opportunities than I’ve had

4

3.32

.87

53.8

Having plenty of time for recreation and hobbies

7

3.11

.81

36.7

Making a contribution to society

9

3.11

.87

39.4

Discovering new ways to experience things

10

2.89

.91

28.3

Having lots of money

8

2.67

.91

21.3

Living close to parents and relatives

11

2.50

1.03

21.2

Working to correct social and economic inequalities

13

2.41

.99

17.3

Being a leader in my community

12

2.35

1.01

17.0

Getting away from this area of the country

14

1.83

1.01

10.1

Note: N = 1,245 to 1,254

As before, marriage and friendships was seemingly highly valued as was being successful and finding steady work. So these first year college students want it all – success in love and work.  Damn these kids — who do they think they are?

I was then able to correlate the goal responses with measures of self-esteem, narcissism, and the Big Five. Below is a table showing the relevant correlations.

Table 2: Correlations between Goal Items and Measures of Self-Esteem, Narcissism, Extraversion, and Agreeableness

Goal

Self-Esteem

NPI Total

NPI-EE

PDQ-NPD

Extraversion

Agreeableness

Having a good marriage and family life

.17

.05

-.09

-.07

.17

.29

Being successful in my line of work

.18

.18

-.01

.04

.19

.19

Having strong friendships

.16

.08

-.08

-.05

.26

.25

Being able to find steady work

.15

.09

-.03

-.02

.14

.20

Finding a purpose and meaning in my life

.04

.10

-.03

.00

.17

.15

Being able to give my children better opportunities than I’ve had

.11

.11

-.06

.03

.20

.25

Having plenty of time for recreation and hobbies

.07

.18

.08

.09

.15

.07

Making a contribution to society

.14

.18

-.03

.02

.25

.20

Discovering new ways to experience things

.15

.26

.05

.11

.27

.12

Having lots of money

.08

.34

.26

.21

.18

.03

Living close to parents and relatives

.12

.11

.01

.04

.16

.24

Working to correct social and economic inequalities

.08

.19

.03

.05

.19

.14

Being a leader in my community

.13

.36

.12

.16

.35

.18

Getting away from this area of the country

-.09

.19

.18

.18

.04

-.13

Note: Correlations ≥ |.06| are statistically significant at p < .05.  Correlations  ≥ |.20| are bolded. Self-Esteem was measured with the Rosenberg (1989) scale. The NPI (Raskin & Terry, 1988) was used so we that could compute the NPI-EE (Entitlement/Exploitativeness) subscale (see Ackerman et al., 2011) and even the total score (yuck!). The PDQ-NPD column is the Narcissistic Personality Disorder subscale of the Personality Diagnostic Questionnaire-4 (Hyler, 1994).  Extraversion and Agreeableness were measured using the Big Five Inventory (John et al., 1991).

What do I make of these results?  On the face of it, I do not see a major cause for alarm or worry.  These college students seem to want it all and it will be fascinating to track the development of these goals over the course of their college careers.  I also think Table 2 provides some reason to caution against using goal change studies as evidence of increases in narcissism but I am probably biased.  However, I do not think there is compelling evidence that the most strongly endorsed goals are strongly positively related to measures of narcissism.  This is especially true when considering the NPI-EE and PDQ correlations.

Thanks to Drs. Robert Ackerman, Katherine Corker, and Edward Witt.

The Life Goals of Kids These Days

The folks at the Language Log did a nice job of considering some recent claims about the narcissism and delusions of today’s young people. I want to piggy-back on that post with an illustration from another dataset based on work I have done with some colleagues.

We considered a JPSP paper by a group I will just refer to as Drs. Smith and colleagues. Smith et al. used data from the Monitoring the Future Study from 1976 to 2008 to evaluate possible changes in the life goals of high school seniors. They classified high school seniors from 1976 to 1978 as Baby Boomers (N = 10,167) and those from 2000 to 2008 as Millennials (N= 20,684). Those in-between were Gen Xers but I will not talk about them in the interest of simplifying the presentation.

Students were asked about 14 goals and could answer on a 1 to 4 point scale (1=Not Important to 4=Extremely Important). Smith et al. used a centering procedure to report the goals but I think the raw numbers are as enlightening.  Below are the 14 goals ranked by the average level of endorsement for the Millennials.

Mean Level

% Reporting Extremely Important

Goal

Millennials

Boomers

SD

Millennials

Boomers

Having a good marriage and family life

3.64

3.57

.76

76.1%

73.3%

Being able to find steady work

3.59

3.54

.66

67.2%

63.4%

Having strong friendships

3.57

3.49

.70

66.5%

60.8%

Being able to give my children better opportunities than I‘ve had

3.54

3.30

.78

66.7%

50.5%

Being successful in my line of work

3.53

3.40

.72

63.5%

54.2%

Finding purpose and meaning in my life

3.41

3.52

.80

59.8%

64.3%

Having plenty of time for recreation and hobbies

3.10

2.88

.79

33.3%

24.5%

Having lots of money

2.83

2.54

.89

25.9%

16.5%

Making a contribution to society

2.81

2.63

.87

24.0%

18.0%

Discovering new ways to experience things

2.80

2.70

.88

24.0%

20.0%

Living close to parents and relatives

2.50

2.04

.97

17.5%

8.3%

Being a leader in my community

2.38

1.91

.98

15.7%

6.8%

Working to correct social and economic inequalities

2.30

2.22

.92

12.4%

10.0%

Getting away from this area of the country

1.98

1.80

1.08

14.5%

11.4%

Overall Goal Rating

3.00

2.82

.40

What do I make of this?  Not surprisingly, I see more similarities than big differences.  Marriage and family life are important to students as is having a steady job. So high school students want it all – success in love and work.  I do not see “alarming” trends in these results but this is my subjective interpretation.

As I said, Smith et al. used a centering approach with the data.  I think they computed a grand mean across the 14 goals for each respondent and then centered each individual’s response to the 14 goals around that grand mean.  Such a strategy might be a fine approach but it seems to make things look “worse” for the Millennials in comparison to Boomers.  I will let others judge as to which analytic approach is better but I do worry about researcher degrees of freedom here.  I also just like raw descriptive statistics.

[The Monitoring the Future Data are available through ICPSR. My standard $20 contribution to the charity of choice for the first person who emails me with any reporting errors holds.  I really do hope others look at the data themselves.]