Today’s young people have a complicated relationship with money, dismissing it as a paramount source of happiness yet conceding its power over them.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series of stories based on an AP-MTV poll conducted by Knowledge Networks Inc. from April 16 to 23.
WASHINGTON — Today’s young people have a complicated relationship with money, dismissing it as a paramount source of happiness yet conceding its power over them.
Money is nowhere near the top of the list when they are asked what makes them happiest. Friends and family are their chief pleasures, followed by God, pets and pastimes like listening to music.
But money can certainly help, according to an extensive poll by The Associated Press and MTV. And a lack of it — and the pressures it can cause — can sure make their lives unhappy.
The survey of the nation’s young people found only 1 percent name money as the thing that gives them the most joy. Twenty percent name spending time with family, and 15 percent cited friends.
Yet financial issues are among several problems atop the pile of things they say make them most unhappy. And while a majority are happy with the amount of money they and their families have, money ranks as their fourth-highest source of stress, and 55 percent say there are many things they can’t afford.
“Our son wasn’t planned, and we’ve basically been scrambling since I got pregnant,” said Wendy Hill, 25, an employment coordinator from Worthington, Ohio, where she lives with her husband and son. “It’s very frustrating and causes a lot of strain.”
Many sense that down the road, money will have a telling impact on their lives. Asked to describe their ideal vision of happiness, the most frequent responses are having no financial worries and a good family, each mentioned by one in five.
“I want to have a family when I grow up and be able to support it,” said 18-year-old Theresa Paoletti of Spencerport, N.Y., a college student battling money problems since getting a car two years ago. “If I don’t get rich I won’t complain, but it’s always nice to have money.”
Further underscoring young people’s ambiguity, 49 percent say they would be happier if they had more money, but the exact same amount say additional money would leave them about as happy as they already are.
By several measures, those in middle-income households express feeling the most financial pressure, even more so than lower-income people.
About one in eight of those earning $50,000 to $74,999 a year cite money as the factor that makes them unhappiest, almost double the rate for those making less. They are also likelier than lower-earning people to list it as their chief source of stress.
Money worries increase with age in the survey, with four in 10 of those aged 21 to 24 cite it as their major problem — 20 times more than those aged 13 to 15.
“I know I don’t get to have everything I want, but my mom still tries to give it to us,” said Madelyn Dancy, 15, of Memphis, Tenn. “If we did get everything, I wouldn’t value it as much. I’m okay where we’re at.”
Five percent of whites, 8 percent of blacks and 15 percent of Hispanics put money at the top of their unhappiness list. Fifty-five percent of males name it as their greatest source of woe, 10 percent more than females.
“I feel pressure,” said Rob Carpenter, 20, a college student from Lilburn, Ga. “I want a family and I want to make sure they can have whatever they need. I think about it a lot.”
Males are also likelier than females to say they want to be rich. Researchers have long observed that money tends to mean more to men than women.
“Traditionally, men are supposed to be the breadwinner,” said Jerald Bachman, a social psychology professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. “For women that’s not as central a part of the self-image. This breadwinner thing dies hard.”
Young people from the Northeast seem the most pressured by financial uncertainty. They are likeliest to list it as their chief reason for being unhappy and their main source of stress. The least financially stressed are those from the West and Midwest.
Young people from the highest-income families seem happier with life overall. Eight in 10 of those earning $75,000 or more annually express happiness with life in general, compared with six in 10 with smaller incomes.