Three professors at William Paterson University examined college students’ attitudes toward materialism and discovered a shift in values contrary to previous academic research in this arena. Their resulting publication has won the Distinguished Research Award from the Institute for Global Business Research.
Management professors Robert Laud and Stephen Betts with psychology professor Bruce Diamond measured students’ materialistic ideations against their academic majors. Business students have historically been more oriented toward materialism, and often see a business degree as an avenue to financial and thus personal success, according to previously published studies. However, in their research, William Paterson’s professors found something new: Students across academic disciplines are now just as materialistic in their views, which the professors say is likely a response to the country’s shifting economy.
Laud, Betts, and Diamond go on in their work to explore what they refer to as the “New American Dream”—an increased desire for material gain and security, which often comes at the expense of “personal, moral, and societal well-being.” The professors point to documented correlations between materialism and depression, anxiety, and substance use in making their case. Why the correlations? They suggest that a higher focus on materialism may keep people from pursuing their innate preferences in life—that is, the activities that would make them happiest—as they instead pursue activities that are monetarily driven.
In their paper, titled “College Students’ Attitudes Toward Materialism: The New ‘American Dream,’” Laud, Betts, and Diamond subsequently urge college professors to examine their teachings and rhetoric in class vis-a-vis materialism. Lowering or balancing the value of materialism in class, they say, might spark a new way of thinking among students that is conducive to better mental health.
They also urge business professors to avoid an overemphasis on material gain and profit maximization in class. Conceptualizations such as the “triple bottom line:” i.e.: people, profits, and planet, “allow for students to use the tools that are taught for running business while valuing things beyond their own material gain,” they say.
There were some adult learners among the college students the professors surveyed, which ranged in age from 18 to 64, with an average age of 24.
A “strong finding” in their study, which the professors say bears further investigation, is that the older a student was, the lower their focus on materialism was. Laud, Betts, and Diamond therefore question whether materialism decreases as people age, or whether it stays consistent within each person across the lifespan, suggesting that today’s youth are more materialistic than the youth of previous generations.
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