Recession generation? Young adults brace for simpler lifestyle

From USA Today:

At age 26, Angela Trilli doesn’t think she’s one of those so-called materialistic Millennials she has heard about — young people who are absorbed with themselves and their consumption.

She says she’s a saver, not a spender, but unlike many of her peers who didn’t have much to lose in this struggling economy, she says she lost $15,000 — about half of the savings she built up since childhood.

“It’s a very insecure world out there,” says Trilli, of Kendall Park, N.J., who works in marketing for a non-profit. “It was a little shocking to the system. You think things are going in a certain way, but you can’t expect that things are always going to be the same.”

The Millennial generation, or Gen Y, ranges from people in their 20s to those still in grade school. But what they all have in common is the knowledge that the recession has in some way shattered the world they thought they knew. And, depending upon how long the downturn lasts, historians, economists and psychologists say it could shape Millennials’ values and attitudes in much the same way the Depression shaped the attitudes of those growing up in the 1930s. ….

Economic uncertainty can create greater materialism, according to research co-written by psychologist Tim Kasser of Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., and published last year in the journal Motivation and Emotion.

“Most people, when they go through economic recession, may become more frugal,” he says, but they “respond to moments of psychological insecurity by becoming more materialistic.”

A smaller strand of research, he adds, “suggests that during times of insecurity and trauma, there is an opportunity for changing one’s values. If they use that trauma as a way to re-evaluate their lives, to think about what’s really important, there is evidence that people will care less about money and possessions than they did before.”

Historians note that the economy became more dependent on consumption after the Depression and World War II and fueled the dictum that each succeeding generation would be financially better off than the previous one — something most experts say isn’t likely for the Millennials.