Significantly more Americans ages 13 to 22 say it’s important to buy a home and make “a lot of money” than to marry, have children, and commit to a faith, according to a new late-April survey of 1,600 randomly chosen participants. Sixty-nine and 59 percent of the youthful respondents, respectively, said those two are extremely or very important, their top choices among life milestones.
A majority of poll respondents said they thought marrying was an important life goal, just not in as high numbers as those who rated a house, money, and health as “extremely or very important.” Young people who are religious and attend private high schools and colleges were significantly more likely than their less religious and publicly schooled counterparts to prioritize faith and family. That is consistent with sociological research that finds desire for marriage and family is intertwined with faith, and that secular education erodes faith.
“Thinking about the long term, how important do you think it is for you personally to do each of the following in your lifetime?” the April 24-27 poll from The Federalist and Young America’s Foundation asked. When the pollster suggested “buy a home,” 69 percent replied that was either very or extremely important, the highest item rated. Young women were slightly more likely than young men to rate buying a home as important, at 71 to 66 percent.
Conservatives, those who attend church once or more per month, and private college students were more likely than other groups to say buying a home was a very or extremely important life goal, but all groups rated this life achievement highly.
“Make a lot of money” was the second-highest-rated answer for important lifetime achievements among those polled. Young men were slightly more likely than young women to consider this “very” or “extremely” important, at 62 percent to 57 percent. Conservatives and more regular church attendees were also slightly more likely to rate making “a lot” of money an important life goal. This could be because religiously committed young Americans are higher achievers and more conscientious than their non-religious counterparts.
Seventy-five percent of those polled said it was very or extremely important to “Save some of the money you make for the future” and 71 percent said it was very or extremely important to “exercise and live a healthy lifestyle.”
Also rating as important, but at significantly lower percentages, life goals were marriage and children. Fifty-two percent of poll respondents considered “get married” a “very” or “extremely” important life goal, with men and women statistically tied on that question. Twenty-four percent said it was a “somewhat important” life goal.
The United States is facing a fiscally and culturally impoverishing demographic decline largely due to increasing reluctance to create families. It’s currently not as bad as Europe and Asia but still significant and likely to further strain government budgets that redistribute wealth from the working young to the nonworking elderly. A lack of children leads to a lack of cultural dynamism and makes economic conditions worse.
Marriage also helps young people amass wealth by reducing family expenses (two households are more expensive to keep up than one) and motivating people, especially men, to achieve more to benefit those who matter most to them. It also increases savings rates, which is important for wealth accumulation.
Private high school and college attendees, and high school students who planned to attend college, placed a higher priority on marriage than those who attended public institutions and did not plan to attend college. Conservatives and those who attend church at least once a month were also significantly more likely to consider marriage “extremely” or “very important” compared to progressives and those who rarely attend church.
Having children was one of the lower-rated life goals for the young people polled, although three-quarters of young people considered that either “extremely,” “very,” or “somewhat” important. Women were slightly but noticeably less likely than men to consider children an important or very important life goal.
Again, there was a significant divide between students who attend private versus public institutions, with students attending private college or high school much more likely to consider children a top life priority. Typically private high schools, and many private colleges, are religiously oriented.
As for items even lower on young Americans’ priority list, just 52 percent said it was important to “volunteer in your community” and 41 percent said it was important to attend religious services.
As sociologist Charles Murray points out in his guidance to young Americans and other work, centuries of human experience shows that happiness consistently comes from four major domains: Faith, family, community, and work. These survey responses suggest that a significant number of Generation Z are putting all their happiness eggs in one basket — career — instead of diversifying their life investment portfolio. That sets them up for later disappointments and regret when they reach middle age and a family is harder to put together, and the wealth accumulation it fuels has been delayed a decade or two.
Sociologist Robert Putnam compiled decades of data showing that these trends among the young of focusing on themselves and withdrawing from commitments such as marriage, religion, and community started largely with their Baby Boomer parents, the Me Generation. The resulting erosion of social capital has especially been devastating to America’s poor and working class.
Historically, thriving cultures make it clear to each new generation that their commitments to others are important and necessary not only for their own happiness but for others’ happiness. Young people used to be explicitly taught that we all owe certain duties God and to our fellow man, and that not fulfilling these obligations is both selfish and dangerous. The heavy investments others such as parents and teachers and caretakers have made in their lives should be paid forward, rather than simply consumed.
The continued withdrawal from commitments to God and others portends ill, not just for the young people who have not been properly taught, but also for the culturally impoverished society they will one day inherit without the capacity or the moral sense to steward it well.