Frugality, Generosity, and Materialism in Children and Adolescents

Indicators of Positive Development Conference
March 12-13, 2003
Bureau of Labor Statistics Conference Center
Washington, DC

Abstract

Tim Kasser, Knox College

People’s economic attitudes can be described along three dimensions: Frugality (the tendency to restrain one’s spending), generosity (the tendency to share one’s possessions and money), and materialism (the desire for more money and possessions). This study set out to develop and validate brief measures of these three attitudes in a sample of 206 children and adolescents in fifth through twelfth grades. Factor analyses yielded reliable, four-item scales for each economic attitude. Results showed that boys were less generous and more materialistic than were girls, and that both generosity and frugality tended to decline with age. Frugal students: were higher in self-esteem; reported smoking fewer cigarettes and engaging in more positive environmental behaviors; and imagined that they would save more and spend less on themselves if they received $100. Generous students: were happier and had higher self-esteem; reported engaging in more positive environmental behaviors, drinking less alcohol, and getting in fewer fights and less trouble at school; and imagined that they would give more money to charity if they received $100. Materialistic students: were less happy and more anxious; had lower self-esteem; reported engaging in fewer positive environmental behaviors; and imagined that they would save less and spend more on themselves if they received $100. Future research should use more heterogeneous samples and methods other than self-report to further validate the measures.

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