When was the last time you discussed your salary, the cost of a major car or home purchase, or your personal finances with your friends? If you are not unlike the rest of us mid-twenty-somethings, it was probably pretty recently. In today's Sunday Styles section, NYT writer Alex Williams explores the openness of our generation when it comes to personal finances. (See Williams article). Williams attributes the phenomenon of glib to generational and cultural characteristics.
Williams concludes that the reasons we blab, unlike our predecessors, is generally three-fold. First, technology (i.e. blogging, MySpace, and Facebook) helps facilitate a constant flow of communication. Second, we are a generation with a "shared struggle," who have come into our own against the backdrop of 9/11, a sluggish economy, and a major credit crunch-- making us more open and of the mind that "we are in this together." Third, unlike our parents, we don't measure our success in terms of dollars, and therefore don't mind sharing such trifles as salaries.
I agree with most of Williams' assertions, but for different reasons. First of all, as a graduating law student with nearly $200,000 in student loans (guffaw!), how can I not talk about what consumes every fiber of my being? Second, I am surrounded by peers who share my financial woes and can relate- so talking about it helps alleviate some of the stress and helps us take solace in the fact that we are all in this together.
Finally, and what I think Williams overlooks, we are caught in what I call the Brooklynization of America. That is, I think many Gen Y-ers find it unappealing to work 120 hours a week for some corporation or law firm because we do not care about the status. We are a generation raised to believe that our value lies in cooperation, participation, and making a contribution to the greater good. Growing up, we were told that we were "special," and its not about winning or losing, but how we play the game. So, we talk about salary because it simply does not matter. We don't equate our self-worth with numbers. And, as my friend Ian points out, our high-earner peers talk about money to alleviate their guilt about choosing large salaries over do-gooder work.
The irony is-- while we are a culture becoming ever the more open about finances and ever the more detached from valuing ourselves according to salary, we are also becoming increasingly materialistic. I think that every one of my girlfriends owns a Coach purse, and a few other choice "status purchases." And the obsession with money is hitting us earlier on in life. Last summer, while strolling in Manhattan, I saw a girl of no more than thirteen carrying around her accessory puppy in her Louis Vuitton handbag while sipping an iced mocha frappe from Starbucks, all whilst struggling to answer her cell phone. "What is wrong with this country?" I thought to myself. How are we going to support the up and coming generation, who are becoming material-obsessed at younger and younger ages?
Maybe our job is to bridge the gap between our elders-- who fear talking about money-- and our successors-- who can't seem to get enough of flaunting their parents' money. Perhaps opening a healthy dialogue is a good way to alleviate our financial fears, continue to work together for solutions, and combat the up-and-coming cash-crazed culture.