A DOSE OF REALITY

By Published on .

When they received their college diplomas last June, students from the class of 2001 had no idea how realistic their first few months in the real world would be. Not surprisingly, most were optimistic, and just 16 percent said they were very concerned about a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Today, 41 percent of those young adults find themselves deeply alarmed by the prospect of terrorism happening again in this country.

Between Oct. 11-22, 2001, 512 members of the class of 2001, all between the ages of 21 and 25, from over 100 U.S. colleges and universities, were asked about their hopes and aspirations via the Internet. The study, entitled “Gen2001: A Generation Concerned, A Generation of Promise,� is a follow-up to two previous telephone surveys that polled a larger sample of the same demographic group. The first was conducted November through January 1997, with 2,001 college freshmen, and the second, conducted February through March 2001, with 2,001 pre-graduates. The post-Sept. 11 survey compares the current attitudes of these young adults with the past two studies, in an effort to understand how recent political and economic events have changed this generation's life goals and worldview.

All three surveys were commissioned by Milwaukee-based Northwestern Mutual Financial Network and conducted by Internet research firm Harris Interactive. “Two-thirds of our top 100 financial representatives started with the company at age 25 or younger,� says Northwestern Mutual's study director Deanna Tillisch. “Clearly, college students are important to us. We want to continue to learn what they're all about.�

The terrorist attacks seem to have increased this generation's belief in the country. In March 2001, 53 percent said that they felt the nation was generally headed in the right direction. Just six months later, post-Sept. 11, a full 78 percent felt good about America's future and 74 percent said President George W. Bush was doing an excellent or pretty good job. But compared with the rest of the adult U.S. population — 89 percent gave the president a positive rating after Sept. 11 — young people apparently still think he has work to do. When asked if they would like to fill the president's shoes, however, only 13 percent of twentysomethings wanted the job. And just 23 percent strongly agree they'd be willing to “fight for their country,� far fewer than the 36 percent who were ready to go to war back in March, when the prospects seemed much more remote.

Even with their relatively positive outlook about the country's future, the terrorist attacks appeared to have sobered some of this generation's optimism about their own. Upon graduation, 83 percent of respondents strongly agreed with the statement: “I am sure that someday I will get to where I want to be in life.� But post-Sept. 11, just 62 percent still had the same positive perspective. In fact, the attacks seem to have made many of these young adults think twice about planning their lives too far in advance. In March, 55 percent of them strongly agreed that they had established specific goals for the next five years, but post-Sept. 11, only 32 percent still strongly agreed with the statement.

Concerns about issues beyond themselves have also shifted dramatically in the months between graduation and Sept. 11. The share of respondents who said they were very concerned about education dropped from 63 percent to 39 percent, and the share very concerned about the environment decreased from 51 percent to 33 percent. Interestingly, this group doesn't seem to equate the terrorist attacks with everyday murder and mayhem: 48 percent of respondents said they were very concerned about crime and violence prior to Sept. 11, but just 26 percent were as highly concerned afterward.


For more information, contact Deanna Tillisch at Northwestern Mutual at (414) 299-2075.

HANDS-OFF APPROACH

In 1997, as freshmen in college, 39 percent of the class of 2001 said that it was very important that they have a lot of responsibility in their career. In March 2001, just prior to their graduation, 40 percent still felt that way. After Sept. 11, however, just 25 percent viewed job responsibility as very important.

Q: HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO YOU THAT EACH OF THESE BE A COMPONENT OF YOUR CAREER?

VERY IMPORTANT SOMEWHAT IMPORTANT NOT AT ALL IMPORTANT
HAVING A HIGH-PRESTIGE JOB
1997 26% 51% 22%
March 2001 16% 55% 28%
Post-Sept. 11 18% 54% 28%
HAVING A LOT OF RESPONSIBILITY
1997 39% 54% 7%
March 2001 40% 53% 7%
Post-Sept. 11 25% 62% 13%
EARNING A HIGH SALARY
1997 33% 52% 14%
March 2001 15% 63% 21%
Post-Sept. 11 28% 55% 16%
INSPIRING COLLEAGUES
1997 n/a n/a n/a
March 2001 52% 44% 4%
Post-Sept. 11 33% 53% 14%
WORKING FLEXIBLE HOURS
1997 n/a n/a n/a
March 2001 43% 49% 9%
Post-Sept. 11 42% 47% 11%
Source: Northwestern Mutual Financial Network/Harris Interactive
In this article:
Most Popular