Young People Aren't All Totally into 'Stuff'

By Ryan, Lisa; Donahoo, Daniel et al. | Ecos, August-September 2005 | Go to article overview

Young People Aren't All Totally into 'Stuff'

Ryan, Lisa, Donahoo, Daniel, Winfree, Tomi, Ecos

Combined youth spending power in the 11 major economies, including Australia, exceeds a massive US$750 billion dollars per year. But recent national research shows that against a constant marketing onslaught, young people are beginning to show signs of consumer leadership. They seem to be becoming more aware of being a key part of the solution to over-consumption and its impact on global resources and are thinking about more sustainable ways of living.

With growing concern about consumption patterns in Australia, social researchers, such as Clive Hamilton and Hugh Mackay, are highlighting how over-consumption contributes to problems that not only affect our everyday lives, but impact on the entire globe.

On behalf of National Youth Affairs Research Scheme (NYARS)(1), and supported by Griffith University, the International Young Professional's Foundation (IYPF) (2), undertook new research into the influences on young Australian's consumption patterns and asked how young people can be supported to lead their communities towards more sustainable consumption patterns. The results are reported in Sustainable Consumption: Young Australians as Agents of Change.

Young Australians represent a significant slice of consumption expenditure, as they do in most affluent societies, where they hold sway over the discretionary spending. And when young Australians spend, they buy distractions. Not bound yet to mortgages or major assets, it's clothes, food, entertainment and communications equipment that are popular purchases. Today, for example, teenagers in Australia lead the world in mobile telephone use, with at least 45 per cent of just the 13- to 15-year-old age group owning a mobile.

According to Sustainable Consumption, the consumption patterns of young Australians are consistent with the qualities of contemporary consumer society. Young people establish their own identities through what they buy, and they seek social inclusion by purchasing the newest and 'coolest' products on the market. While young Australians are critical of the consuming desire, most nevertheless continue, following general peer and social behaviour.

The report is particularly critical of the role advertising and media play in promoting high consumption lifestyles. Young people are targeted by considerable amounts of product advertising annually, and often do not comprehend the extent to which the media develops--often strategically--conceptions of desirable lifestyles and personal identities.

However, the research indicates that an increasing number of young people are becoming conscious of the influence of the media in these matters--many have grown up aware of the strategies the media employ to influence them and the report identifies ways in which young people can and do use the media, in turn, to promote sustainable lifestyles.

Of those surveyed, many believed that their peers buy too many consumer products. While they were also critical of aspects of consumer culture, participants were not always critical of consumption as a way of life per se. Paradoxically, many young Australians are clearly unhappy and unfulfilled by consumer society. This point explains why many are seeking out alternative and, in many cases, more sustainable lifestyles.

'Young people increasingly understand the interconnectedness of our world and that what they buy, how they travel, and the energy and water they use, often has a negative impact on others and the planet. They are motivated to do something about it. They are realising that others are not going to do it for them and that they have to take the lead,' says Mr Cameron Nell, cofounder and CEO of the IYPF, an organisation that supports and promotes youth initiatives for sustainability.

The study identified a growing trend of young Australians trying to minimise their environmental impact through a variety of sustainable lifestyle practices: such as water and energy conservation, vegetarianism, downsizing and refusing to succumb to the stress of a hyper-competitive job market. …

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