A lot of people want to be rich and I am revolted/happy

Ramit Sethi

From the New York Times:

According to the Census Bureau’s 2007 Statistical Abstract of the United States, most college freshmen in 1970 said their primary goal was to develop a meaningful life philosophy. In 2005, by contrast, most freshmen said their primary goal was to be comfortably rich.

Well, on one hand that makes me disgusted, but it’s sure good for traffic!!! Ugh.

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Related: Why Do You Want to be Rich?

Update: I stand corrected, sort of. Elizabeth writes: “I don’t know if you went back to the actual census statistics (PDF) but this was an unfair comparison by the NYT. Or maybe the NYT just didn’t bother to look at the original data and only took what the census bureau had given them in their press release . If this was the case that was lazy fact-checking by the journalists. We should be considering why there was such a jump in the 70s to 80s and not 70’s til now– as nothing really changed from then until now.


My apologies for not digging into the data myself, but she’s right: It appears there was a huge change from wanting to develop a “meaningful life philosophy” to wanting to be rich from the 70s to the 80s–and it’s remained relatively stagnant since then. Also, this is why I love the people who read iwillteachyoutoberich.

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  1. Jonathan

    That’s pretty interesting.

    The primary reason I want to handle my money well and have a lot of it isn’t so I can afford some crazy mansion or Ferraris, I just want enough to provide security for myself and my family. If we have any medical problems, God forbid, then I want the money to be able to pay for the best treatment.

    A good vacation here and there wouldn’t hurt either. 😉

  2. Jeremy Bettis

    I don’t think that you should be disgusted. What should be a college freshman’s primary goal? I think it should be figuring out how to make a career for themselves, which should be the reason they are in college. The survey probably didn’t have that as a choice, so being comfortably rich was likely the closest option.

  3. Sheridan

    Honestly. I agree with the census… my goal in working (and in having gone to college and gotten my degree) is to be comfortably rich. Now, the key word there is comfortably. I think of money as a tool, and nothing else, and I have no desire to have hordes of cash lying around doing nothing.

    If I could be comfortably rich, however, I could afford to take time to travel, work only on projects that interest me, and develop a meaningful life philosophy.

    So I guess what I am saying is that if your long term goal is to make elegant wooden cabinets then there is nothing wrong with having the more immediate goal of owning a hammer.

  4. LeisureGuy

    I was graduated from college back in 1961, and in those halcyon days employment was plentiful, so (perhaps) graduates took that for granted and put their energies into finding a meaningful life. Also, the rich then were somewhat remote: the Rockefellers, the Kennedys, et al., with relatively old fortunes. But in the dot-com era young people saw their coevals suddenly (within a few years) become millionaires and even billionaires, so the possibility of great riches loomed larger even as employment became less secure, with few good jobs and more off-shoring. So the view of the new graduating class is perhaps understandable.

  5. Ryan

    There could be other factors at play. 35 years ago, everyone assumed that you grew up, got a good job, and worked there till you retired. Now, I can imagine that a lot of recent grads have already realized that a) there is no job security and b) money = freedom from the 9-5 life.

    True, many of the “get rich” crowd probably wants money for money’s sake. But there have to be others out there like me who just want it because it will give you the freedom to choose your work, rather than just hanging around for the paycheck.

  6. Andrew

    Ramit — I think you ask the right question: why does the new generation want to be rich?

    Drawing only upon the one response so far, my sense is:

    a) freedom a la Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad.

    b) no confidence that corporations or government will take care of them…thus, need wealth for security.

    c) they grew up watching the rat race keep everyone on the constant go, pull apart marriages and pretty much consume one’s entire life….I think they want to avoid such a crazy lifestyle…and a lot of money can help one to achieve that goal.

  7. trip

    I feel the same way Jonathan. I have no desire to be rich. I just want a bit of security for my family.

    I drives me crazy went “rich” is touted as the goal (the blog you are reading is excluded :). Even if you have a $3 million portfolio at retirement, you are not rich. That money has to last another 30 years.

  8. Allen.H

    I’d replace that with “financially free and independent”, many people are rich but are not free or independent when it comes to finance, those will lose their money sooner or later.


  9. Matt

    I think a lot of young people are put off by the standard 9 -5 work style. As a recent grad with a lot of friends still in school or just graduated, I can say we see a number of alternative possibilities to the typical workday. It can be pursuing music, art, skateboarding, or any number of business ideas. We see people who are rich not from working at your standard firm and aspire for their lifestyle. There are so many television programs glamorizing these lifestyles that one cannot help but desire them. So screw philosophy, we want to be rich and party at private clubs in Vegas. Its an immensely materialistic society, and we want the means to be able to live in it. Yet only a few a people have even the slightest idea how to go about doing it. So what did I do? I got an engineering degree and have a 9 – 5 job, save monthly, and started investing in ETFs. Good luck kids.

  10. John Wesley

    I think the survey from the 70’s was just a hippy aberration. This is America, the land that greed built where money rules all.

  11. Adam

    I’d be interested to see what paths they would choose to achieve that wealth. It wouldn’t surprise me if many said “Be the next American Idol”.

  12. Ramit Sethi

    Or win the lottery 🙁

  13. interested reader

    Could it be that kids are less naive now about the correlation between being rich and being happy?

    More aware of the consequences of their actions on their fiscal and mental outcomes?

  14. Nagel

    Wanting to have money is not disgusting. It’s much easiler to achieve a meaningful life philosophy than get rich.

  15. Jonathan

    Hey Adam,

    My ex almost made it pretty far in the American Idol competition, lol. She was in the top 50 out of 10,000 in Florida.

    Anyway, studies do show that happiness does generally seem to increase with income, but it has a limit. The super-rich aren’t more happy than the rich. And let’s not forget, there are plenty of middle-class people who are also extremely happy. Money does not equal happiness — but it does seem to make it easier to be happy. 🙂

  16. sfmoneyhal

    My dad has spent many years slaving away as a hardware engineer to make lots of money. he makes six figures and he still isn’t satisfied.

    and they say money buys happiness … it buys a lot of pain and agony.

  17. Kimber

    Well, I didn’t know what I wanted as a freshman. I did know that all else being equal, I’d prefer being rich to not being rich.

    I think saying being rich is a default answer.

  18. Enrique

    Having grown up with wealth, I can not say that made me any happier.

    As a child, I rarely spend time with my Dad since he was always working.

    Money will give opportunities and comfort but not happiness.

  19. Justin Fritts

    The one thing I think may have been overlooked here, I didn’t read all the comments so I can’t be 100%, is that now almost every college freshman pulls a 3.0 or better and suddenly no one gets C’s. I think this proves that college has become far too easy or simplified. Time to get rid of some majors and make college students actually learn something useful and challenging.

  20. James

    Note also in the study posted in the update that median family income essentially DOUBLED from the 70s to the 80s. Perhaps there was a switch where suddenly a lot more people were making more money than before and everything became a little more materialistic, and it stuck ever since.

  21. Eugene

    Well, I think the problem isn’t with the college students as per se. Rather the society we live in today- that puts material things and self gratification above everything else that bring “REAL” pleasure and deeper meaning to life.

    Yes, a good and healthy life is important and everyone should aspire to attain one. But it shouldn’t necessarily be the one hollywood depicts or the sleeky Wall St. Executives, who usually have nothing more than big mansions and Ferraris to show for! Point is, college kids just have the wrong idols to look upto. Thanks to the American Media

  22. Joseph Hertzlinger

    Were they looking at the same universities in 1970 and later? Maybe they only took a survey of Leftist U in 1970.

  23. Mary

    i want to be rich. dream big