experiment economy Employment

Gen Workin’ Hard or Gen Hardly Workin’?


Most of us spend a third of our weekdays trying to get those tiny residual pieces of barcode sticker off the bottom of cheap plastic items working. You’d think this might translate into some pretty clear and straightforward opinions about work in America, but just like when you thought you’d be able to get the rest of that sticker off with a wet paper towel and a bit of elbow grease—you’d be wrong.


For instance, it’s not exactly original to say that “the youth just don’t want to work anymore.” But do Americans really believe that? And while we may say we want our jobs to be fulfilling, are we actually only interested in filling our bank account?


To measure Americans’ true thoughts about the work ethic of those dang kids today and their actual feelings about whether they’d prefer their corporate job not be soulless, we used a list experiment. Think of it as a methodological truth serum that gives Americans cover to express how they really feel by asking them to select the total number of statements with which they agree (without asking which ones) from a larger list.


Data plot of a list experiment showing differences in private and public opinion on generational work ethic


While 63% of Americans say publicly that younger generations don’t work as hard as the older ones, just 41% agree with that statement privately. The difference is even starker among Boomers—71% question the youngins’ work ethic publicly, compared to just 29% when allowed to hide behind our list experiment. TL;DR Boomers on Gen Z:


GIF of Michael Scott (from The Office) saying "I would never say this to her face but she is a wonderful person and a gifted artist."


Fulfillment as a motivation for work turns out to be important no matter how you ask: 73% say publicly that work is about more than money, while 68% agree privately. Although a majority of Millennials still prefer fulfillment over money when asked both privately and publicly (62% and 74%, respectively), they are the generation with the biggest difference between their public and private opinions on the subject. In other words, Millennials are apparently unwilling to reveal their true preference for a job that would make a dent in their crushing monthly student loan (and child care) payments, even if it doesn’t fulfill their lifelong dream of being paid to watch Seinfeld reruns.


With the new push to include salary ranges in job postings, let us be the first to call on companies to include a life satisfaction range the next time they hit up Indeed.