Surprisingly, the Young and Old Have Similar Priorities

The life priorities of younger and older Americans turn out to be strikingly similar, according to a new MetLife Mature Market Institute (MMI) study. The research, which compares attitudes toward having “meaning” or a sense of “purpose” in life for those age 25 to 74, revealed that while the extended recession has had a noticeable impact on people’s lives - particularly in financial areas – its impact has been relatively modest in terms of meaning and purpose.

“Meaning Really Matters: The MetLife Study on How Purpose is Recession-Proof and Age-Proof,” is a follow-up to 2009’s “Discovering What Matters,” which looked at the 45- to 74-year-old group only. A key finding was that “meaning,” particularly the importance of family and friends, is a primary component of living “the Good Life” for all age groups. Both studies, based on the work of leading life coach and best-selling author Richard Leider (The Power of Purpose, Repacking Your Bags), report that most adults want financial freedom, good physical and mental health, deep relationships, a sense of purpose and to feel that they belong, all synopsized as: money, medicine, meaning and place.

The study is accompanied by a worksheet that helps people plan for “the Good Life” by having them answer a series of questions that will lead to an outline for vision and purpose in their lives. The tool, “Planning Tips: Meaning Really Matters,” can be downloaded from the MMI Web page.

“Across the board, regardless of age, family and friends are most important above all else,” said Sandra Timmermann, Ed.D., director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute. “Further, people with purpose in their lives, tend to be living ‘the Good Life.’ Even though many have suffered financial setbacks in the past couple of years, their priorities remain unchanged. Purpose is age-proof and recession-proof.”

According to the MMI, for many, the financial challenges were also constructive and encouraged them to introduce new approaches for financial security. Many people reported shifting activities to those that cost them less, while boosting savings and reducing their investment risk.

The study reports being able to weather significant changes and transitions caused by “trigger events,” positive or negative, helps people achieve “the Good Life.”

“Achieving ‘the Good Life’ requires vigilant juggling of time and energy in all four synopsized areas so none are sacrificed,” said Richard Leider. “People must also be prepared for change, which has the propensity to derail those who are not able to roll with the punches. Being able to ‘unpack,’ to sort out what’s truly important, to extricate oneself from ‘limbo,’ being stuck and not being able to reprioritize, and to ‘repack,’ to get back on the road, is the key to dealing with the events that get in our way.”

The study also found the following:

  • Maturity “rocks.” Older people spend more time on meaning-laden activities, while those in the younger group focus on generating, managing and accumulating money. Conversely, younger people experience more change and are challenged to adapt.
  • Everyone has some lack of vision of their future and how they can get there at some point, but those with lower “focus” and “vision” exhibit less tendency to take positive action.
  • Having an imbalance of focus and vision impedes progress, so one’s response to re-establish this balance is critical. Those who can “unpack” old, non-productive habits and “repack” with new responses do well.
  • While most people experience some negative triggers, those with multiple recent triggers face the most difficult challenges.
  • Longevity has certainly been increasing over the past decades. Extra decades of living can mean a second or even third career, or time to volunteer, learn new skills, travel and forge long-term relationships.

“If people are dissatisfied with their lives – if they feel a lack of meaning – they can do something about it,” said Leider. “Discovering purpose is an ongoing quest and is likely to change a number of times as people grow older and their experiences change. Whatever their age, stage, work status or financial circumstance, they can explore their purpose, find other solutions and land on a new path.”

In September 2009, 1,675 individuals between the ages of 25 and 74 participated in the online survey conducted by Chadwick Martin Bailey, a global custom market research and consulting firm. Respondents aged 25–44 had household incomes of $25,000 or more and investable assets of $25,000 or more ($50,000 or more for 35- to 44-year-olds). Those aged 45–74 had household incomes of $50,000 or more ($25,000 or more if retired) and investable assets of $50,000 or more.

The MetLife Mature Market Institute®
Established in 1997, the Mature Market Institute (MMI) is MetLife's research organization and a recognized thought leader on the multi-dimensional and multi-generational issues of aging and longevity. MMI's groundbreaking research, gerontology expertise, national partnerships, and educational materials work to expand the knowledge and choices for those in, approaching, or caring for those in the mature market.

MMI supports MetLife's long-standing commitment to identifying emerging issues and innovative solutions for the challenges of life. MetLife, Inc. (NYSE: MET), through its subsidiaries and affiliates, is a leading provider of insurance, employee benefits and financial services with operations throughout the United States and the Latin American, Europe and Asia Pacific regions.

For more information about the MMI, please visit:

“Meaning Really Matters,” the accompanying Planning Tips tool, and the 2009 study, “Discovering What Matters,” can be downloaded from They can also be ordered through Contact Us or by writing to: MetLife Mature Market Institute, 57 Greens Farms Road, Westport, CT 06880.


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Debra Caruso
Shalana Morris
Joseph Madden