The pressure of materialism among the youth in the shifting economy

Four young adults say how the tough economy, shrinking job market and soaring cost of living is impacting their dream of living a luxurious life.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

What you need to know:

  • The inability to afford certain material possessions can be quite stressful to young people, who often desire to be trendy and own expensive items.
  • When they are unable to afford the lifestyle they desire, many young adults develop self-esteem issues and mental health challenges.
  • Due to the shrinking economy and soaring rates of unemployment in the country, young people are struggling more than ever to find jobs, which adds to the stress and pressure they are already facing.

The inability to afford certain material possessions can be quite stressful to young people, who often desire to be trendy and own expensive items. When they are unable to afford the lifestyle they desire, many young adults develop self-esteem issues and mental health challenges.

Due to the shrinking economy and soaring rates of unemployment in the country, young people are struggling more than ever to find jobs, which adds to the stress and pressure they are already facing.

Four young adults who are trying to cope with the pressure of acquiring material wealth in the current economy speak out.

Felix Otieno Nyaoke, 23, is an Entrepreneur at Kleen Wash.
Photo credit: Pool

Felix Otieno Nyaoke, 23
Entrepreneurship student at JKUAT, works at a laundry

Whenever the economy is bad, businesses are usually the first to get affected. The impact can be either positive or negative, depending on how well the individual businesses adapt to the changing economic landscape.

At Kleen Wash Services, we offer laundry and dry cleaning services. These are services that different people interact with on a daily basis. Thankfully, technological advancements have helped us grow and diversify our services.

Our goal is to grow even further and offer quality services. The current economic crisis has greatly affected our business operations, including finances, and workforce management. We would like to buy more washing and drying machines so that we can maintain our customers, and work faster.

We really feel the pressure to sail in the same boat as other businesses. The pressure is everywhere. We need to constantly purchase the products we use in our laundry services, we need money to pay employees and we need more laundry machines to ensure quality and fast delivery of services to our customers.

The tough economy has altered the market conditions, and that includes the consumer demand. Many of our customers have less disposable income due to the economic downturn. This has made them reduce their spending on non-essential services such as laundry. Most of them opt to wash clothes the manual way.

This has decreased the demand, compared to the days when the economy was stable. In addition, it has interfered with the consumers’ confidence. People are uncertain about their financial future, so they tend to be more cautious with their spending. 

Currently, as a business, we are experiencing a tough economic situation. Our sales have reduced since we don’t get as many customers as we used to. We are trying to come up with strategies to get back on our feet even though the cost of living is really high.

We are in a competitive market and our competitors constantly come up with different pricing methods that affect the market. When consumers have less disposable income, of course they will go for affordability. For this reason, we have had to reduce our prices.

Regardless of the setbacks and challenges, as an entrepreneur, the shifting economy really challenges me, and it is inspires me. It pushes one to get up from their comfort zone and adapt faster to the changes in the market. Even when the economy is unstable, one has to always have their heads up, and adapt to the trend as fast as possible.

With the prevailing trends, the government should come up with a multi-faceted approach to ease the burden on citizens, which includes quality education, regular skill development, creation of job opportunities and support systems.

They could expand vocational training programmes, create online learning platforms, offer internships and mentorship to students, give incentives to companies that hire young workers, and ensure access to high-speed internet and training in digital literacy.

These measures will help youth leverage on technology for education and work so they can live better lives.

Karen Wasomi, 24, is a literature and arts student at University of Nairobi.
Photo credit: Pool

Karen Wasomi, 24
Art and communication student at UoN, exploring her talent in crocheting

Colonial history, education, globalisation, and family expectations are some of the factors that have contributed to this pressure young people feel to acquire material possessions.

Many Kenyans want to live better lives than their parents or the previous generations, and this desire is greatly influenced by the lifestyles that they see in other parts of the world. Materialism is a human desire to improve or maintain a certain standard of living.

Because of inflation, I realise the things that I was able to do in previous years are a bit harder to accomplish now. Now, it is not easy to just wake up and buy things on a whim.

I like buying books and artsy stuff, yet I haven't been able to buy them as much as I want to since I don’t always have the money. You need money for transport, food and other things. You have to plan for everything you intend on purchasing, sometimes a month or even a week in advance. For me, my current lifestyle feels like a downgrade. Since there is nothing interesting in not being able to afford the things that you were previously able to. It's a bit difficult.

This can affect a person on very many levels. There is a lot of stigma attached to poverty or being broke, or not being able to afford something, and sometimes even in social circles, people may not take you seriously. You can also lose friends or feel left out.

It can be a bit lonely, especially if you want to do things with other people, but you're not able to spend much. You might end up losing friends and being lonely, and that can affect your health.

To cushion the youth against the negative effects of the bad economy, we need to find ways of encouraging economic growth in a way that doesn’t exploit other people. It is important for us to be more social and community-centred, because it doesn't make any sense that the world is currently richer than it has ever been, but all that wealth is owned by a small percentage of people.

It is important for governments to also fight for the less privileged in our societies. If one person is suffering, it should be everyone's problem. The issue is that most of us think that once you rich, the problems affecting poor people are not part of your business, yet they should be. That’s really sad.

Ronny Otieno, 22, is an intern at Africa Uncensored
Photo credit: Pool

Ronny Otieno, 22
Mass Communication and Journalism student at MKU,
intern at Africa Uncensored

Most youth believe that material possessions and services can provide happiness and fulfilment in life. This influences how we think, feel and behave. Some students squander the entire school fees amount just to impress friends or the so-called campus girlfriends.

The country is currently facing an economic crisis. There is a shift in the economy. There are rapid changes in income, prices, opportunities and risks, and people are quite uncertain and insecure about the future. Many are barely able to afford basic commodities. Prices of basic commodities such as food and shelter that we use on a daily basis are now out of reach for many, and fewer can afford non-essential commodities.

There is financial stress. People tend to spend beyond their means to buy things they cannot afford, thereby accumulating debt. The pursuit of material possessions leads to overconsumption and environmental degradation.

Most young adults seek material goods and services in ways that are alarming and not good for them. Most of them do this as a way of coping with stress, enhancing their self-esteem, or signaling their status and success to others.

Many youth have resorted to use dishonourable means to survive in this bad economy, which may be dangerous to them. Additionally, these strategies don’t always work, especially for young people who are still developing in terms of their identity and values.

As young people, we face pressure to live lavish lifestyles from various sources, including our peers, parents and social media. The pressure makes us feel the need to conform to the expectations and norms, or to compete with others for attention and recognition. We easily get influenced by the messages and images that promote the soft life.

The pressure to acquire wealth has negative consequences. It creates feelings of dissatisfaction, increases anxiety and depression, impairs our self-control and decision-making, lowers our academic performance and career prospects, and weakens our relationships.

It is important for us as young people to be aware of the causes and effects of materialism, and to develop critical thinking and self-regulation skills that can help us resist or balance the pressure for materialism.

Young people should seek alternative sources of happiness and fulfilment, such as crafting smart goals, motivating themselves, pursuing personal growth, and establishing authentic relationships. By doing so, we can enhance our well-being, and contribute to a more sustainable and equitable society.

Soila Rita Lolkirik, 22, is a fashion model.
Photo credit: Pool

Soila Rita Lolkirik, 22
Mass communication and journalism student, now a fashion model

The worsening economy has indeed exerted a significant amount of pressure on the youth. One primary source of pressure is the increasing competition for employment opportunities.

As the economy evolves, we have seen certain industries decline while new ones emerge. This requires different skill sets and qualifications. 

The rapid pace of technological advancement adds to the pressure faced by youth. Globalisation, automation and artificial intelligence are replacing traditional jobs, making it necessary for young individuals to continuously adapt and acquire new skills to remain relevant in the job market. This pressure to constantly upskill and stay ahead can be overwhelming for many.

Additionally, financial pressure plays a significant role. The cost of education and student loans has risen, making it increasingly challenging for youths to afford higher education or vocational training without accumulating substantial debt. The burden of loan repayment, societal expectations and the desire for success coupled with the uncertainty of getting a job, only adds to the stress and pressure faced by young people.

Some of the things that were valuable 10 years ago, are not valuable at the moment. They are not viewed in the same way, so people tend to pursue items that the society currently deems worthy, just to keep up. An example is ownership of an iPhone. At this point, having an iPhone puts you at a higher status, and you will be viewed in better light than a person who has an Android phone. This pressure to achieve can lead to feelings of inadequacy and stress.

It is important for society to acknowledge and address the pressure faced by youth in this tough economy. Initiatives such as providing affordable education and vocational training, promoting entrepreneurship, and offering career guidance and support can help alleviate part of the stress. Furthermore, fostering a culture that values personal growth, resilience, and adaptability can empower young people to navigate the challenges of the shifting economy more effectively.