Washington: Young adults are more envious than older adults over looks and for a wider range of other reasons, according to a new study.
The study also found that both men and women are more likely to envy someone who is approximately their own age.
“We wanted to investigate envy not only because it is subjectively experienced as negative but also because it has been suggested as motivation for a whole host of events – from fairy-tale murder to, in modern times, the force behind the Occupy Wall Street movement,” said coauthor Christine Harris, professor at University of California, San Diego in US.
The researchers conducted two studies, one surveyed more than 900 people aged 18 to 80 on their own experiences of being envious and another that asked 800 more in the same age range to remember when they had been the targets of envy.
More than three fourths of all study participants reported experiencing envy in the last year, with slightly more women (79.4 per cent) than men (74.1 per cent).
The experience declined with age – about 80 per cent of people younger than 30 reported feeling envious in the last year. By ages 50 and over, that figure went down to 69 per cent. People envied others of their own gender.
“It surprised us how consistently men envied other men and women, women. Even in domains like financial and occupational success, where you can imagine that a woman might envy a man his better pay or status, that wasn’t usually the case,” said Harris.
Also, people most often direct their envy at similarly aged others – within about five years of their own age.
What people envied, though, changed with age. Young people reported more frequently feeling envious over looks and romance as well as achievement at school and social success.
For example, 40 per cent of participants under 30 said they envied others for their success in romance while fewer than 15 per cent of those over 50 said the same.
In five of eight domains, there were no clear differences – though men did envy occupational success more often than women (41.4 per cent to 24.5), while women (23.8 per cent) envied looks more often than men (13.5), with the difference there fuelled by the younger cohort.
In the second study, the researchers examined the aspect relationships. Envy by close friends was reported nearly three times as often as envy by relatives.
When they looked at their data in another way, though, grouping people into nonfamily and “family-like” relationships – including best friends and romantic partners in the latter category, along with siblings and relatives – there were fewer incidents of envy among the “family-like.”
It may be that the success of these people, perhaps because of how we think they reflect on us, the researchers said, is more cause for happiness and pride than envy.
The study was published in the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology.