Who Envies Others the Most?

I just found out my best friend is moving to one of the wealthiest communities in the country.  Not only will she be able to avoid all the rush-hour traffic in our town, she'll also be able to remove her son from his inner city high school and place him in one of the top schools in the state.

The green-eyed monster has reared its ugly head.

Actually, though, I'm a little out of my element.  When it comes to envy, guess who has it most?  Young adults.

I guess that's because they're starting out and it's all ahead of them.  Who wouldn't envy someone who has a good job, the ability to move to a better home in a better town, and to place their kid in a school that doesn't have others pulling guns (OK, so it was a bb gun) on their peers?

A new study has found that young adults are more envious than older adults. They are more envious over looks and for a wider range of other reasons, too. It also appears that both men and women are more likely to envy someone who is approximately their own age. And it seems that people tend to envy someone of the same gender.  

Envy can be a powerful emotion,” says UC San Diego psychology professor Christine Harris. “Christian tradition even has it identified as one of the seven deadly sins. 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.”

Researchers 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. Most of the subjects were American, according to newswise.com.

Envy was a common experience. More than three fourths of all study participants reported experiencing envy in the last year, with slightly more women (79.4 percent) than men (74.1 percent).

The experience declined with age: About 80 percent of people younger than 30 reported feeling envious in the last year. By ages 50 and over, that figure went down to 69 percent.

Overwhelmingly, people envied others of their own gender.

“It surprised us,” says Harris, “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.”
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 percent of participants under 30 said they envied others for their success in romance while fewer than 15 percent of those over 50 said the same.

“Envy of monetary success and occupational success was common across all age groups,” the study coauthors write, “but these two domains were unique in being more often envied by older people.”

Men did envy occupational success more often than women (41.4 percent to 24.5), while women (23.8 percent) envied looks more often than men (13.5), with the difference there fueled by the younger cohort. Women also selected “other” more often.

Reports of being the target of envy were remarkably consistent with the reports of experiencing the emotion oneself, yet there was a departure in the area of money: Many more people in the first of two studies said money provoked them to envy than people in the second reported being envied for their wealth. That could be, the coauthors write, because people are just not very good at spotting when they’re turning others green with their success. Or it could be “many envy the few that are relatively wealthy,” Harris says. Or it is a sampling error that can’t be ruled out.

Close friends and relatives, rated nearly equal on closeness, showed very different rates of envy. Not surprisingly, envy by close friends was reported nearly three times as often as envy by relatives.

So in the end, what's the solution?  Here's my favorite:  want what you have, not have what you want.


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