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I didn't want to suggest that working one's way through college is anything new: heck, my father did it before WWII. But my father lived a no-frills, poverty lifestyle. I can't claim the same level of student poverty c. 1970-1980 (with grad school), but I don't think any of my undergrad friends owned a car, we never ate out, except on very special dates, we bought jeans at the Army Surplus and wore the holes into them, and my great indulgence, bought with summer job money, was a low-end stereo, which wasn't replaced for about 15 years.

I'm sure there's some research on finance and today's college students, beyond anecdote. We do have statistics on debt and work, and the work hours definitely affect school (assigned homework is well under 50% of what I was assigned in college). But in terms of lifestyle, you just don't see signs of poverty (except overcrowded student rentals). Everyone has a cell phone. Everyone wears label clothes. I don't recall seeing anyone bring a bag lunch, instead of stopping at a fast-food joint. The bar scene is much too big to be just the rich kids (which doesn't preclude also having kegs at someone's house). And, I still cherish the image, I guess a couple years back by now, with rising gas prices, of the pretty blonde in her immaculate white jeep almost in tears as she was watching the meter tick up on the pump. I wish I had a photo. If you think of some Dorthea Lange image from the Depression, this would be the equivalent for today's borrow and spend economy.

It is all explained in 2 little words - "Credit Cards". When we went to school thirty years ago, we didn't have access to easy credit, in fact, credit card companies never (hardly?) even entered the schools at all. But today, starting on campus visit days, and orientation day, and throughout the semester, you can see credit card companies hawking their wares constantly. The schools even allow them access in what would normally be a "restricted commercial area" such as near the bursars office. I wonder if there are kickbacks to the schools involved? (I would probably bet that there are kickbacks in one form or another)

In addition, people are generally more affluent today and far more indulgent to their kids than ever before.

A comprehensive study of how such attitudes and changing parenting styles affect the credit markets would be interesting.
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