20-somethings say they'd give up a high salary for a job that gets them psyched to wake up in the morning

When it comes to their professional goals, most people in their 20s say they’re on a quest to find work that’s fulfilling, as opposed to a lucrative gig.

A recent poll by Clark University, cited in the Harvard Business Review, finds that 59% of 20-somethings said they would take a lower-paying job if it meant doing something they love. On the other hand, 41% said having a high salary or pay grade is most important, even if it means working in a job they don’t enjoy.

When asked to rank what would be most meaningful in a long-term job, respondents listed “a job that I will look forward to going to each day” as their top priority and a job that “pays me a lot of money” as their second. Their lowest priority was a job that “puts me in a position of power and influence.”

Unfortunately for 20-somethings, their professional ambitions haven’t yet come to fruition. Some 76% of respondents said they’re still looking for their ideal job.

Meanwhile, just 35% of respondents said they currently have a job that they look forward to going to each day. A quarter said they have a job that pays a lot of money.

It’s unclear whether 20-somethings are really that different from other generations in terms of what they want out of work. A Pew survey found that all generations listed “a high-paying job” towards the bottom of their work priorities.

Yet another survey found that, when asked about what they valued in their first job, older Americans were more likely to say they valued making as much money as possible. Younger Americans were inclined to say they valued doing something enjoyable or making a difference in society.

The problem with any of this research, as Fortune editor Alan Murray points out, is that we can never be sure whether survey participants are saying how they really feel — or responding in a way that seems socially acceptable. Perhaps the 20-somethings surveyed feared that they would seem crass if they listed money as their top work priority, so they put enjoyment first.

Either way, it will certainly be interesting to see future surveys on this generation of workers. At 40, will they find (or at least say they have found) a job that gets them jazzed to wake up in the morning? With young families in tow and mortgages hanging over their heads, will they still be inclined to take a lower-paying job that provides enjoyable work?

Perhaps most importantly, how will their changing beliefs and desires shape the workforce for future generations?

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