I think I mentioned this in some thread recently, but I have posted in so many (3L procrastinating on the shitton of work I have to do......) that I don't remember which one.
Anyway, I think the 30-and-under generation is more obsessed with achievement and prestige for prestige's sake than prior generations. I can't say what is driving this exactly although I do know that our generation is the most narcissistic generation (all generations' narcissism is increasing, though). Narcissists want others to admire and envy them, but they don't care whether people are admiring them for a true accomplishment/trait or the illusion of an accomplishment/trait (eg, a narcissist is content to just get liposuction and collect compliments about her hot bod and would see no value in eating healthy and exercising to accomplish the same goal). I was using the term 'a narcissist' for the ease of communication as if it is a black-and-white category, but it is not. Just like all personality traits, we all have some degree of it, and I think the fact that levels of narcissism are increasing overall is affecting us all because it infuses our culture and values. Even if you aren't that narcissistic to start with, when you spend years absorbing a culture with narcissistic undertones, you start to absorb those values. Narcissism is particularly infectious because we all have some amount of natural self-centeredness that developed evolutionarily, which can easily be aroused (ie, we can relate to narcissistic behaviors even if we simultaneously disapprove), and, when you observe other people around you being self-centered and disregarding humility/thinking of others, it is easier for you to do it, too.
Obsession with prestige for prestige's sake is quintessential narcissism. The only purpose of it is to use something outside your self (an institution, a company, maybe another person) to try to make other people admire or envy you or, at least, think highly of you, solely because of your affiliation with that institution/company/person. But I don't think the fact that every 0L comes on here with a narcissistic obsession with prestige and rankings says anything bad about them because, like I said, it's in the air and in the water. Plus, for whatever reason, lawyers do seem to care about prestige way, way more than they should. It is just that they also care about other things that the 0Ls aren't attuned to yet. Anyone who has been in law school should know how it feels to be sucked into a culture that values people for what they do (being in the top 10%, writing onto law review, winning moot court, getting a prestigious job, etc) rather than for who they are, so I don't mean to imply that all of us in law school are somehow immune from this. From a self-interested perspective, the system of making assumptions about people based on the institutions they are affiliated with is good for me.
I also think this increasing obsession with prestige is part of the reason we have way, way more people getting BAs than probably should get them. Now your shoe salesman, your barista, and your cab driver all have a BA. Everyone feels like they need to aim for the BA, even when a technical degree in something would better serve them and be cheaper. I have talked to guidance counselors who tell me that the principals tell them to encourage every kid to go to a four-year college, even kids who are barely handling high school academically. They say kids and parents are offended if you suggest a vocation. Now I am not one of those people saying blue-collar work is the answer to all the problems facing our generation. But when someone with a technical degree that took nine months to complete can make more than the BA who is driving a cab, you have to wonder why people are making this decision over and over. I believe it is a combination of misinformation and narcissistic prestige-seeking. Anyway, that is probably enough blather for now.....maybe I will try to go read PR?