A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Friday, May 04, 2012

Rethinking the Millennial Generation

This is interesting:
Millennials: The Greatest Generation or the Most Narcissistic?

May 2 2012, 11:25 AM ET

Reading about today's young generation is enough to give you whiplash.

Many books and articles celebrate Millennials (born, roughly, 1982 to 1999) as helpful, civically oriented young people who want to save the planet. Others argue the polar opposite, that Millennials are entitled, self-centered, and uninterested in much outside their own Facebook page. Which view is right -- are Millennials Generation We or Generation Me?

The first books written about Millennials were not just positive but glowing. The best known of these, Millennials Rising, is subtitled The Next Great Generation. Authors Neil Howe and William Strauss predicted that Millennials would resemble the generation who fought World War II: conformist, socially conservative, and highly involved in the community and interested in government. "Once this new youth persona begins to focus on convention, community, and civic renewal, America will be on the brink of becoming someplace very new," they write.

Millennials Risingwas published in 2000, when the oldest Millennials were just 18. Howe and Strauss pointed to increasing rates of volunteering among high school students and decreasing rates of teen pregnancy and crime. They also interviewed 660 teens in McLean, VA, but didn't compare these responses -- or measures of civic engagement in large national surveys of young people -- to those of previous generations. You can't really conclude anything about generational differences if you have data from only one generation.

In the years that followed, numerous books and news reports emphasized Millennials' desire to help others, become involved in politics and government, and work toward improving the environment. "People born between 1982 and 2000 are the most civic-minded since the generation of the 1930s and 1940s," claimed USA Today. "Generation We is noncynical and civic-minded. They believe in the value of political engagement and are convinced that government can be a powerful force for good," wrote Eric Greenberg and Karl Weber in their 2008 book Generation We. "By comparison with past generations, Generation We is highly politically engaged." Both of these sources mentioned the rise in volunteering and interviewed Millennials, but didn't compare those responses to data from previous generations.

In my 2006 book Generation Me, I presented data showing generational increases in self-esteem, assertiveness, self-importance, narcissism, and high expectations, based on surveys of 1.2 million young people, some dating back to the 1920s. These analyses indicated a clear cultural shift toward individualism and focusing on the self. But perhaps both views were correct -- maybe Millennials' greater self-importance found expression in helping others and caring about larger social causes.

My co-authors and I decided to find out....
You can read the entire article here.


Unknown said...

I was born in 1980, so I am both among the youngest of GenX and the oldest of the Millennials. Both/and defines this generation, so to your question of "which?", I can only say, "yes. both/and"

Vayhi said...

They say GenX was so disillusioned by politics (Cenergy/oil crisis, Chernobyl, Iran-Contra, War on Drugs, S&L, recession, etc) that they sought change from with in the business-economic-community rather than through change via politics. I'm not surprised that the Gen-Me is reversing that as they witnessed Enron, Auto Bu-Outs, and other economic scandals that probably caused disillusionment, refocusing their trust on government who "should have done more to prevent". Interestingly, the only thing that seems to bind the two generations is the environment.

Allan R. Bevere said...


I have to say that the more I go on, the less I am enamored with these generational studies. There is certainly some truth to them, but I sometimes think we draw the lines too sharply between the generations, and we end up drawing caricatures.