The Evolving Millennials
It is no surprise that there is a plethora of research and studies about this generation. Sociologists and psychologists are continually presenting their findings and observations about the traits and values of the millennials. I must admit, however, that while I read much of this literature, I am not always convinced of its accuracy.
I am not questioning the quality of the research or the value of these studies. My skepticism is based primarily on the fact that I have my own research lab, my own data base … our campus. I interact with students every single day both formally through programs and events, and informally through conversations in the dining hall or as I walk around campus.
However, the most recent national research is pointing to a trend that is disturbing. A decade ago, this generation was typically described as “Generation We.” In study after study, they were described as caring, engaged, socially and environmentally active, altruistic, and community oriented. But in recent years, the focus on “we” seems to be moving towards a focus on “me.”
Most recently, for example, an article appeared in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology entitled, “Generational Differences in Young Adults’ Life Goals, Concern for Others, and Civic Orientation, 1966-2009.” The two principle authors are Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell.
Twenge published a book in 2006 entitled, Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – And More Miserable Than Ever Before. More recently, she and Campbell published a book with an even more provocative title, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (2009).
According to Twenge and Campbell, this generation is more and more focused on money, image and fame. Their research indicates that financial success is the top priority for this generation. More young people put their own needs first, are primarily focused on “feeling good about themselves,” and less concerned about broader responsibility, the welfare of the group and community responsibility.
Alarming results of their study include a rapid decline in concern for the environment and sustainability. Even more depressing, their research indicates that even the high levels of commitment to service are not really related to concern for the Common Good. Rather, these service activities reflect increased requirements for high school and college graduation and the perception that such activities enhance a student’s resume.
My own “research” provides a mixed picture. We do not require a certain number of service hours to graduate, and yet every year we have the highest number of students volunteering for the Day of Caring and more students that we can accommodate asking to engage in alternative Spring break service trips. And yet, our major commitment to sustainability is impeded by the relative indifference to recycling programs.
For me, the issue of whether this is “Generation We” or “Generation Me” is less important than the questions of why and what? If our young people are more self-centered, narcissistic and interested in personal wealth and notoriety, why is this the trend and what can we do to help them develop more admirable core values? Are these trends simply reflective of Generation X and the baby boomers … otherwise known as our students’ parents, our community leaders … you and me?
Over the past several weeks, the response to this blog has been amazing. Thank you for your many comments and thoughtful critique. The whole idea is to create dialogue and it seems to be working. So let me ask you three questions:
1) Do you agree with this research that we now have a “Generation Me?”
2) If so, why is this the trend?
3) If so, what can be done to address this?
I invite you to contribute to a future blog through your responses. This is an important issue … and it really is about all of us!
(As always, your comments and ideas are welcome.)