Kids These Days: The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

In recent years we’ve heard a lot about “Generation Me”—young people born between 1981 and 2000, which makes them 32 and under—who are constantly being characterized as selfish, having overinflated egos, no work ethic, and no empathy. Books, articles, TV shows, and every other kind of media insists that today’s young people are qualitatively different than young people of a few generations ago. But is that really true?

According to two recent studies, the answer is a resounding No. In the first one, psychologists from Michigan State University and the University of Western Ontario analyzed data from more than 477,000 high school seniors collected over three decades, from 1976 to 2006.

“We concluded that, more often than not, kids these days are about the same as they were back in the mid-1970s,” says Michigan State’s Brent Donnellan, the study’s coauthor. “Kids today are like they were 30 years ago—they’re trying to find their place in the world, they’re trying to carve out an identity, and it can be difficult.” Overall, the authors write, “Today’s youth seem to be no more egotistical than previous generations, and they appear to be just as happy and satisfied as previous generations. In fact, today’s youth seem to have psychological profiles that are remarkably similar to youth from the past 30 years.”

Now, this isn’t to say that nothing has changed. Today’s young people are more likely than their predecessors to expect to graduate college and/or go on to graduate school. They’re also more cynical and less trusting of government and other institutions than previous generations (although, you’d be hard pressed to find any adults these days who aren’t cynical and distrusting of politicians, bankers and others). Finally, they’re less afraid of social problems (including items such as as nuclear war, race relations, hunger and poverty, drug use, and urban decay).

The study was published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. You can read the whole paper here. http://news.msu.edu/media/documents/2010/03/d86dd7ab-adb0-4887-a043-96b559595fe2.pdf

The second study was the 2013 World Vision Holiday Giving Survey, conducted by Harris Interactive. According to the survey, 36 percent of men 35 and older have given a charitable gift. Compare that with the 56 percent of men ages 18-34 who have made contributions (only 36 percent of women in that age bracket say they’d made gifts). The irony is that young men are the group most likely to be stereotyped as lazy, broke, and uncaring. It’s also a little ironic that only 7 percent of American adults believe that young people are more generous than older folks. Forty-four percent, however, think that the older generations are more giving than younger ones.  Nearly 9 in 10 of all U.S. adults (86 percent) say they donate money to charity.

Here are a few more tidbits from the World Vision survey.

  • Forty-two percent of adults—regardless of their religious affiliation—say that giving to charity makes them feel like a good person.
  • Sixty-one percent of adults say that giving to charity is a good lesson to teach children, but only 43 percent of parents (defined as people over 18 who have children under 18) who donate money to charity do so in order to teach their children about generosity.

World Vision is a Christian relief, development, and advocacy organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. For more information on their efforts, visit WorldVision.org/press or follow them on Twitter at @WorldVisionNews.

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