Instant Guide

'Generation Me': Are millennials overly 'narcissistic'?

Young adults tend to be seen as more socially and environmentally conscious than older generations. But a new report says that's bunk

Millennials — those born in the 1980s and 1990s — are often credited with being more environmentally conscious, politically engaged, and community-oriented than their elders. Call them the Obama generation: The bloc of young voters that helped propel President Obama to office on a wave of civic-minded idealism. But a new study says millennials are actually obsessed with "money, image, and fame," and are less politically engaged than their parents were at their age. Here, a guide to this "narcissistic" new generation: 

What did the study find? It's not a flattering portrait. There has been a four-decade decline "in young people's trust in others, their interest in government, and the time they spent thinking about social problems," says The Associated Press. For example, being "very well off financially" ranked eighth for life goals among college students in 1971, but that goal is now at the top of the list for most millennials. "The business of millennials, it appears, is business," says Megan McArdle at The Atlantic

What about the environment? Perhaps most surprisingly, concern about the environment saw a "steep" decline over the course of generations. About one-third of young baby boomers said it was important to become "personally involved" in protecting the environment, while only 21 percent of millennials agreed. Millenials were also less likely to conserve electricity and heating fuel.

What explains the change? Younger generations have a "'Generation Me' view" of the world, rather than "'Generation We,'" says Jean Twenge, the author of the study. Millennials have grown up in a culture that puts "more focus on the self" and emphasizes individualism, which "gets reflected in personality traits and attitudes," Twenge says. As for their environmental attitudes, there is concern that the caustic national debate over climate change has led to "confusion" and "fatigue" with such issues.

So was millennial support for Obama's election an illusion? No, says the progressive think tank NDN, which is taking issue with Twenge's methodology. NDN points out that there was more youth participation in Obama's election than in any other since 1972, when Democrat George McGovern ran for president. That doesn't exactly jibe with Twenge's argument that the millennials are more disengaged.

Sources: The Associated Press, The AtlanticChronicle of Higher EducationNDN

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