Are Millennials More Narcissistic?

Those in college today have many good qualities: They are more technologically savvy, more socially tolerant, and more balanced in their work and family priorities than previous generations. Thus, those poised to enter the workforce today do so with some important virtues. Humility, however, is not one of them.

A large-scale, longitudinal study found that those graduating from college in 2010 were more likely than those from previous generations to have seemingly inflated views of themselves. The 2010 graduates were more likely than 1980 graduates to agree they would be “very good” spouses (56 percent of 2010 graduates, compared to 37 percent among 1980 graduates), parents (54 percent of 2010 graduates, 36 percent among 1980 graduates), and workers (65 percent of 2010 graduates, 49 percent among 1980 graduates).

Studies measuring narcissism suggests that scores are rising, especially among younger generations. For example, by presenting a choice between two statements—“I try not to be a show-off” vs. “I will usually show off if I get the chance,” psychologists have found that narcissism has been growing since the early 1980s.

A 2011 study by University of Kentucky researcher Dr. Nathan DeWall even found that popular songs are becoming more narcissistic. Analyzing the lyrics of songs on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart from 1980 to 2007, DeWall found a clear trend toward narcissism. The words “I” and “me” have replaced “we” and “us.” Two recent examples: “I’m bringing sexy back. Yeah. Them other boys don’t know how to act. Yeah” (Justin Timberlake), and “I am the greatest man that ever lived. I was born to give and give and give” (Weezer).

Narcissism’s rise is all around us. The sooner we admit it, the sooner we can begin to address the problem in families, in education, and at work.

 

Counterpoint

Speaking of music, this argument is like a broken record that seems to play over and over: “THE YOUTH OF TODAY ARE LOST!” Every generation tends to think the new generation is without values, and the new generation thinks the older generation is hopelessly judgmental and out of touch. Wasn’t the “Me generation” supposedly a generation ago? Let’s send the broken record to the recycling bin and review the evidence.

One recent study that tracked nearly half a million young people on measures of egotistic traits such as self-perceived intelligence, self-esteem, and self-enhancement found little evidence to suggest changes since the 1970s. In short, Millennials aren’t any more narcissistic than young people were in the 1970s or 1980s. The authors of this study conclude, “Today’s youth seem no more egotistical than previous generations…In fact, today’s youth seem to have psychological profiles that are remarkably similar to youth from the past 30 years.”

Another study offered an interesting explanation for why people think Millennials are more narcissistic. Specifically, young people in general are more self-focused, but as people age, they become more “other” focused. So we think young people are different when in fact they’re just the way older folks were when they were younger. As these authors conclude, “Every generation is Generation Me.”  Our level of narcissism appears to be one of the many things that change as we get older.

More broadly, narcissistic folks exist in every generation. We need to be careful when generalizing about entire groups (whether one sex, one race, one culture, or one generation). While generalizations have caused no small amount of trouble, we still like to simplify the world, sometimes for good reason. In this case, however, the good reason isn’t there, especially considering the latest evidence.

 

Source: N. Wolchover, “Song Lyrics Suggest Narcissism Is on the Rise,” LiveScience (April, 26, 2011), downloaded May 16, 2011 from http://www.livescience.com; M. Norris, “Study: Narcissism on Rise in Pop Lyrics,” All Things Considered (April 26, 2011), downloaded May 15 from http://www.npr.org/; K. H. Trzesniewski and M. B. Donnellan, “Rethinking ‘Generation Me’: A Study of Cohort Effects from 1976-2006,” Perspectives on Psychological Science 5, No. 1 (2010), pp. 58-75; B. W. Roberts, G. Edmonds, and E. Grijalva, “It Is Developmental Me, Not Generation Me: Developmental Changes Are More Important Than Generational Changes in Narcissism—Comment on Trzesniewski & Donnellon (2010),” Perspectives on Psychological Science 5, No. 1 (2010), pp. 97-102.

Photo by TheeErin