Friday, May 10, 2013

If You’re a Narcissist, It’s Not Your Generation’s Fault. You’re Just a Narcissist.

Time magazine’s cover story on millennials misses one key point from the academic literature: Generational cohesion may not exist at all.

The Me Generation. (PHOTO: TIME MAGAZINE)
It’s not shocking that a magazine called Time would be interested in the march of human generations. But the weekly’s much-discussed cover story on the late-’80s to mid-’90s “millennials,” Generation Me Me Me glossed past (as do the inevitable retorts) the possibility that the year of one’s birth just isn’t very important. A broad study three years ago, based on perhaps the largest available data sets measuring American youth, was skeptical that “generational” cohesion—of the sort we obsess over—exists at all.

In 2010 psychologists Kali H. Trzesniewski of the University of Western Ontario and M. Brent Donnellan of Michigan State took data from the Monitoring the Future project, and looked at whether they could find any unified “generational” character traits in the responses. The MtF is a massive annual survey of 50,000 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health and in part by various anti-drug policy initiatives. It’s designed to measure trends and incentives to youth drug abuse, but also seeks “to study changes in the beliefs, attitudes, and behavior of young people in the United States.” Questions on the survey include employment goals, attitudes toward marriage, race relations, religion, and so forth. Roughly 50,000 American school kids have filled out the survey every year since 1976.

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