According to psychological professor Jean M. Twenge, Generation Me describes anyone born in the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s — in the approaching 2010, this will mean people between the ages of 11 and 40. These are today’s young people, those who while remarkably diverse in many respects, share a unifying aspect: they are “unapologetically focused on the individual,” a trait inherited from their Boomer parents and fanned to extremes by the culture they engendered.
Is it true? Are we in a narcissism epidemic? Does the Generation Me really differ from their parents and grandparents? Social scientists have been interested in generational changes for decades. Questions about generational changes are of particular interest to psychologists who are interested in whether the broader sociocultural environment is linked with changes in personality attributes and attitudes. For example, Twenge (2008) has concluded that today’s young people have higher self-esteem, more inflated self views, higher levels of narcissism, and perhaps paradoxically, more misery than previous generations. Twenge has further tied these shifts in personality to shifts toward increased individualism and a focus on self-worth that she believes characterizes the culture of the United States in more recent decades. However, Donnellan and Trzesniewski’s (2009) most recent research led to suspicion about the strength of the evidence in support of Twenge’s broad ‘Generation Me’ claims. According to their opinions, there are two crucial issues about Twenge’s research on Generation Me: whether the evidence for generational differences is based on a sound methodology and how to best characterize the size of any generational differences. Instead they found more evidence for generational consistency than generational change in their studies and thus concluded that there are enough concerns to warrant caution and qualified statements about the evidence for ‘Generation Me.’
Based on these concerns, it might be better for social and personality psychologists to think carefully before drawing the blanket conclusion that today’s young people are much different from previous generations of youth. Whether today’s young people are more assertive, entitled, self-aggrandizement and miserable than ever before is still a question which deserves more research in the future.
Donnellan, M.B., & Trzesniewski, K.H. (2009). How Should We Study Generational ‘Changes’—Or Should We? A Critical Examination of the Evidence for ‘Generation Me’. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 3,775 – 784.