Life

Yet Another Half-Baked Study Claims Millennials Are Woefully Entitled

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Millennials are, according to seemingly everyone who isn’t one, awful. They’re killing everything, education companies claim to have proven their skill sets are useless, and now comes the cherry on the top of this particular “get off my lawn” sundae: A study that insists that millennials are bratty narcissists.

But are they really? Well…probably not. It’s more that old people are curmudgeons and like to compare everything to themselves.

The Independent has a summary of the study, which has supposedly found that Millennials are just the absolute worst:

The psychological trend comes from the belief that you are superior to others and are more deserving of certain things. This form of narcissism has some significant consequences such as disappointment and a tendency to lash out… The University of Hampshire found that youngsters who were studied on issues of entitlement scored 25 per cent higher than people aged 40 to 60 and 50 per cent higher than those over that age bracket.

The actual study, which you have to dig to find, isn’t much kinder, arguing that this is a widespread psychological problem. Is it? Maybe! But it’s too easy to just accept the study and parrot it to others, especially as there are some deeper problems with the study — starting with the fact that it’s a review.

The review in question looked at 170 different studies in order to draw the conclusions it does. Reviews depend entirely on the quality of the reviewed research and also require the authors to grapple with their own unconscious bias (a scientific problem that isn’t addressed here). Researchers struggle with their unconscious bias just as hard as the rest of us do, and like the rest of us, it’s not a struggle they always win. Our unconscious biases can bleed into our work, influencing how we view subjects and data, and these biases can linger for years.

There’s also another important question: Don’t people just generally grow out of this entitlement? Most of us are not so coddled that entitled, bratty behavior doesn’t get us in trouble, and, as a rule, we learn to dial it back. Not helping matters is the fact that there’s simply no way to know the quality of all these studies without pulling and reading every last one. Were there flaws in how each study was constructed? How large were the samples? How were subjects chosen? How was “entitlement” measured? And who paid for each study? (Was it Applebee’s?)

The most glaring problem, however, is that this study focused on a very tiny portion of Millennials. Any psychologist doing their research correctly will own that most of their test subjects are recruited from the college they likely work for. Anybody who’s taken a psychology course in college may have been encouraged to participate in such a study for course credit.

College students are not a good representative sample of Millennials. First of all, only a third of Millennials even have a degree in the first place, and while colleges are becoming more diverse, it’s not clear that psychology studies reflect that diversity. Furthermore, the social class in colleges can vary wildly. At some universities, you’re far more likely to run into a one-percenter than a typical American.

Finally, there’s the larger problem of culture. See if you can guess who wrote this passage:

Our growing dependence on technologies no one seems to understand or control has given rise to feelings of powerlessness and victimization. We find it more and more difficult to achieve a sense of continuity, permanence, or connection with the world around us. Relationships with others are notably fragile; goods are made to be used up and discarded; reality is experienced as an unstable environment of flickering images. Everything conspires to encourage escapist solutions to the psychological problems of dependence, separation, and individuation, and to discourage the moral realism that makes it possible for human beings to come to terms with existential constraints on their power and freedom.

Some NYT columnist? A Boomer disappointed about his kids moving back in? Perhaps a news anchor weighing in on the tragedy of the 21st century? Nope. It was social critic Christopher Lasch, from his book The Culture of Narcissism, a book pointedly critical about those young people among other topics. It was written in 1979, right when the last of the Boomers were getting out of college.

Any generation struggles to understand the ones that comes after it, but Millennials and Boomers face a particularly vast gulf. Millennials are facing a changing and uncertain world, and perhaps instead of complaining about the behavior of a sliver of Millennials, it’s worth trying to anticipate how that world will change, once they’re handed the keys.

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