Jean Twenge, who wrote Generation Me way back in ought six, published an update with some serious data. Talkin’ a million and a half Millenials. Using questions that first year college students have been asked since the Boomers were young (What? THAT LONG?).
So it makes for some good comparison among generations.
And my Y friends aren’t doing so hot.
The results for civic engagement were clear: Millennials were less likely than Boomers and even GenXers to say they thought about social problems, to be interested in politics and government, to contact public officials, or to work for a political campaign. They were less likely to say they trusted the government to do what’s right, and less likely to say they were interested in government and current events. It was a far cry from Howe and Strauss’ prediction of Millennials as “The Next Great Generation” in civic involvement.
Twenge makes the important point that this is what Y-ers say about themselves, not what she or other journalists are saying about them.
Millenials are comparatively less interested in do-goody type jobs and less interested in greening their homes.
But they show lower rates of crime, teen pregnancy, STDs, and alcohol abuse. And they are more invested in equality and tolerance.
But I also think that it’s important to acknowledge the limits of these empirical results.
For example, do we think that the lowest Congressional approval rates ever have something to do with a lack of civic engagement? A lack of trust in government agencies? Do you think that fevered bipartisan deadlocking on even the most mundane government functions are a factor in Millennial disengagement with civics?
Maybe it’s not narcissism. Maybe it’s realism.
You can be into duty and conformity, as predicted by the Next Great Generation people, and find that government is the least effective channel for these values.
You can look to the massive private sector investment in do-goody-type things–given the gutting of government’s ability to do this work–and think that the private sector is the best route for social and personal improvement.
You can believe these things and still be a rational, non-Gossip Girly, community-minded person.
BUT, “Three times as many Millennials as Boomers said they made no personal effort to help the environment.”
Ok guys, there’s no excuse for that. Recycle your dang water bottles and turn off the lights when you’re not in the room. Please.