Skip to comments.Woe Is Me, Me, Me [Generation X/Reagan]
Posted on 04/21/2006 11:54:15 AM PDT by Incorrigible
BY EVELYN THEISS
They are brash and cynical. They believe they're entitled to quick financial and professional success. They're also lonely and anxious.
That's the picture that psychologist Jean Twenge draws in her new book about the young men and women she dubs "Generation Me."
On the plus side, these young people are confident and also extremely tolerant of those who are different from them. Born in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, they are the children of baby boomers, who she says were incorrectly considered the most self-focused generation.
Not even close, says Twenge, an associate professor at San Diego State University.
She's 34, and therefore part of "GenMe," as she calls it. She has spent more than a decade gathering data on what makes this group different from generations that came before. The results are the subject of her new book, "Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled - and More Miserable Than Ever Before."
Two trends are at the core of the book, says Twenge. They emerged in her comparison of personality tests given by researchers to thousands of boomers when they were young and to those in Generation Me in recent years.
"One is that there has been an incredible rise in self-esteem and belief in the individual; and on the flip side, there's been a large rise in anxiety and depression," she says.
Twenge suggests that the two biggest influences in increasing self-esteem were schools and the proliferation of self-help media -- though parents also played a part.
While students in earlier generations felt good about themselves when they accomplished something, now their self-esteem is high even if their performance is poor and they didn't put any effort into doing better, she says.
Twenge isn't the first researcher who has come down on the self-esteem movement. Former Hoover Institution research fellow Charles Sykes in the mid-1990s published a book called "Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can't Read, Write or Add."
And Twenge has her critics, including psychotherapist and author Belleruth Naparstek, who disagrees with Twenge's theory that increasing self-esteem has done such damage.
"I haven't read the study, but I think it's a matter of definition," says Naparstek. "I believe that any young adult who has cultivated his or her self-esteem has also cultivated a sense of compassion and responsibility to others, and I don't think that is missing in any way with this generation."
According to Twenge, her research shows that young people 30 and 40 years ago cared what other people thought of them, while the philosophy of today's youth is that what others think doesn't matter.
She says GenMe has been taught by parents and teachers that "you can be anything you want to be." So when young people see celebrity singers, actors and athletes on television shows and in magazines that celebrate their wealth, they develop unrealistic, even grandiose, ideas about what they will have and be able to afford.
With college, health care and housing costs skyrocketing, and jobs being exported to other countries, it's no surprise that young people get anxious and depressed when they slam up against economic and competitive realities, Twenge says.
Unrealistically high expectations might have been fueled by grade inflation in high school, Twenge says. Nearly half of students who were college freshman in 2004 had an A average, compared with 18 percent in 1968, according to a report by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. That occurred even as SAT scores declined over the years, and far fewer students reported studying six hours a week.
Many young people learned they didn't have to work all that hard in school to be rewarded, she says. So who can blame them for thinking those easy rewards will carry over to the work world.
Sykes says he isn't surprised at what Twenge's work shows.
"If you spend your life in a bubble-wrap of feel-good self-esteem, the real world is going to come as a rude shock," he says. "The self-esteem movement wasn't designed to prepare children for adulthood or adversity; it didn't prepare them for the bumps and bruises of life."
But Naparstek says it isn't just young people who have been negatively affected by the emphasis on celebrities.
"This whole business of translating success into strictly material terms leaves everyone addicted to goodies and starving for them," she says. "It makes people want to fill their emptiness with stuff, but I don't think that's strictly an issue for young people -- it makes everyone crazy."
Twenge says studies show that twice as many young people reported symptoms of panic attacks in 1995 compared with 1980. While the suicide rate for middle-aged people has declined steeply since 1950, the suicide rate for young people has more than doubled.
Twenge theorizes that besides dashed expectations about life, other factors contributing to depression and anxiety are the loneliness and isolation that many young people face as they are likelier to live alone, postpone marriage and hook up sexually rather than having dating relationships.
April 20, 2006
(Evelyn Theiss is a staff writer for The Plain Dealer of Cleveland. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Not for commercial use. For educational and discussion purposes only.
I do not know about prior generations, but I can state with a fair amount of confidence and experience that the women a GenX-er (like me) will meet in church have the same basic issues and characteristics that you will likely find in any other broad sub-population of women. I've met a lot of nice conservative atheist women with very traditional qualities and a lot of neurotic feminazi women who never missed a day of church. And all sorts of people in between.
For better or worse, church does not seem to select for either personality or ideology. At the end of the day, people will be people regardless of their particular set of beliefs or where they tend to spend their time. Most of the really interesting women I've met, I met in places where I was neither expecting nor intending to meet women.
The best way for a guy to find a nice marriageable woman is to meet a lot of women, it is that simple. It is not like the perfect one will just show up on your doorstep some day. Of course, I'm not married, so my advice is worth what was paid for it. :-)
I met my ex-wife at church. Honestly I am 35 now and the chances of me finding a nice woman who doesn't have children are pretty slim so I don't worry about it. A couple of years ago I realized that almost every instance of emotional turmoil in my life was the result of having a woman in my life. I have a dog and a motorcycle now and I have never been happier.
"The one thing that will always separate us Gen-X'ers from other generations is that we are the first generation to grow up in broken homes. How that can be left out of the study is beyond me. Also, the first generation where God was kicked out of the schools, abortion was legal and glorified, among other things."
Excellent points, all. How those points can be ignored shows the slant of this article and a lot of current "research" on "kids these days." ;)
Point taken. I wish you the best.
"While students in earlier generations felt good about themselves when they accomplished something, now their self-esteem is high even if their performance is poor and they didn't put any effort into doing better, she says."
I guess this is why Bush and the D.C. clan are just fine with DOING NOTHING about the borders...
I'm in the same position. I'm 32 (almost 33), never married, no bastard children. I have a fantastic career, great income and a sizeable retirement portfolio that is growing handsomely and I'm debt free. I'd consider myself decently attractive (7 outta 10), too at 6'1", 180lb and of a fit build.
I can't get dates with any 1 woman beyond a month or so because just about all the women my age (25-35) say I'm "just not fun enough" when the definition of fun is late nights out, drinking, and terrible hangovers 3-5 days of the week. Now all that aside, I am incredibly funny, just not "fun".
I am seriously thinking about importing a bride from Asia or South America. Have you or your friends ever talked about this?
I also certainly do not want to have 50% of my life's work taken from me because of "irreconcilable differences ".
This description is why I get so mad that I (born in 1973) am termed "Generation X". I read Generation X. A lot of the things that should be my memories are things I was too little to remember. But, I am sure my 42 year old neighbor does.
My whole college years (70's) generation of women were terribly confused... they didn't want to be feminine, because that was bad, but they didn't know how to act like men either. They were confused and unhappy and finally impossible.
The most telling moment for me was when I (out of habit and training) opened a restaurant door for my date who suddenly said, "Don't you think I'm smart enough to open a door for myself?"....wow.
This younger generation of women are more balanced (IMHO) but few are feminine... they all want to run around in baggy sweatshirts and drink your beer.
That classic female trait of only having sex in return for loyalty seems gone... a bad trait for anyone who can end up pregnant. Now the standard disclaimer - these are only my opinions, and I've been married to the same woman for 25 years....but then, again, she's not an American.
xrp: I am seriously thinking about importing a bride from Asia or South America. Have you or your friends ever talked about this?
We have talked about this but it seems that it is our society and laws which favor women over men is the problem. When guys bring women here from overseas they are quickly corrupted. I love the USA I grew up in, served it for 5 years in the military and never dreamed of leaving but it seems like retiring in some place like Costa Rica may be the best option.
Have you visited your local library or bookstores? Do you go to art events, maybe fun quirky local stuff, gyms, local run/walks for charity, maybe a cooking class? Night classes that interest you? How about coffee or tea places. Forget bars.
I don't know, but it seems like when I was a single woman and a non-drinker, I did a lot of things that stimulated my mind, my soul, my body (in a positive way)-there is so much out there in those arenas you are bound to meet some clear headed people with loads of something wonderful going on :-). My husband and I didn't meet until I was 32 and he 37 and it was just right. We knew within six months this is the reason no one else fit before we met.
Besides shipping in someone from another culture may be more of a hassle in the long run, especially if she becomes empowered and leaves your butt, you're out the cost and are left with a pile of resentment as you have an idea going in without knowing her what she should and should not be like. Like a dolly. But humans are humans, can't change that. I say expand your horizons and pray that God will send you someone that will put up with you-:-)-jokes JMO
I'm in a similar boat.
31 and working in academia.
Given my career, most of the women I meet are angry man-haters, thrice divorced w/3 kids or Trotskyite lesbians.
This tends to curtail my dating activities.
Some guys in my situation date their students, but that is just too wierd for me.
Luckily I bumped into a wonderful young woman from Taiwan who came here for graduate school. Comparing her to the women I dated in my twenties is like night and day.
I used to laugh at the guys who went for "foreign" women, but now I think I get it.
My gal actually respects the fact that I don't want to get drunk 3 nights a week. The fact that I'm employed and fairly sensible is also a big plus in Asian cultures.
They actually judge guys on work ethic, thriftiness, and stability. Contrary to myth, Asian gals are are not subservient, but they are quite traditional when it comes to gender roles in a relationship. They actually want to be women, not men.
It's like bizarro-world when compared to many of the American gals I have dated. Granted, the American gals I have dated have all tended to be from the "university" environment, so my sample is no doubt tainted.
I believe their is a gentle grace that comes with being a woman that for me came with renewed spiritual practice and the learning of humility. It would be difficult to be a single man in America today.
Being a lady is a lost art, as is the practice of love, kindness, grace and respect. I cringe at the dress and way of talking of a lot of younger woman, but I also have met a few here and there that radiate with class and grace and it fills me with hope. Surprisingly some of them are very well educated as well (I say surprisingly as it seems once exposed in college to this hard core man hating feminism it can rub off-the vileness). And the ones that aren't educated have a tremendous natural wisdom that makes them even more attractive as women and twice as intelligent as most all of these PH.D.'s in my book. Oh yes and many of them are conservatives-hmm could their be a connection?
Another Silent Gen offspring reporting for duty! :)
For me, the operational definition is that whereas, the Boomers generally experienced an overall easy job market, and the ability to be quite successful with only a high school diploma, and almost a guarantee of it with a college degree and a low to medium effort, Gen X were the first generation since the Great Depression that experienced generally toughening conditions as we came of age. I've worked my ass off since I was a teenager and this includes being supposedly well groomed and having a degree in a hard science with grad work in engineering and business. By this reckoning, the transition zone from Boomerdom to Xdom encompassed those born between '59 and '63. Anyone who earned a bachelors degree 1985 until quite recently has had a much harder row to hoe than any Boomer did under similar circumstances. And mind you, during the 70s there was double digit inflation. But nonetheless, somehow, the Boomers seemed to succeed (at least superficially) in spite of themselves. Easy money ..... In essence, the Boomers are a product of the post WW2 boom and Xers are a product of the restructuring of the 80s and 90s.
Hey! You graduated in '87? So did I! What state are you from?
Yep, '87 was pretty minimal. Whereas, for Boomers, new high schools were being built, for us, they were being shut down. I was the last class at my HS before they merged in another HS from across town. I was class of '80.
Actually, eleven years ago I was at a casino with my husband, father-in-law, and my husband's then-stepmom. Without thinking, I reached out to open the door for everyone. Suddenly a large pain went through my other arm. My husband's stepmom had whapped me on the arm. "Don't open your own door!" Since then I have not been allowed to. Of course, I once went to pick up a pizza with a couple of friends and was almost left in the car, because the guys didn't know to open a door.
Now my husband and my six year old son practically race each other to open my car door. My oldest son has held doors open for people so often, he often looks like a door man. I never thought about it, but they were never taught as in, "This is the way you do it." They just observed and started doing it.
Maybe older women need to start smacking the younger women on the arm when they don't let a gentleman open their door.