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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sue Scheff: Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled--and More Miserable Than Ever Before

Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled--and More Miserable Than Ever Before

By: Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D.

Who is part of Generation Me?

Generation Me describes anyone born in the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s -- in 2006, this means people between the ages of 7 and 36. These are today's young people, those who take it for granted that the self comes first. I'm a member of this generation myself, born in 1971.

How is Generation Me different from previous generations, especially from the "Me generation" of the 1970s?

Baby Boomers were sometimes called the "Me generation" in the 1970s, but this was a premature and brief label: Boomers did not discover the self until young adulthood, and even then did everything in groups, from protests to seminars like est. Generation Me has never known a world that put duty before self, and believes that the needs of the individual should come first. This is not the same thing as being selfish – it is captured, instead, in the phrases we so often hear: "Be yourself," "Believe in yourself," "You must love yourself before you can love someone else." These are some of our culture's most deeply entrenched beliefs, and Generation Me has grown up hearing them whispered in our ears like the subliminally conditioned children in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

How is this book different from other books on generations?

In short, because it has hard data on how the generations really differ. Most books on generations throw around ideas about social trends and pop culture, but don't have much data on the actual characteristics of people from different generations. This book has the data -- it summarizes thirteen years of my research on the responses of 1.3 million young people. I found research reports on children and college students who completed questionnaires measuring everything from anxiety to sexual behavior. Many of these questionnaires have been used since the 1950s or 1960s, allowing me to see how today's young people differ from Baby Boomers and previous generations. Every chapter is built around a research result, with lots of pop culture analysis and examples to bring the differences to life. To find out more about how I collected this data, click here.

What is the book about?

We live in a time when high self-esteem is encouraged from childhood, when young people have more freedom and independence than ever, but also far more depression, anxiety, cynicism, and loneliness. Today's young people have been raised to aim for the stars at a time when it is more difficult than ever to get into college, find a good job, and afford a house. Their expectations are very high just as the world is becoming more competitive, so there's a huge clash between their expectations and reality. More than any other generation in history, the children of Baby Boomers are disappointed by what they find when they arrive at adulthood. Generation Me will give Boomers new insight into their offspring, and help those in their teens, twenties, and thirties finally make sense of their generation.

I was born after 1981. What is my generation called?

No one knows yet. The previous generation (born 1961-1981) is usually called "Generation X," and this label is well-established. The post-1981 generation has been called "Gen Y," but give me a break – who wants to be named after the people older than you? "Baby Busters," an early label for GenX, never caught on for that reason. Writers William Strauss and Neil Howe use the label "Millennials" for post-1981 people, but that seems kind of out now that we're not worrying about Y2K. Generation Me could become the label, though it's meant more as a description.

I propose that the 1981-1999 generation be called iGeneration, or iGen. This generation has been profoundly shaped by technology, including the Internet (which is what the "i" stands for in "iMac") and of course iPods. The "i" also captures the essence of my description of Generation Me: it can stand for the first person singular or be "i" for individual. You heard it here first.

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