You might have a certain picture of what a “millennial” looks like. Plugged into social media, snapping selfies, entitled, self-absorbed.
In short, narcissistic. The narcissistic millennial is a trope that many journalists have taken and run with. For example, one New York Post columnist was so eager to pile on the millennial-bashing that he wrote a piece titled I’m a millennial and my generation sucks.
Another author, who has made a career out of writing books about how narcissistic millennials are, explained what she sees as the root of the problem: “young people are just completely convinced that in order to succeed they have to believe in themselves or go all the way to being narcissistic.”
Sounds convincing, right? Unfortunately, there’s a small problem with this theory: a lack of evidence. In fact, a new study published in Psychological Science suggests that today’s college students may actually be less narcissistic than previous generations. Awkward.
In the study, researchers analyzed data from tens of thousands of college students from three age groups: those who were college students in the 1990s, in the 2000s and in the 2010s.
Contrary to the theory of a “narcissism epidemic,” the researchers found that average levels of narcissism decreased over time.
This was true for both scores on narcissism in general and for scores on several specific narcissistic traits. In particular, students in the 2010s scored lower on the narcissistic traits of vanity, entitlement and leadership than students in the 1990s.
So does this mean we should do an about-face and start labeling millennials the “least narcissistic generation ever”? Well, maybe that would help undo some of the bad PR millennials have gotten over the years.
Really, though, what this study shows is that it’s probably a waste of time trying to simplify entire generations into single traits like “narcissism.” But at the very least, what we can say, is that the idea of millennials being more narcissistic than previous generations appears to be a fiction that sounds good but doesn’t hold up to scientific scrutiny.