“Me” or “We” Generational Debate
Here comes another collision in the generation wars, the fight about whether post-boomers are selfish, moneygrubbing fame seekers – the “Me” Generation – or confident, group-oriented volunteers – the “We” Generation.
In research published this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, I found that, over the last 40 years, young people have become increasingly focused on money and fame while caring less about politics, their communities or the environment. My research based its conclusions on analyses of surveys taken by 9 million high school seniors and college freshmen.
At Clark University, Jeffrey Jensen Arnett studies “emerging adults,” those aged about 18 to 25. He doesn’t think change comes neatly packaged in generations, but said youth trends over the last 20 years have mainly been positive. Volunteerism and graduation rates are up, he said, while crime, drug use, and teen pregnancy are down. Today’s young people are tolerant of differences in ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion, he said. If anything, he said, this is a “generous generation.”
My survey questions were about what students did, rather than what they thought, and it supported my view of how each generation chooses what is important to them.
According to the surveys I received, the proportion of students who said it was very important to be wealthy increased from 45 percent for baby boomers to 70 percent for Gen Xers and 75 percent for Millennials. The percentage who thought it was important to keep up with politics fell from 50 percent for boomers to 39 percent for Gen Xers and 35 percent for Millennials.
The biggest drop was in whether youths felt the need to develop a meaningful philosophy of life. Seventy-three percent of boomers thought that was important, compared with 45 percent of Millennials, but Millennials still thought it more important than money.