Millennials Are Just Selfie-Centered

Responding to a book by Jeffrey Kluger, Brooke Lea Foster defends today’s young adults from accusations of narcissism:

[A]re Millennials any more narcissistic than, say, the Baby Boomers, who were once considered the most self-obsessed cohort of their time? Consider the 1976 cover story of New York Magazine, in which Tom Wolfe declared the ‘70s “The Me Decade.”  One could argue that every generation seems a little more narcissistic than the last, puffing out its chest and going out into the world with an overabundance of self-confidence, swagger, even a bit of arrogance. These traits are simply hallmarks of early adulthood—it’s often the first time people are putting themselves out there, applying for first jobs and meeting potential life partners. Overconfidence is how people muscle through the big changes. …

[S]tudies have directly contradicted the idea that Millennials are the most narcissistic of previous generations.

In a large survey of high-school seniors across several decades, psychologist M. Brent Donnellan (now at Texas A&M University) found little change when looking at the Millennial generation’s ideas about self-esteem, individualism, or life satisfaction compared to young people in the past. And when psychology researchers at the University of Illinois compared narcissism rates with age and life stages in another 2010 study, they found that narcissistic behavior was related not to generation, but to age-related developmental stages. “This leads to the conclusion that every generation is Generation Me, as every generation of younger people are more narcissistic than their elders,” the researchers wrote.

Perhaps today’s young people are products, rather than drivers, of the cultural saturation of narcissism that Kluger describes. They’re not leading the charge—they’re simply evolving with the times, just as their parents, siblings, and grandparents are. Maybe Kluger is right: Maybe we’re all just a little more into ourselves than we used to be.