Entitlement Expanding?
    By Me W | January 10th 2010 06:55 PM | 13 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    "Don't feel entitled to anything you didn't sweat and struggle for." -Marian Wright Edelman

    The psychology of entitlement. It seems that research, op-eds, rants, and satire are increasingly focused on the rising rates of entitlement. Strangely enough, I think that in this community - where many of you teach college students as teaching assistants or professors and lecturers - many of you are growing too familiar with this attitude. Or maybe that's something I tell myself when I become concerned that no one else listens to these ridiculous statements - from asking to take the final three hours later so s/he can sleep later to requests that the teacher send his/her lecture notes to the student who doesn't really 'want to' take his/her own (yes, all that actually happened). 

    While I might not have really thought about entitlement as a growing problem or issue based solely upon my very limited scope of experience (because that's hardly empirical evidence anyways), I realized that I have seen several articles and reports that seem to make this claim. I have a strong interest in generational differences and frankly, what it means to be a twentysomething these days and I like reading about the quarterlife crisis (I'm a huge fan of Alexandra Robbins and all her books), which explains why I've seen so much research and writing on entitlement recently - most of the articles claim that Generation Y/Millenials/the current late teens and twentysomethings are the most entitled generation yet. In fact, when you search Mixx for "entitlement," one of the related tags is "generations."

    Jean Twenge's Generation Me

    The Case for Generation Me

    Beyond my experience with some frustrating undergraduates, we have moments of narcissism from Kanye West, Mark Sanford, outspoken (out loud) South Carolina legislators, and plenty more...  Journalists from The Washington Post, Scientific American,  NewsWeek, and The Boston Globe have all written about the so called 'narcissism epidemic' (narcissism including self-absorption and a sense of entitlement), frequently after the publication of Dr. Jean Twenge's book, Generation Me. The proclamations that "you're not that special after all" and similarly titled articles claim that the current young adults are more narcissistic than ever before, a feat achieved largely because of the new social media climate and ability to broadcast one's self so easily (via Twitter, Facebook, blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and more). 

    Jean Twenge actually has an op-ed I found published on The Arizona Republic's site about how this sense of entitlement is a curse for recent graduates who believe they are entitled to a glorious and fulfilling - as well as well-paid - job and career. At the ripe age of 22, with no job experience, and presumably only a bachelor's degree.

    ...and the Case Against It

    Despite the reflections and rants that would have you believe that every American teen and pre-teen currently feels that a few minutes of their own personal webcam would surely become the next reality TV sensation, there's reason to hope (sort of). First, Psychological Science published an article in February of 2008 that showed surveys of thousands of college students are not actually more entitled, narcissistic, or self-absorbed now than they were generations ago. (For a press release describing the article and an interview with the lead author - Kali Trzesniewski - click here. This is a blog entry from Harvard's The Situationist on the article, and this is a link to the Scientific American "60 Second Psych" podcast and transcript that also discuss it.) Apparently, those from older generations tend to blame generational differences and gaps on a growing sense of entitlement and general narcissism - a phenomenon that seems to be repeating itself today. 

    An article by Roberts, Edmonds, and Grijalva in Psychological Science showed that incorporating meta-analytic data from the most recent college students with that of past college students and comparing that responses from older individuals revealed that there are no significant changes in narcissism between generations. However, there are large changes based upon age. As we get older, we are less narcissistic. And I say we, because it seems that this is quite common and happens regardless of one's generational membership.

    ...and Reconciling the Two

    Percent Satisfied with Job by Age, from The Conference BoardWhile there is conflicting evidence and my personal motivation is actually to claim that there are no increases in narcissism for the current young adult generation, as I am ultimately a part of it, I'm not entirely sure that's appropriate. The evidence in favor of a 'generation me' seems to be overwhelmingly anecdotal - and based largely on the work of San Diego State University's Dr. Jean Twenge - while the evidence against appeals to my desire for empirical findings. But the subtitle of Generation Me is "Why Today's Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled - and More Miserable - Than Ever Before" which points to a related body of research. Namely, the idea that to be narcissistic is to be miserable. To greatly oversimplify, it seems that the thoughts of a narcissist focus on the wrongs done to them or general dissatisfaction with what they have, where they are, etc. For those less narcissistic, thoughts are not limited to dissatisfaction and feelings of "never enough." (To read about Twenge's book and these arguments, click here to read an article in The Washington Post.) And because of that, the narcissist is more likely to be frustrated and depressed. 

    The reason I wanted to write about this topic and these arguments - the part where I hopefully put it all together into a cohesive argument for you - is this: my own experience with today's college students and their beliefs about life after college combined with evidence of the quarterlife crisis, a relatively new phenomenon, convince me that it's worth considering the idea that there is a surging sense of entitlement... even if we can't always measure it directly. A recent study by The Conference Board revealed that job satisfaction was down to just 45%, the lowest the group has encountered in 22 years of surveying (read another article about these findings here). The other big surprise in the data was the basement-levels of job satisfaction for the youngest group - individuals under 25 years old - who showed the most dissatisfaction ever recorded for this age group. So if narcissism helps convince individuals that they are entitled to a great job just out of college and those individuals just out of college are unhappy in their work, is there a connection? 

    One argument against this connection is the current economic situation - that good jobs are harder to get than ever before and even if individuals have the same level of entitlement of those in previous generations, they would be less satisfied with the current job market. While this is true, wouldn't the economic situation and number of people who are unemployed - particularly young people - also help individuals find satisfaction in their jobs? Maybe these connections require better empirical support before we can even consider them, but they seem to be interesting ideas - and have certainly captured the attention of the popular press. 

    So what do you all think?


    Gerhard Adam
    Well,  I tend to place more blame on the older generations actually.

    In the first case, we see more and more people become politically active (largely because of being spoon-fed false information) by media outlets.  As a result, that becomes a type of narcissisim where people feel no compelling reason to be informed or do basic research.  Simply shouting about your fears and bias' seems to be enough.

    As a result we have many people that have indulged themselves into believing that everyone's opinions should be treated with equal credibility and even the most inane commentary should get our special consideration.

    There seems no doubt (in my mind) that this also sets examples for the younger generations that may create the appearance of more entitlement.

    The other part I blame on the older generations is this love-affair with being young.  The sad reality is that many older people make fools of themselves in trying to look and behave 20 years (or more)  younger than they actually are.  Older cultures used to value their elders for advice and experience.  Modern society worships the young and they know it.  As a result we have cultural values being turned upside down by the behavior of older people, leading once again to a sense (in younger people) that they should be entitled to more.  After all, aren't they leading the charmed existence that everyone else seems to envy?

    Anyway ... my two cents.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Those are pretty valuable two cents that you have spoken there, Gerhard. I couldn't agree more! ;-)
    Thanks for your two cents, Gerhard! I apologize for not commenting or responding to anything on this page because I really wanted to - somehow my replies have gotten deleted and my internet in general has been VERY spotty, but I digress...
    I agree with you about the glorification of youth. I think it's connected to our own idealization of the past and how we are sometimes able to "gloss over" the unpleasantness or frustrations of the past. We can sometimes have "memories" of times or events that now seem great, but at the time were less than perfect... and don't match our so-called "memories" of them. It's how so many people can claim that high school and college are the best years of their lives or something was a great experience. Somehow, we manage to forget that we had no power, stability, money, self-confidence, choices, control, etc. and that we were faced with the cruelty from others, uncertainty, etc. Somehow we only remember that we didn't pay rent or taxes and we find the photos we saved of the good times and somehow, it was a great time of life...  
    Gerhard Adam
    I think that attitude has always existed (i.e. the good ole days), but for today's attitudes I'm going to climb out on a limb and propose a different explanation.

    I think that it's linked to our increased involved in careers (both sexes) and the divorce rate.  In particular, it seems that serial monogamy occurring more frequently there is increased "competition" in dating, etc.  As a result, we have people that are having to re-enter the dating game (and other social groups) on a relatively on-going basis. 

    In my view instead of people moving on with their lives, they almost seem caught in a "Groundhog Day" kind of loop where they keep replaying these events.  Since these events do tend to be competitive (especially dating) the pressure is on to look younger, be attractive, have money, etc.  The natural extension to that is to be envious of those that already have it.

    I'm not trying to assess a value on these things, nor level judgment.  It just seems that this is a change in the way society has functioned for a long time and consequently I think that it has shifted focus because of these other social changes. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    I've never thought of or connected the idea of more people dating and re-entering the dating world to the glorification of youth... interesting idea!
    I think that saying that peoples job satisfaction being low, is a sign of entitlement is a reach.  
    These people had the idea that they would be making more money with their degree's than they are.  Or they are underemployed, or they are doing something else with their degree.  To top all of that off they are likely in the midst of paying off a huge educational debt. 

    When I first graduated with a BS in physics the only job I could find was in telemarketing.  Did I feel unsatisfied heck yes.  Did I feel that a BS should count for something somewhere heck yes.   Which is why I am in school now.  If I get a MS and still can only find a job in telemarketing will I be unsatisfied you bet.  I don't think I should get the Lucasain Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge or anything, but a MS ought to be enough to qualify one for a job related to what I have studied, even one that pays in literal peanuts.  Does that make me one of the entitled brats? 

    I don't think so.  I think that a person goes to school with the modest expectation that they won't end up flipping burgers or working the loading dock... probably being supervised by the people who had not the grades to go to college, but the smarts to just get a job and work hard.  Does such a person thinking that they ought to be able to do better make them entitled? 

    The answer to both of the above is NO.  Going to school and getting an education IS work.  It is earning it.   

    Like Gerhard I blame the older generations who managed to ruin the economics of this country so badly that even people with college degree's could not find a good job.  They made it so expensive to go to college that you need o borrow to pay for it, and have money to eat on.   Then to top it all of act as if nothing has fundamentally changed. 
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    I totally understand your school-related pain. I don't know how the value of these degrees got so watered down that they don't seem to mean anything any more... or how we're drawing the line between entitlement and realistic expectations (even those that help us reach our own career goals). But it is frustrating to think about the older generation that blames the younger/youngest for anything given that the youngest generation has only recently gotten the chance to vote or affect change in any even remotely meaningful way.
    Exactly.  I mean it's like ... an old Ukranian  living in Kiev blaming someone who's 22 for not fixing Chernobyl. 
    I can see what your point is about job satisfaction.  I would have choosen a word other than "entitlement" to describe it.  When I think of entitlement I think of the feeling the Prince of Wales must have towards the British throne.  Someone who works the butt off for a degree is not in the wrong for expecting a job at the end.  No more in the wrong that someone working a job and expecting a paycheck. 
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    Gerhard Adam
    I think there are actually several different issues here.  In the first place, there is the notion that some people have that simply having a college degree is sufficient.  I've seen people get degrees in Medieval History and wondered why they couldn't find work .... come on.

    In the second place there are those fields that are small and highly specialized.  Unfortunately many of the sciences fall into this area because given the few positions available, it is difficult to find positions that someone can do with lower-level degrees.  It would be nice if there were more, but it isn't like these jobs are created out of thin air nor are they destroyed arbitrarily.  Like in physics, jobs can be neither created nor destroyed.  There's a certain conservation law at work here that suggests that it really is a zero-sum game.

    The entitlement tends to come into those fields that are business oriented.  The newly minted MBA that wonders why they are not up for the chairmanship of General Motors, etc. 

    Unfortunately one of the primary problems is that our education system (and social myths) have created the illusion that an education was all that was necessary for success.  They never really focus on the experience or any of the other things that are needed, and unfortunately they also never ensure that the educational process produces someone that can actually do something when they are done.  In far too many cases, the student graduates with a pool of knowledge, of which virtually none of it is practical in real-world situations.  As I said, this especially applies in many of the areas like computer science, accounting, business, etc.  (Personally I'm not even sure what computer science is supposed to be since it certainly isn't much of a science).

    Of course, as Hontas Farmer indicated, there is also the general trend in business to move many of these occupations to countries where cheaper skills can be obtained.  Once again, this is going to be something that will seriously cause some damage down the line, when we suddenly realize that we can't provide expertise, if we don't provide a path where individuals can gain applied experience to become those experts.  Instead, right now, everything is viewed from the perspective of the cheapest solution.

    So, while there are certainly cases where there is an unreasonable expectation of entitlement, there are an equal number of situations where people rightfully feel betrayed by a system that promised them opportunities if they played by the rules, only to find out that the rules didn't exist in any meaningful way.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I completely and totally agree with you (including and especially your observation of kids continuing to live off of their parents without a second thought). I think the job satisfaction connection has more to do with the idea that young people now enter the workforce with the thought that a job should be a career, have meaning, fulfill basic psychological needs... and now that people can't even find a job to fulfill basic survival needs?! Maybe that's what's pushing people over the edge - the compounded, add insult-to-injury situation the youngest working generation finds itself in.... they were told they would be getting a career and a job that pays the bills and discovering that neither is a legitimate possibility... but maybe I'm overly influenced by my own frustrations and fears.
    Gerhard Adam
    I suspect that some of that cynicism probably came from the parents.  I know in my generation, there was a strong sense that if you got a college education you would virtually be guaranteed a good job.  Well .... that turned out to be a lie, which was then compounded by more and more of them. 

    As hard as it may be to believe, but back in the 1970's people actually thought about going to work for a company with the express belief that they would be able to retire from it.  In addition, I still remember having a debate with a friend about how important "loyalty" to a corporation was.

    At the time, there was a strong sentiment that if you were loyal to the company, they would be loyal in return.  Well, all of that has since changed rather dramatically so it does tend to create a sense of frustration and disillusionment because no one really knows what the "recipe" for success is any more.  Increasingly even the occasional optimistic statements are viewed skeptically and the general consensus (of my generation) is that this will be the first time in U.S. history where it is unlikely that your kids will do better than you.  In previous generations, the reverse was considered a forgone conclusion.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    There is one aspect of the entitlement that I will mention, although it is anecdotal.  I've noticed that there seems to be a tremendous sense of entitlement and "you owe me" between parents and their kids.  I personally find it difficult to understand how many adults (under 30 approx), think nothing of living at home, eating their parents foods, etc. and then complaining that their parents criticize them or want to tell them what to do.

    Similarly, I've seen far too many parents that literally have spent tens of thousands of dollars providing help and assistance and have their kids simply behave (or even say it) as if they are owed all that support.  It does seem that there is a big shift in attitudes between the generations regarding how help is received and what is owed.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Pedro K
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    The drop in workers' happiness can be partly blamed on the worst recession. One of the things that modern US citizens, and well…anyone in OECD countries, is lucky enough to even THINK about is job satisfaction.  That being said, it's actually the lowest it's been in decades.  People have been keeping track of it for a long time, but overall job satisfaction has steadily been declining since 1987, and believe it or not, more pay doesn't actually do it.