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."
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
While 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?