Young people have to be greener, right?  That crying Indian commercial(1) was 40 years ago, we have to have made progress in pollution by now.

Well, we have.  But it's not because of young people. Young people are not more likely to be 'green' than their elders, they are less - in defiance of popular perception - just like right wing people conserve energy just as much as the left, despite the perception that they care less about conservation.

Millennials, young adults who grew up with the global warming discussion and calls to "reduce, reuse, recycle", list the environment among their top concerns - but they seem to mean it should be a concern for other people. 

Instead, young Americans of today are individually less interested in the environment and in conservation than those of 40 and 20 years ago.  They are also less civic-minded in general. The results were from an analysis of 9 million young adults in the years 1966 to 2009; the University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future study of high school seniors, conducted continuously since 1975, and the American Freshman survey by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute of entering college students done since 1966.

"These data show that recent generations are less likely to embrace community mindedness and are focusing more on money, image and fame,"  said San Diego State psychology professor Jean Twenge, one of the study co-authors.

Some things were up.  Young people were more likely to have volunteered in high school than previous generations but that correlates to a rise in schools implementing a community service requirement because previous generations believed more in community service. 

What topped the list for the young?  Wealth went from being important to 45 percent of baby boomers to 75 percent for Millennials.  That makes sense. You can't model your career after Kim Kardashian without money. Interest in political affairs decreased from 50 percent for baby boomers to 35 percent for Millennials. That makes sense too; we got a president by having him overthrow campaign finance reform and spend double his opponent in 2008 and in 2012 we have Super PACs so it's easy to become jaded on politics.

Being green? 33 percent important for baby boomers to do something personally but only 20 percent for Millennials. 15 percent of Millennials said they had made no effort to help the environment, compared with 5 percent of young baby boomers.

Maybe baby boomers were not the "Me Generation" at all - they instead gave birth to it.

Citation: Twenge, Jean M.; Campbell, W. Keith; Freeman, Elise C., 'Generational Differences in Young Adults' Life Goals, Concern for Others, and Civic Orientation, 1966–2009' Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Mar 5 , 2012 doi: 10.1037/a0027408


(1) The crying Indian I grew up with.  He wasn't Indian, he was Italian. And he was a professional actor.  But it worked. Environmentalist of today would protest if he used a canoe in the water like that.