Statistical esteem

Last year, I came across this Reason article that summarizes data from a recent survey, which included some questions about how Millennials are perceived. The fact that 65% of Americans feel that snowflakes are entitled isn’t all that interesting or surprising, but the 58% percent of Millennials that agree is kind of alarming.

More than half of us think we are entitled, and 71% of the population (inclusive of our generation) feel that the term selfish accurately describes us. While I’m sure that similar surveys would have found similar responses from older generations about any generation when they were young, it is curious how much we agree with this negative assessment of ourselves. Perhaps we have internalized the recent backlash against us and believe that we are lazy, selfish, and entitled as the media (including the present author) suggests. Or maybe we have a nihilistic self-awareness – acknowledging these things without feeling the need to correct them.

Even though we tend to agree with the older generations in regard to selfishness and entitlement, we are at odds when it comes to a couple of other points. When asked if hardworking described Millennials, 74% of us agreed while only 49% of those over 30 thought so. Similarly, 77% of us feel like we are responsible, while the same 49% of older generations believed us.

Obviously, there is a discrepancy between how we perceive ourselves and how we are perceived. That’s not really news though – we’ve developed quite the reputation as a generation for being narcissistic, entitled, arrogant, impatient, and selfish. Time will tell how much of that is simply due to being the younger generation and how much of it we have earned on our own.

My peers and I feel like we work hard because it’s hard to get up and come to work. We feel like we are responsible because we are living on our own, not spending the bill money, and not getting hammered on random Tuesday nights. Because we always got a pat on the back for doing what we are supposed to do, we expect to be called responsible for handling the basic demands of adulthood. There isn’t a trophy for being an adult, so we look for verbal affirmations of our ‘accomplishments.’

The most intriguing part of the article is our agreement that we are selfish and entitled. I don’t feel like Millennials were taking this survey and answering on a personal level, but agreeing that these terms described their peers. We will gladly criticize our peers and generation, but our willingness to do so shows how entitled we really are. We feel above our cohort so feel comfortable casting judgement on the ‘normal’ people.

Stop rolling your eyes, I am painfully aware of the irony that I’m saying these things.

It can be seen as the third-person effect in action – selfishness and entitled behavior are undesirable, so we are less likely to identify the impact of factors encouraging those behaviors. We feel that we have been less impacted by the cultural norms that have shaped us and are blind to our own selfishness and entitlement. We are capable of observing this behavior in others, but can’t see it in ourselves because it was fostered by society during our childhood.

It’s also an opportunity to look at what is being called the first-person effect, which is essentially the opposite of the third-person effect. If an attribute or cultural influence is perceived as positive or desirable, we are more likely to overestimate the impact it has on us and underestimate the positive benefits these factors have on others. In the case of the snowflakes, we rate ourselves highly on responsibility and work ethic because cultural factors were telling us that we were those things. It’s why we can all feel special and unique and unquestionably better than others even though people were telling rooms full of children this – we just assumed it didn’t apply to others.

If this many of us think we are selfish and entitled, then we probably are. On an individual level most of us have these tendencies and the only way to change is individually. A lot of my generational cohort resent this perception and take offense to these descriptors. Then do something about it. If you don’t want to be called lazy, self-serving, and entitled then don’t be.

Prove them wrong. But before we can do that, we have to prove ourselves wrong.

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