Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled--and More Miserable Than Ever Before by Jean M. Twenge. Free Press; April 4, 2006; $25; 304 pages.
FROM THE DUST JACKET:
The Associated Press calls them "The Entitlement Generation," and they are storming into schools, colleges, and businesses all over the country. They are today's young people, a new generation with sky-high expectations and a need for constant praise and fulfillment. In this provocative new book, headline-making psychologist and social commentator Dr. Jean Twenge documents the self-focus of what she calls "Generation Me" -- people born in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Herself a member of Generation Me, Dr. Twenge explores why her generation is tolerant, confident, open-minded, and ambitious but also cynical, depressed, lonely, and anxious. Using findings from the largest intergenerational study ever conducted -- with data from 1.3 million respondents spanning six decades -- Dr. Twenge reveals how profoundly different today's young adults are -- and makes controversial predictions about what the future holds for them and society as a whole. But Dr. Twenge doesn't just talk statistics -- she highlights real-life people and stories and vividly brings to life the hopes and dreams, disappointments and challenges of Generation Me. With a good deal of irony, humor, and sympathy, she demonstrates that today's young people have been raised to aim for the stars at a time when it is more difficult than ever to get into college, find a good job, and afford a house -- even with two incomes. GenMe's expectations have been raised just as the world is becoming more competitive, creating an enormous clash between expectations and reality. Dr. Twenge also presents the often-shocking truths about her generation's dramatically different sexual behavior and mores.
GenMe has created a profound shift in the American character, changing what it means to be an individual in today's society. Engaging, controversial, prescriptive, and often funny, Generation Me will give Boomers new insight into their offspring, and help GenMe-ers in their teens, 20s, and 30s finally make sense of themselves and their goals and find their road to happiness.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
Publishers Weekly: In their 2000 book, Millennials Rising, Neil Howe and William Straus argued that children born after 1982 will grow up to become America's next Greatest Generation -- filled with a sense of optimism and civic duty -- but according to San Diego State psychology professor Twenge, such predictions are wishful thinking. Lumping together Gen-X and -Y under the moniker "GenMe," Twenge argues that those born after 1970 are more self-centered, more disrespectful of authority, and more depressed than ever before. When the United States started the war in Iraq, she points out, military enlistments went down, not up. (Born in 1971, Twenge herself is at the edge of the Me Generation.) Her book is livened with analysis of films, magazines, and TV shows, and with anecdotal stories from her life and others'. The real basis of her argument, however, lies in her 14 years of research comparing the results of personality tests given to boomers when they were under 30 and those given to GenMe-ers today. Though Twenge's opinionated asides may occasionally set Gen-X and -Yers' teeth on edge, many of her findings are fascinating. And her call to "ditch the self-esteem movement" in favor of education programs that encourage empathy and real accomplishment could spare some Me-ers from the depression that often occurs when they hit the realities of today's increasingly competitive workplace.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., is a widely published associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University. Her research has appeared in Time, USA Today, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, and she has been featured on Today and Dateline and National Public Radio's All Things Considered. She holds degrees from the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan. Dr. Twenge lives with her husband in Rancho Peñasquitos.
A CONVERSATION WITH THE AUTHOR:
My phone conversation with Dr. Twenge took place the morning before she was to fly to New York to appear on the Today Show. Although her bags weren't yet packed, she had decided what she would wear, and she was excited about the television appearance. "So, who's going to interview you?" I asked."I am not sure yet. I hope it'll be either Katie or Matt. We'll see."
"You say that 'Generation Me' spans the '70s, '80s, and '90s. How did you come to lump them all together?"
"Well, I came up with that idea because the emphasis on self-esteem for children in schools and in media sources really began in the early '80s. So, if you were born in 1970 and afterward, then you're a part of the generation who was raised to believe that everyone should have high self-esteem. I was born in 1971, so I'm at the leading edge here. And that was my experience in childhood. Beginning in the early '80s, there were many programs that were focused on self-esteem. I absorbed these media messages about the self and these programs in the schools as well."
"What have you found to be the reason for the schools adding self-esteem to their curriculum?"
"It's a little bit of a mystery where they got the idea. There's very little research to support the idea that high self-esteem leads to good outcomes. Almost all the research that's been done shows that it goes the other way around. When you make good grades and behave well, then you have high self-esteem, and not vice-versa. I believe that it grew out of the human potential movement and other similar things in the '70s."
"I'm OK, You're OK ?"
"Yes. The baby boomers got into this stuff in the '70s as young adults and then when they started to have children themselves, and to work with children, they decided this would be a good idea. I think this was where the school programs started."
"As you say in your book, media and advertising reflect and promote that message."