Study: Millennials Aren’t The Most Narcissistic of All

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A new study suggests sensitivity, assertion, and entitlement decrease over time and with age. (Photo Credit: Mimimi9977 / Pixabay)

OK, Boomer: A new study from Michigan State University suggests millennials are no more sensitive than their parents.

In fact, it’s the complete opposite.

“There’s a narrative in our culture that generations are getting more and more narcissistic, but no one has ever looked at it throughout generations or how it varies with age at the same time,” lead study author William Chopik, an associate professor of psychology at MSU, said in a statement.

In the largest-ever assessment of its kind, the team assessed a sample of nearly 750 people aged 13 to 77 to better understand the changing shape of narcissism—described by the Mayo Clinic as an inflated sense of self-importance or entitlement, lack of empathy, and arrogance that tends to hide a fragile self-esteem.

Based on interviews about participants’ work, personality, and family lives, psychologists and psychiatrists analyzed and ranked folks on a scale from one to five.

Most qualities—entitlement, sensitivity, assertion—decline over time and with age, according to the findings, published in the journal Psychology and Aging. Others, like having high aspirations for yourself, actually increase as we grow older.

“There are things that happen in life that can shake people a little bit and force them to adapt their narcissistic qualities,” Chopik explained. “As you age, you form new relationships, have new experiences, start a family, and so on.”

“All of these factors make someone realize that it’s not ‘all about them,’” he continued, revealing that the greatest impetus for declining narcissism was landing a first job. “The older you get, the more you think about the world that you may leave behind.”

Generally speaking, as individuals get older, they grow a thicker skin; hypersensitivity sharply declines at age 40, Insider reported. But in terms of generation-specific trends, older generations are more sensitive than younger ones—possibly due to specific events.

In the U.S., for example, baby boomers (between 55 and 73 years old) grew up with government-provided privileges like social security. Millennials (aged 23 to 38), meanwhile, are burdened with the future of climate change and a lifetime of student loans.

This study turns the age-old (no pun intended) trope of self-centered youngsters on its head. But this is just one small piece of the puzzle, according to Insider.

Researchers relied on existing data sets rather than personally following people of different generations for decades, the site said. And since narcissism can be measured in various ways and Chopik & Co. used only one method, the results may be a bit skewed.

“Based on our study, there’s weak evidence that this [younger] generation is the worst in human history,” Chopik told the website.

He hopes these findings can provide some reassurance to parents who fear their teenagers’ narcissistic behavior will never change. (For some, it may not.)

“We know younger people on average are more narcissistic, but that goes away with age,” Chopik said. “People will live their own lives and have experiences to lower that narcissism and mature.”

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