Chicago Among academics who track the behavior of young adults and teens, there’s a touchy debate: Should the word “entitled” be used when talking about today’s younger people? Are they overconfident in themselves?
Jean Twenge, author of the book “Generation Me,” is in the middle of the discussion. The San Diego State University psychology professor has made a career out of finding data that she says shows that college students and others their age are more self-centered — narcissistic even — than past generations. Now she’s turned up data showing that they also feel more superior about themselves than their elders did when they were young.
“There are some advantages and some disadvantages to self-esteem, so having some degree of confidence is often a good thing,” says Twenge. But as she sees it, there’s a growing disconnect between self-perception and reality.
“It’s not just confidence. It’s overconfidence.”
And that, she says, can pose problems, in relationships and the workplace — though others argue that it’s not so easy to generalize.
“If you actually look at the data, you can’t just condense it into a sound bite. It’s more nuanced than that,” says John Pryor, director of UCLA’s Cooperative Institutional Research program, which produces an annual national survey of hundreds of thousands of college freshman, on which Twenge and her colleagues based their latest study.
That study was recently published online in the British journal Self and Identity.
Among other things, Twenge and her colleagues found that a growing percentage of incoming college freshmen rated themselves as “above average” in several categories, compared with college freshmen who were surveyed in the 1960s.
When it came to social self-confidence, about half of freshmen questioned in 2009 said they were above average, compared with fewer than a third in 1966. Meanwhile, 60 percent in 2009 rated their intellectual self-confidence as above average, compared with 39 percent in 1966, the first year the survey was given.
In the study, the authors also argue that intellectual confidence may have been bolstered by grade inflation, noting that, in 1966, only 19 percent of college students who were surveyed earned an “A” or “A-minus” average in high school, compared with 48 percent in 2009.