I often make fun of baby boomers and senior citizens for making unsubstantiated or generally cranky-sounding accusations against millennials (see, for example, Friday’s column). At least, the reader e-mails I receive often reflect this. But according to survey data, it’s actually the cohort only slightly older than millennials — roughly speaking, Gen-Xers — that seems to throw the most shade at us. Maybe it’s because Gen-Xers see themselves in competition with millennials for jobs; maybe it’s because they’re still resentful about being accused of narcissism, entitlement and all-around whininess when they were young and want to pay that reputational abuse forward; or maybe it’s because they’re likely to be millennials’ direct supervisors and so are more sensitive to their Gen-Y underlings’ annoying behaviors.
Whatever the cause, those in the age range wedged between boomers and millennials don’t seem to think very highly of their younger peers, according to a Reason-Rupe survey conducted in August. The survey had several questions about whether a list of adjectives described 18-to-29-year-olds accurately. For almost every question, the age groups in the middle rated young people more poorly than did either the oldest age groups or the young themselves. (By the way, note that the cutoffs between generations are fuzzy; other sources often categorize people in their early 30s as millennials, too.)
Here, for example, are the responses to a question about whether young people are “entitled”:
Notice that a majority of members in each age group — including 18-to-29-year-olds themselves — said that young people are entitled. But those in the 30-to-44-year-old range were mostly likely to call young people “entitled,” with three-quarters of these respondents saying the adjective described 18-to-29-year-olds “very well” or “somewhat well.”
Here likewise are the numbers for “hard-working” and “responsible.” In both cases the young give themselves very high marks, but other respondents — especially those in the middle age buckets — do not agree:
Then there’s the question about whether young people are “selfish.” Again, those in their 30s, 40s and early 50s are most likely to say the term applies well to young people, but in an interesting twist, it’s the oldest Americans who are least likely to call young people selfish:
As you can see, 71 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds cop to their age group being selfish. But only 59 percent of people eligible for Medicare agree with this characterization. Guess all those calls to Nana are paying off.
Finally, when it comes to assessing tolerance (presumably of diversity, not of alcohol), young people once again view themselves quite favorably.
A majority in all major age groups views the young as “tolerant,” too, although those in the 45-to-54-year-old bracket are not as convinced as everyone else. Not quite sure how to explain this pattern, except that maybe the young do not generally exhibit high levels of tolerance toward the music tastes of the middle-aged.