If social media is any indication, it would appear that the older members of our society tend to think that are youngest members are among the most personally-sensitive and self-obsessed generation of all time. Fortunately, a new study has shed some light on what this means and, most importantly, proven that different age groups exhibit and indulge narcissistic tendencies in different ways.
As a matter of fact, people tend to be more narcissistic when they are younger, in general; and these tendencies taper off as we get older.
Lead study author William Chopik comments that this culture has a narrative—warranted or not—that each subsequent generation is more narcissistic than the one before.
Chopik’s Michigan State University team analyzed data collected from approximately 750 people to determine that narcissistic characteristics are more typically displayed early in life. These traits include things like authoritativeness, stubbornness, and hypersensitivity or defensiveness. However, these traits tend to get smoothed out over the years. Hypersensitivity, in particular, sees a sharp decline after the age of 40.
The MSU associate professor of psychology comments, “One of the most surprising findings was that—also contrary to what many people think—individuals who were born earlier in the century started off with higher levels of hypersensitivity, or the type of narcissism where people are full of themselves, as well as willfulness, which is the tendency to impose opinions on others.”
Overall, the evidence seems to say that older generations are actually more sensitive than younger ones. Chopik suspects this might be due to certain “generation-specific” events that influence a person’s outlook on life.
For example, he says, “baby boomers [in the United States] may be more narcissistic than other generations because they grew up in a time when the government provided privileges like social security.” He also notes that the bump in narcissistic traits between boomers and these younger generations is actually statistically small.
Effectively, Chopik summarizes that the study concludes there is not much evidence to support the argument that this [younger] generation is “the worst in human history.” We only know that younger people, on average, exhibit more narcissistic traits but these fade with age. He notes, “People will live their own lives and have experiences to lower that narcissism and mature.”