Millennials: Narcissists, or hope for the future?

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Ronald Inglehart.

Time Magazine’s 2013 cover story by Joel Stein labeled Millennials – the generation born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s – as self-entitled narcissists. That story is one in a slew of articles berating Millennials for a host of issues. But the Time story in particular caused quite a stir, spawning both similar critiques and rebuttals in the mainstream press.

But what are Millenials really about? Center for Political Studies Research Professor Ronald Inglehart is the Founding President of the World Values Survey (WVS). Conducted in waves, the WVS traces values and cultural exchange over time and across the world. WVS data offer insight into the world’s Millenials generation.

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The graph above shows where WVS respondents fell on two values scales by birth year, within various groups. Within each group, Millenials are represented by the blue dots for those born after 1980.  This evidence from the WVS suggests that the Millennials generation demonstrates higher self-expression than most of the other generations within each group. Greater self-expression values means having more action resources – both material and cognitive. The chart below highlights the chain reaction set off by these action resources.

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How can we see this enhanced self-expression in action? In support for environmental protection, tolerance of diversity and out-groups like foreigners and LGBT populations. In valuing political and economic participation. And in emphasizing imagination and tolerance when rearing children. Also accompanying higher self-expression values are a greater sense of subjective well-being and interpersonal trust. These trends bring hope for the future led by the often vilified Millennial generation.

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