Entitled? Lack Empathy? Research Shows There Are Benefits

Millennials are more entitled and less empathic, but for good reason.

Posted Apr 21, 2019

Art by Alexi Berry. Used with permission.
Source: Art by Alexi Berry. Used with permission.

There has been a decent amount written about the rise of entitlement in the Millennial generation—from the cover of Time in May 2013 (Stein), to Forbes articles about it, to companies trying to find ways to make it benefit them. A peer-reviewed article I read indicated, “The Millennial generation has been termed a generation of entitlement by the popular press” and went on to empirically research whether it was true. They concluded, “our findings add empirical support for the popular press assertions that the Millennials do indeed have a stronger sense of entitlement than the other generational groups currently in the workforce.” 

At the same time, reports abound that this generation is diagnosed more with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Stein, in his article for Time, reports that “58% more college students scored higher on a narcissism scale in 2009 than in 1982.” Anecdotally, colleagues have complained that this generation expects to be spoon fed A’s at the university level. These same colleagues have bemoaned the changes in their own teaching practices, as they cave into expectation.

Two different podcasts recently focused on similar issues. One was about a writer’s son, who imitates star players in the NBA and complains to the referees. In this podcast (No Fair!, This American Life, 2019) Michael Lewis goes from his son’s on the court antics, to those of star NBA players, to psychological studies that demonstrate those who feel a sense of privilege do not feel the rules apply to them compared to those that are less privileged. 

In the second podcast, The End of Empathy from Invisibilia, Hannah Rosen debates with her younger producer Lina Misitzis about whether the purpose of this podcast is to induce empathy and why. While exploring the why, studies are cited that indicate that after forty-years of asking groups the same set of questions focused on empathy, that “starting around 2000, the line starts to dip for all dimensions of empathy.” She goes on to say that by 2009, there was a 40% dip from her generation (elementary school in the ’70s). 

It stands to reason that with the rise of privilege, entitlement, and narcissism, a drop in empathy would ensue. But what does all of this mean? Some have wondered what will come of a world that has become so selfish. Many simply blame millennials.

This reminds me of a quote by Thich Nhat Hanh: “When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don't blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well” (p.78). In discussing the entitlement of Millennials years ago with a young person considering herself an apprentice, she retorted it is my generation’s fault her generation is entitled. She was likely unaware of how many agree (Stein and Allen, for example, among many others). The self-esteem movement, participation trophies, technology, and social networking are also often cited as blameworthy. 

Many experts in the area, however, are not so concerned. In the above-mentioned podcast, the host is introduced to the idea that too much empathy fuels terrorism and the support of war by Indiana University professor Fritz Breithaupt. The producer, Lina Misitzis, purports the idea that empathy, when applied to perpetrators, can further push sides apart, and puts other at-risk populations at further risk. This occurs because empathy saps conviction. 

Stein rounds out his article with the positives about millennials and claims they will save us all. He states, “They are pragmatic idealists, tinkerers more than dreamers, life hackers.” He quotes others with similar positivity about this generation. Stein also references Tom Brokaw, who champions Millennials as “the wary generation.” Stein suggests Millennials optimism will lead to more success than “wearing flannel, complaining, and making Indie movies about it” (an apparent jab at Generation X). 

To conclude, there are positives and negatives to everything. Even a decrease in empathy, and this from a therapist and someone who embraces many Eastern principles including fostering love and empathy, has a positive side. For those that worry about younger generations, I am reminded of this quote: “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority…Children now are tyrants…and tyrannize their teachers.” One might think this applies to Millennials, but it was the ancient philosopher Socrates who said it. 

Copyright William Berry, 2019

References

Allen, R., et.al., 2015. Are Millennials Really an Entitled Generation? An Investigation into Generational Equity Sensitivity Differences., Journal of Business Diversity Vol. 15(2), 2015, 21. 

Hanh, T.N., 1991., Peace is Every Step., Bantam Books

Lewis, M., 2019., No Fair!, This American Life, #672., Retrieved from: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/672/no-fair

Rosen, H., 2019., The End of Empathy., Invisibilia, Season 5 episode 6., Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/2019/04/11/712276022/the-end-of-empathy

Stein, J., 2013. The Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation., Time Magazine, retrieved from http://time.com/247/millennials-the-me-me-me-generation/