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Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, Published April 07 2012

Hot topics: ‘Me’ or ‘We’: A generational debate

Now comes another skirmish in the generation wars, the fight about whether post-boomers are selfish, moneygrubbing fame seekers – the “Me” Generation – or confident, group-oriented volunteers – the “We” Generation.

The latest salvo comes from Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University and author of “Generation Me” and “The Narcissism Epidemic.” Not surprisingly, she’s still critical of her own generation, the Generation Xers born between 1962 and 1981, and the Millennials born after that.

In research published this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Twenge found that, over the last 40 years, young people have become increasingly focused on money and fame while caring less about politics, their communities or the environment. Her team based its conclusions on analyses of surveys taken by 9 million high school seniors and college freshmen.

At Clark University, Jeffrey Jensen Arnett studies “emerging adults,” those aged about 18 to 25. He doesn’t think change comes neatly packaged in generations, but said youth trends over the last 20 years have mainly been positive. Volunteerism and graduation rates are up, he said, while crime, drug use, and teen pregnancy are down. Today’s young people are tolerant of differences in ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion, he said. If anything, he said, this is a “generous generation.”

Twenge stuck to her guns. Survey questions about what students did, rather than what they thought, she said, also supported her view.

According to the surveys she studied, the proportion of students who said it was very important to be wealthy increased from 45 percent for baby boomers to 70 percent for Gen Xers and 75 percent for Millennials. The percentage who thought it was important to keep up with politics fell from 50 percent for boomers to 39 percent for Gen Xers and 35 percent for Millennials.

The biggest drop was in whether youths felt the need to develop a meaningful philosophy of life. Seventy-three percent of boomers thought that was important, compared with 45 percent of Millennials, but Millennials still thought it more important than money.