Researchers challenge the popular notion that today's young are more narcissistic than their parents:
According to the study’s lead author, Western psychology professor Kali Trzesniewski, young adults are no more narcissistic than previous generations.
Trzesniewski’s team looked at thousands of student responses to various psychological tests and questionnaires from the 1970s until the present. Over the decades, no major changes in the level of youth narcissism were evident.
Take what I have to say here with a grain of salt since what follows are just observations from personal experience, but I do think that these observations might point toward problems in the way many people have been comparing narcissism across generations.
I've been a bit skeptical of claims that kids today are far more narcissistic than their parents. While the reports of employers and school officials who complain about youthful entitlement are impressive, I'm hesitant to attribute changes in work and school expectations to increased levels of fundamental narcissism.
The typical auto worker in 1950s probably had far higher expectations of his employer than the typical immigrant laborer in the the early 20th century. But it's a huge leap to assume that the differences in expectations were attributable wholly, or even partly, to lower levels of narcissism among the immigrant parents of those workers of the 1950s. During my own childhood, I knew many European immigrants who had been born in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I suspect that their grandiosity would not have been well received by the typical employer of their era. Perhaps, as a result, expectations and demands were held in check.
The very modest employment expectations of those immigrants did not, however, dampen expressions of narcissistic grandiosity in family and personal relationships where reality considerations didn't put the kibosh on narcissism. My recollections suggest that in some significant ways, expressions of narcissism among the older generation seemed less in check than they were in their children's generation.
Many of these earlier folks were extremely intolerant of any challenges to their sense of authority; I think they had more difficulty seeing the other guy's point of view and generally assumed that the world as they conceived it was exactly how the world should be and must be. At least in some important aspects of the conduct of their personal lives, they appeared to me to be far more narcissistic than their children and grandchildren. I don't conclude from this that they were, indeed, more narcissistic than their descendants. Rather, superficial assessments of narcissism, especially casual retrospective assessments, are fraught with problems.
H/T: The Situationist
San Francisco, 1967. Click photo to enlarge.