Study: Millennials Less Trusting Than Gen X Was

Martha Irvine, MSN, September 4, 2014

They’re often pegged as the civic-minded, do-gooding generation. But while they’re still optimistic about their own personal prospects, a new study finds that today’s youth are often more skeptical of the country’s institutions than the young generations that preceded them.

The Millennials also are as mistrusting of other people as the gloomy “slackers” of Generation X were 20 years ago–or even more so.

Jean Twenge, lead author of the study that will be published early this month in the online edition of the journal Psychological Science, says the current atmosphere–fed by the Great Recession, mass shootings, and everything from church sex abuse scandals and racial strife to the endless parade of publicly shamed politicians, athletes and celebrities–may help explain why this young generation’s trust levels hit an all-time low in 2012, the most recent data available.

In the mid-1970s, when baby boomers were coming of age, about a third of high school seniors agreed that “most people can be trusted.”

That dropped to 18 percent in the early 1990s for Gen Xers–and then, in 2012, to just 16 percent of Millennials.

The researchers also found that Millennials’ approval of major institutions–from Congress and corporations to the news media and educational and religious institutions–dropped more sharply than other generations in the decade that followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Young people today feel disconnected and alienated,” says Twenge, who wrote the book Generation Me, which examines the attitudes of today’s youth. She finds these outcomes “especially distressing” for a generation that had been expected to be more trusting of government.

{snip}

Twenge and her co-authors at the University of Georgia based their study’s findings on data from two major long-standing surveys of Americans–the General Social Survey and the University of Michigan’s annual “Monitoring the Future” survey of 12th graders, with nearly 140,000 participants in total.

While Americans of all ages had growing trust issues in recent years, the researchers found that young people’s trust dropped more steeply in several categories.

For instance, in 2000-2002, 49 percent of 12th graders who were surveyed said Congress was doing a “good” or “very good” job, compared with just 22 percent who said the same in 2010-12. Thirty percent of young boomers were approving in the mid-1970s, and 33 percent of Gen Xers in early 1990s.

{snip}

In 2000-2002, 54 percent of 12th graders approved of the job large corporations were doing. That fell to 33 percent by 2010-12. Forty percent of boomers approved in the mid-1970s, and 48 percent of Gen Xers in the early 1990s.

During that decade, Millennials also had notable drops in approval of colleges and universities, the news media, public schools and religious institutions.

Because the study found that people of all age groups have trust and confidence issues, Twenge notes that the results are more likely tied to current events than the generation itself.

Last year, an AP-GfK poll also found that only a third of all Americans said they trusted most people, compared with about half who said the same the early 1970s, according to the General Social Survey.

{snip}

{snip}¬†They may be disillusioned by the powers that be. Yet so far, they’ve continued to vote in larger percentages than previous young generations, even after some concede that they’ve failed to see the “change” that President Barack Obama first promised in 2008.

And despite their skepticism, they also continue to be a largely optimistic lot.

A Pew Research Center survey done in 2012 found that 73 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds were optimistic that they would eventually achieve their life goals, or had already achieved them.

Jon Rogowski, a political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, has worried that, given these findings about trust, some young people will tire and “turn inwards” and away from civic engagement.¬†{snip}

{snip}

Topics: ,

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.