Study: Millennials Are Not Lazier Than Boomers

Study: Millennials Are Not Lazier Than Boomers
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"Millennials are lazy and entitled," so sayeth the Internet (and Martha Stewart). But scientific evidence says otherwise.

Researchers primarily based out of Wayne State University were curious what the scientific literature had to say about the oft-stated stereotype, so they conducted a massive search for studies conducted on Americans that measured work ethic, specifically the "Protestant" model, which emphasizes hard work, discipline, and frugality. In total, 105 studies fit the bill.

Some of the studies the researchers found did not directly compare generational groups, so they were forced to get a little inventive. Using the average age of the study groups and the date the respective research was published, the researchers categorized the groups by generation.

"For example, Christopher et al. (2008) reported an average age of 42 years and mean PWE score of 4.94 on a 1–7 response range. Since the study was published in 2008, we subtracted 42 from 2008 to determine that the average participant in the sample was born in 1966. Since those born in 1966 are part of Generation X, this study would be considered a sample of Generation Xers," they described.

That method produced 38 Baby Boomer samples, 31 Generation X samples, and 36 Millennial samples. When the researchers compared the groups' worth ethic scores, they found no difference. In fact, the scores were all nearly identical.

But this method was obviously susceptible to bias. Because the researchers averaged the ages in each group, so-called "Baby Boomer" samples could also include members from younger generations, and so-called "Millennial" samples could include members from older generations. To remedy this glaring problem, the researchers narrowed the study groups down to only those where the vast majority of subjects fit into a single generational age bracket.

That left 55 groups: 14 Baby Boomers, 7 Generation Xers, and 23 Millennials. Again, the worth ethic scores were all essentially identical.

"Contrary to many popular press articles... results suggest there are no generational differences in Protestant work ethic," the researchers concluded.

Obviously, the methodology of the study isn't perfect, but the researchers should be commended for attempting to bring empirical evidence to a debate that has mostly been fueled by confirmation bias, workplace anecdotes, and the crotchety musings of Baby Boomers.

So, with the "Lazy Millennial" stereotype at least somewhat debunked, what can explain its prevalence?

Frankly, denigrating the young is simply what older generations do. While Boomers lambaste Millennials for cavorting on Facebook, chilling with Netflix, and texting away the day, the elder generation of a century past was scolding the young as well, albeit with a bit more eloquence. As psychologist and educator Granville Stanley wrote in 1904:

Never has youth been exposed to such dangers of both perversion and arrest as in our own land and day. Increasing urban life with its temptations, prematurities, sedentary occupations, and passive stimuli just when an active life is most needed, early emancipation and a lessening sense for both duty and discipline, the haste to know and do all befitting man's estate before its time, the mad rush for sudden wealth and the reckless fashions set by its gilded youth--all these lack some of the regulatives they still have in older lands with more conservative conditions.

But despite the harsh critiques from their forebears, the "Centennials" of the late 1800s and early 1900s turned out all right, soldiering through World War I, persisting through the Great Depression, and sacrificing mightily to win World War II. Millennials of today are sure to face hardships of their own, and, like their great-grandparents, will overcome them with similar aplomb.

Source: Zabel, K.L., Biermeier-Hanson, B.B.J., Baltes, B.B. et al. Generational Differences in Work Ethic: Fact or Fiction? J Bus Psychol (2016). doi:10.1007/s10869-016-9466-5

(Image: AP)

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