Kids these days: Why the youth of today seem lacking
In five preregistered studies, we assess people’s tendency to believe “kids these days” are deficient relative to those of previous generations. Across three traits, American adults (N=3,458; Mage = 33-51 years) believe today’s youth are in decline; however, these perceptions are associated with people’s standing on those traits. Authoritarian people especially think youth are less respectful of their elders, intelligent people especially think youth are less intelligent, well-read people especially think youth enjoy reading less. These beliefs are not predicted by irrelevant traits. Two mechanisms contribute to humanity’s perennial tendency to denigrate kids: (1) a person-specific tendency to notice the limitations of others where one excels, (ii) a memory bias projecting one’s current qualities onto the youth of the past. When observing current children, we compare our biased memory to the present and a decline appears. This may explain why the kids these days effect has been happening for millennia.
Since at least 624 BCE, people have lamented the decline of the present generation of youth relative to earlier generations (2–5). The pervasiveness of complaints about “kids these days” across millennia suggests that these criticisms are neither accurate nor due to the idiosyncrasies of a particular culture or time—but rather represent a pervasive illusion of humanity. Given its potential ubiquity, surprisingly little research has investigated the extent or source of peoples’ disparaging the youth of the day. Nevertheless, various strands of investigations suggest mechanisms for this seeming illusion and make distinct predictions regarding how it may generalize across individuals and traits.
Some accounts predict that perceptions of the decline of youth should be person general, largely independent of an individual’s own qualities. People tend to view themselves as superior to others across domains (6, 7) and often independently of their actual qualities (8). Accordingly, people’s disparaging the youth m