The Age of Enlightenment or the Age of Entitlement?
Spending More than We Earn
Americans spend 1.5 trillion dollars on their credit cards each year. Sadly, over 40% are spending more money than they are earning. Studies show that people spend far more money using credit cards than they would spend if they were paying with actual dollars.
In the ten years between 1997 and 2007, consumer debt went up a whopping 75%. In that same time period, the median household income did not increase at all, but that didn’t stop the trend toward spending.
Daniel Indiviglio, in the Atlantic, described American’s recent love affair with debt. He compared the average debt of an American in 1948 to someone in 2010, while taking population and inflation into account. His startling findings showed that debt went from $1,186 per person in 1948 to $10,168 in 2010, not including mortgages or home equity loans.
This trend is not explained simply by the rise of materialism but is also due to the trend towards sending more kids to college than ever before. The expectation that a college degree will secure a high paying job is, unfortunately, no longer a promise that can be fulfilled.
According to a recent poll conducted by Forbes Woman and the National Endowment for Financial Education, 59% of parents are still financially supporting their adult children aged 18 to 39 who are no longer in school. In order to do so, these parents are making significant sacrifices such as taking on more debt, delaying retirement, and denying themselves vacations, homes, and privacy. What message does this send to our next generations of adults?
In spite of economic trends, more Americans are choosing to do cosmetic surgery (rather than reconstructions after accidents or illnesses) than ever before. The annual poll of the AAFPRS, The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, discovered a 31% increase in requests for surgery as a result of social media photo sharing.
More cosmetic surgery (the most common procedure being breast augmentation) and facial injectables (such as Botox) are being done on adults under the age of 25 than ever before. They also found that tweeners and teens are more likely to have plastic surgery as a result of being bullied. (I guess that’s one way to try to solve a serious problem.) Girls graduating from high school are given brow lifts and boob jobs, boys are sent to college with new cars, and parents are still footing a bill they can’t afford.
Cal Newport, a blogger for Harvard Business Review describes how the interest in “a secure career” has been dwindling, and has been replaced by the phrases “a fulfilling career” and “follow your passion”. Published yesterday by a Huffington Post blogger, the clever and controversial commentary “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy” got over 75,000 likes on Facebook and over 1000 comments.
It describes how Gen Y’ers (those born roughly between 1980 to 2000) want the same economic prosperity of their parents while simultaneously expecting to be fulfilled and happy in their jobs. The writer takes the position that many or most of today’s young adults were given lots of praise when young children (thanks to the self-esteem movement) of how special and unique they ALL were–just for being, not for the fruits of their labors. Although well intended, this message set up Generation Y to be markedly disappointed in the facts of the real world. The hard truth…not everyone is special enough to get paid well for meaningful work.
In the meantime, psychologists began to notice a disturbing rise in entitlement in our culture. Between 1980 and the present, narcissistic personality traits among college students rose as fast as obesity rates in the same population. Since then, scores on profiles measuring narcissism have been steadily rising since the year 2000, prompting some psychologists to label it an epidemic.
This trend is not limited to college students–they just happen to be the most common subjects of psychological studies. That being said, narcissism rose only 3% in those over 65 compared to 10% in young adults.
Narcissists are self-absorbed, using other people to meet their own selfish needs and desires with little empathy for others, derived from the Greek myth of Narcissus who fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water. They act more important than they really are, exaggerating their achievements, jealous of others, showing neither remorse for the harm they cause or gratitude for what others do for them. They feel entitled to privileges and get angry when they don’t get what they want when they want it.
Entitlement in children and in adults is not very attractive, and is, not surprisingly, associated with difficulties in interpersonal relationships. Entitled people suffer from inflated self-perceptions and an arrogant attitude. They have unrealistic expectations of others–parents, teachers, mates–and of themselves, and are typically resistant to criticism or feedback.
Painful for the parents who sacrifice so much for them, entitled young adults take things for granted, showing little gratitude or awareness of how others provide for them. Their mistaken belief is that the world owes them. Lamenting that “it’s not fair!” when they don’t get an A on a test (even if they didn’t study for it) or when asked to do grunt work typical of someone first entering the work force, they don’t make great employees.
What Can a Parent or Partner Do If a Loved One Acts Entitled?
There’s a lot that parents can do to teach their children the emotional intelligence needed to thrive in the workplace and in family life. The first step is to get out of denial about the epidemic of narcissism. Do you see signs of this in anyone you know and love? Some solutions in the next blog…
Manchester MacMannis, D. (2013). The Age of Enlightenment or the Age of Entitlement?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 26, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/parenting-tips/2013/09/the-age-of-enlightenment-or-the-age-of-entitlement/