Jul 29 2004
Children ages 9-14 and college students increasingly believe that their future is not in their control and nothing they do matters, according to a new study to be published in the August issue of Personality and Social Psychology Review.
The research, led by SDSU Psychology professor Jean Twenge, Ph.D., SDSU master’s student Charles Im and Case Western Reserve University Ph.D. student Liqing Zhang, shows that 30 percent more young Americans now believe their lives are controlled by outside forces rather than by their own achievements as compared to the beliefs of young people in the 1960s and 1970s.
“These findings are very disturbing, because previous research found that young people with these beliefs are more likely to be low achievers in school, exhibit delinquent behavior, cope poorly with stress, and become depressed,” Twenge said. “Our generation has given up. We’re looking at ‘Generation Whatever,’ with many kids feeling like they can’t make a difference. Most feel that luck is a stronger determinant of their future than their own power to make things happen.”
Titled “It’s Beyond My Control: A Cross-Temporal Meta-Analysis of Increasing Externality in Locus of Control, 1960-2002,” the paper measures changes in childrens’ and young adults’ “locus of control,” or beliefs about what controls their lives. The results show a strong increase in cynicism, helplessness and general negativity among young adults of this generation as compared to kids 30-40 years ago.
The project studied nearly 25,000 young people from two age groups (children ages 9-14 and college students) who completed questionnaires in the years between 1960 and 2004.
Children are now more likely to agree with items such as “Most of the time it doesn’t pay to try hard because things never turn out anyway,” and “When bad things are going to happen they just are going to happen no matter what you try to do to stop them,” but are less likely to agree that “When good things happen they happen because of hard work.” Children are also more likely to agree with items such as “Are you often blamed for things that just aren’t your fault?” and “When you get punished does it usually seem it’s for no good reason at all?”
Similarly, college students are now more likely to agree with items such as “Getting a good job depends mainly on being in the right place at the right time,” and “The world is run by the few people in power, and there is not much the little guy can do about it.” They are less likely to agree that “Becoming a success is a matter of hard work; luck has little or nothing to do with it,” and “The average citizen can have an influence in government decisions.”
“No one marches in the streets anymore. Kids feel there’s no reason to – it won’t do any good,” says Twenge. “And if you believe that success comes from luck rather than hard work, why work hard? It’s not surprising that this trait is linked to poor achievement in school.”