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Shallow deception in anti-Millenial study?

March 16th, 2012 · No Comments

Making the rounds of the nation’s ‘traditional media’, a “study” proving that America’s youth care less about the environment and ecology than their parents at the same age.

Have to say, when I first saw the news headlines, I had an ‘aw s..t’ moment. Really not the best way to wake up in the morning. While it seemed at odds with what I sensed, that individual concept can be at odds with the reality. After all, I’m the type who hangs around with inspiring PowerShifters and that could influence my perspective on the Millenials.

Well, it turns out that the study might be a bit more skewed than the Associated Press reporting suggested. Follow after the fold for some examples.

For my zone of concerns, the most serious element from the study reported this way:

Based on two longstanding national surveys of high school seniors and college freshmen, Twenge and her colleagues found a decline, over the last four decades, in young people’s trust in others, their interest in government and the time they said they spent thinking about social problems.

Steepest of all was a steady decline in concern about the environment, and taking personal action to save it.

“Steepest of all …”


That sounded disastrous and, well, then I looked a little bit into this and it turns out that there are a few oddities in the study.

Here is a look that examines the statistics and polling behind the study.

Professor Twenge and her co-authors, their drawing of important conclusions about Millennial attitudes and generational differences using data drawn in a purposive sample is a major methodological concern.

Purposive samples are non-quantitative samples, meaning that their results cannot be generalized to a larger population, but that is precisely what Twenge and her colleagues did. They questioned 182 San Diego State University introductory psychology students who participated in the survey for class credit. In addition to responding to the questions used in the MTF and AF surveyed, the students replied to other series of questions designed to measure the things in which Twenge is most interested: the “aspirations,” “self-esteem,” and “narcissism” of young people. According to Twenge this method allowed her to demonstrate a link between the “aspirations,” “self-esteem,” and “narcissism” measures and those asked in the MTF and AF surveys. And not surprisingly, as always, Twenge found Millennials to be self-centered narcissists who were far more interested in themselves than in any others or society over all.

The problem is that, at most, this data applies only to those 182 San Diego college students. It cannot be generalized to Millennials across America and it cannot be used to distinguish Millennials from other generations who were never asked the questions measuring “self-esteem” or “narcissism” in any of the longitudinal MTF and AF surveys.

While the generalized reporting highlights the decades-long studies involving 10,000s of interviews, key to this study’s conclusions are interviews with 182 students at one school ….

Hmmm … is it possible that there could be regional and other differences if that sample size were larger?

This doesn’t disprove the study’s results and conclusions but gives reason for pause before freaking out about them.

As to the study, Kevin Bondelli comments about the author:

Dr. Jean Twenge, the San Diego State University professor whose career is devoted to portraying Millennials as narcissistic and “Gen Me”

Here is an example of the complicated nature of data skewing that leads to Twenge’s “conclusions” that makes one not just wonder about whether these limited results reflect national opinion but whether the work simply misrepresents the situation.

Boomers and Gen X environmental concern benefited from two singular events that dramatically increased concern about pollution.

The pollution question was added to the 1971 survey after Lake Erie was declared a “dead lake” due to industrial pollution in 1970 and the Cuyahoga River was so polluted it set on fire in 1969. This created a national outcry and resulted in the Great Lakes Water Quality Act and Clean Water Act. In turn, responses to the pollution question began with a very high percentage: 44.4% in 1971 and 46.3% in 1972. After this peak in attention, there was a 12 point drop in 1973 and the downward trend continued.

During the Gen X time period, there was another boost in the results. In 1990, 34.4% of respondents rated the pollution question highly, a 5.6 point boost from the year before. The reason: the Exxon/Valdez oil spill in 1989. Again, this resulted in a boost in environment concern for a couple years that then dropped off over time.

Since Twenge’s analysis ends in 2009, the Millennial generation’s event that increased attention of pollution, the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, is not included.

Twenge using the mean of each generation’s responses results in the perception that the Boomers and Gen X had much higher sustained concern about pollution, when in fact they both benefited from outlier years that raised the mean.

Hmmmm …

Makes one wonder … no?

Honestly, I don’t know what to think about this study but these critiques, with their meaningful and substantive critiques, move me from ‘OH S–T’ to ‘this could be of concern and merits a deeper look’.

PS: An another opinion that I learned about after writing the diary: Whit Jones, Media promotes study on youth and the environment, fails to mention it’a a complete sham. With that title?

This study is appalling, and completely demeans the very real work that today’s young people are doing on the environment,” said Maura Cowley, executive director of Energy Action Coalition. “It’s methodology is flawed and it undermines the 10,000 students who came to Washington, DC in April 2011 for the Power Shift conference, the largest organizer training in American history, the 400,000 young people who pledged to vote on climate, energy and environmental issues in our 2008 Power Vote campaign, and the thousands of youth voters who joined with the wider community to surround the White House this past November to urge President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.”

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Tags: environmental