Do Baby Boomers Have More Empathy Than Their Kids?

Posted on October 23rd, 2014 in Me Generation,Midlife by Terry Hamburg

New research reports that young adults today have less “empathy” than ever before. Well, at least since 1979 when the Interpersonal Reactivity Index was established and administered to college students.

The results: since 1980, college students’ self-reported empathy has declined. Perhaps it was predictable. After all, baby boomers were notorious as “Me Generation” of selfish, materialistic Yuppies. The ethos dominated pop culture for years.

But what about post-boomer generations? Wasn’t there a reaction to selfishness? A drift toward a kinder, gentler vision? And, notwithstanding the Me Generation, aren’t young people just naturally more compassionate and socially liberal?

Apparently not. The drop in empathy is especially steep in the last 10 years.

What’s going on? We have the usual suspects: urbanization and the decline of the family. More Americans today are living alone than ever before. They are less likely to join groups of any kind.

Technology has intensified these trends and is a culprit in its own right. Many blame the personal computer and smartphone for creating a social isolation that leads to narcissism and loss of social skills. The young live in a virtual reality.

What about Facebook? Doesn’t that put us in touch with everyone else? Only indirectly. Ironically, the Facebook/Twitter networks may inhibit interpersonal contact and understanding.

What to do? A researcher of the above study has a suggestion: “Force yourself to to step outside the computer a little bit each day and try to remember what it’s like to relate to others in the real world.”

Lest boomers get too carried away and start going around moaning What’s the matter with kids today?, it’s well to remember that the parents of baby boomers voiced similar concerns.

Click here to read more about the empathy research study.


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