What’s Up With the Kids Today?

I have a project for some enterprising data journalist or PhD student. Maybe this just comes of reading Atrios so much, but I’d like to know if millennials are really being attacked constantly for their perceived deficiencies. You know the drill: slackers, Facebook addicts, always playing video games, etc.

Obviously this stuff is out there. After all, I just reeled off a few examples and it only took me a few seconds to think of them. But is this worse than the Xers had it? Or the boomers? Or the Greatest Generation™? Or Aristotle’s pals compared to Plato’s? The problem is that I can’t think of any reasonable way to investigate this that’s open to a lazy blogger. Take this Google Ngram, for example, which plots the popularity of the phrase “kids today” in books since 1940:

Actually, this is kind of interesting. There’s a sudden surge around 1965 and another surge starting around 1981. Hmmm. And if I had to guess, I’d say that the phrase “kids today” is more often derogatory than not. But I don’t know that. Nor do I know what similar phrases were used in the past. Or if Google’s corpus of books is really representative. Or why Google still hasn’t gotten past 2008 in their Ngram viewer.

In any case, this approach is hopelessly flawed. It would take some really diligent research to come up with a credible longitudinal estimate of disparagement toward the kids unless those Freakonomics guys can come up with some annoyingly clever natural experiment that provides a quick answer. But I’d like to know! Are kids today on the receiving end of more abuse than kids of yesteryear? Who wants to be the Albert Einstein of the generation gap who finally solves this puzzle?

UPDATE: Several people have suggested that the 1965 surge is due to the song “Kids” from the 1963 movie version of Bye Bye Birdie:

Maybe! The timing doesn’t seem quite right, but it’s close. We still need to figure out 1981, though.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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