Millennials are less lonely and more independent than their parents were, according to new research published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia used data through 2009 from the Monitoring the Future Project, which has surveyed 50,000 American high school students yearly since 1975. The survey explicitly asks respondents how lonely they feel and also how included and supported they feel by friends.
Overall, researchers found that young people today are less lonely—but counterintuitively, also less socially connected.
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For instance, in 1985, 10% of respondents said they discussed important issues with no one, but in 2004 that number jumped to 25%. The survey also shows a consistent downward trend in loneliness from 1978 to 2009. Finally, today's teens report feeling more confident and extroverted.
However, other results show that millennials are less connected to their peers. According to the survey, teens are now less empathetic, less likely to join clubs, and make fewer close friends than previous generations.
Overall, the trends were not evenly distributed among demographic groups. White teens reported being less lonely than their minority peers, and female college students were also less lonely than other college students.
Experts say it is hard to determine what caused the shift, but they have theories. Lead researcher David Clark writes that, over time, people have become steadily "less dependent on their families and need more specialized skills, which could lead to less interest in social support and more self-sufficiency."
Teens better off than we think
The findings contradict the common perception that technology and social media are making young people more isolated, say researchers. The biggest takeaway from the study may be "that things aren't as bad as people might think [for teens]," says Clark.
Kali Trzesniewski, a social and developmental psychologist at the University of California, agrees. "Research shows that overall the Internet and social networking don't seem to be having a negative impact," on teens' mental health, she says. Although she was not involved with the Queensland study, Trzesniewski has published research that shows today's teens also aren't any more egotistical than previous generations (Kimball, CNN, 11/24; Singh, NPR, 11/26).
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