| Daily Briefing

The myth of Gen Z's narcissism (and what really sets them apart as patients)

Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on March 12, 2021.


Today's young adults are often depicted as (and believe themselves to be) an entitled, overly sensitive, and self-absorbed generation, but research suggests today's young adults aren't actually more narcissistic and entitled than other living generations, according to a paper published in the journal PLOS One.

Read Advisory Board's take: 4 ways to appeal to today's young adults as patients

Are young adults too entitled?

It's not new to hear older generations claim younger generations are narcissistic and self-absorbed. But according to Josh Grubbs, a psychology professor at Bowling Green State University, the claim seemed to gain some legitimacy about 20 years ago when a group of psychologists claimed they had the research to back it up.

The claims sparked a "huge debate in psychology," with some saying the results were unreliable or overblown, according to Grubbs. But as the debate continued, Grubbs said "no one had taken the time just to basically say, 'Well, how do these kids feel about that [stereotype]?'"


Toward that end, Grubbs, lead author of the new paper, and a team of researchers set out to examine what young adults think about the narcissistic stereotype.

For the research, the researchers conducted three distinct studies based on data collected from a group of students ages 18 to 25 who were taking introductory psychology courses at a private university in the Midwest as well as a sample of U.S. adults ages 18 and older from Amazon's Mechanical Turk database.

Through rounds of questioning, researchers asked the students about their personality traits, age-group stereotypes, and their opinions of narcissism as a trait.

The researchers also observed the participants' reactions to being labeled narcissistic, overly sensitive, or entitled when described in positive or negative terms.

Young adults agree that they're the most narcissistic age group

The researchers found that the majority of respondents "genuinely believe that" younger adults are inherently more narcissistic than older generations. Those findings held true regardless of whether the labeling was presented in a positive or negative light. However, the researchers found older young adults were less likely to view their generation as highly narcissistic or entitled, compared with younger respondents.

In addition, while the younger adults consistently said that their age group was more narcissistic than older generations, they were "offended" by the label, according to Grubbs. They researchers found young adults expressed negative opinions of narcissism as well as negative responses to being labeled narcissistic or entitled.

Further, the researchers found that people with narcissistic traits were more likely to view narcissism as a positive trait. The researchers said this finding implies that the younger adults, who were largely concerned to be labeled narcissistic, are likely not as universally self-absorbed and narcissistic as they think.

But young adults are not as entitled as you might think

The study revealed that people really do believe that younger generations are more narcissistic, the researchers wrote. However, the finding that young adults view narcissism negatively suggests that the widely accepted stereotype is not actually true, Grubbs said. Previous research shows that variability in levels of narcissism between age groups is negligible and, that if all younger adults were actually narcissistic, they would view the trait in a more positive light, Grubbs explained.

While the findings cannot fully explain why adults are so adamant that younger people are entitled and self-absorbed, the researchers hope that "some of the insights can be useful for the next generation of adolescents and emerging adults," or at least, will encourage people to stop making assumptions about others based on their age. 

"Maybe being a little more cautious and kind could be one implication," Grubbs said (Chokshi, New York Times, 5/15; Grubbs et al., PLOS One, 5/15).

Advisory Board's take

Emily Heuser, Senior Consultant, Market Innovation Center

Many news reports overhype the differences between the youngest generation and older Americans, creating, as this study shows, false perceptions about generational differences. However, other studies have shown that there are actually meaningful differences when it comes to the health and health care preferences of younger generations. Our surveys of millennials and other young adults have found that, despite the natural variation in the group, their care preferences tend to coalesce around several defining characteristics. Understanding their needs and demands is prerequisite to winning this generation's business.

Here are four defining characteristics—and what they mean for providers:

1. They're cost-sensitive and financially risk-adverse. Advisory Board survey results show the generation values affordability and convenience most when selecting a care site for non-emergent conditions. In fact, when asked what clinic attributes mattered most in choosing a care site, three out of Millennials' top ten priorities involved cost, with "the visit will be free" topping the list. For providers to appeal to these cost-sensitive and financially risk-adverse Millennials, they can offer visits with lower-cost advanced practitioners, innovative pricing models, clearly posted prices, and care warranties.

2. They're technologically-savvy. Having grown up with the internet, the Millennials are tech-reliant, and 94% own a smartphone. Advisory Board survey results suggest that 21% would consider using a webcam visit with a doctor, and 26% would consider emailing with a doctor. Therefore, providers can consider offering virtual visits, incorporating wearable sensors into care, and developing apps to personalize care plans to attract Millennial patients.

3. Value convenience and simplicity. Our survey results show that six of Millennials' top ten priorities for a care site involved convenience. This desire for easy access permeates their lives: 73% use online streaming services to watch TV, and they make 60% of purchases online. Providers can improve convenience and earn Millennials' business through online scheduling, extended hours of access, and bundled care options.

4. Social and willing to share opinions. Millennials are active sharers on- and offline. 97% find online ratings and reviews of doctors to be at least somewhat reliable, and 70%say that these online reviews have influenced their choice of physician. Meeting Millennials' care priorities can help clinch their recommendations to friends and family, while providers can emulate 






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