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They may be racking up volunteer hours in high school, but today's Millennials are actually more civically and politically disengaged than Gen-Xers or baby boomers were at that age, according to new research out of San Diego State University.

The new study also found that Millennials – defined as being born between the years 1982 and 2000 – are more focused on materialistic values and less concerned about helping the larger community, reports USA Today.

Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, and one of the authors of the study told USA Today: "Overall, the pattern is pretty clear. The trend is more of an emphasis on extrinsic values such as money, fame, and image, and less emphasis on intrinsic values such as self-acceptance, group affiliation and community."

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(In the study, a Gen X was defined as being born between 1962 and 1981. Baby boomers were born 1946 to 1961.)

Prof. Twenge and her colleagues analyzed two databases of 9 million U.S. high school seniors or students entering college. The students were asked about life goals, concern for others and civic involvement since the 1960s.

In the freshman survey, 45 per cent of boomer students said being wealthy was very important to them – a number that rose to 70 per cent for Gen X and 75 per cent for Millennials. On the question of staying up to date with politics, the numbers fell from 50 per cent for boomers, to 39 per cent for Gen X and 35 per cent for Millennials.

And all that volunteering that kids do these days? Prof. Twenge dismisses it. "It has this outside force working on it – school requirements," she said.

One of the seemingly robust sectors of youth engagement – environmentalism – is also in a slump. Becoming involved in programs to clean up the environment dropped from 33 per cent for boomers to 21 per cent for Millennials.

Twenge says her findings are not intended as criticism of Millennials: "They reflect the culture, and young people show the changes in the culture the strongest."

Still, she says, results "need to be taken seriously in terms of their impact on having a generation less interested in helping the community."

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Do you think teens and twenty-somethings are less politically engaged than the generations that came before?

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More

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