Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submitlogin
Teenagers now better behaved and less hedonistic but lonelier and more isolated (www.economist.com)
136 points by prostoalex 9 months ago | hide | past | web | 112 comments | favorite

Something I think that needs to be discussed more is the fact that loneliness in society is actually starting to become a real social issue. People who are lonely are seemingly told by society that their loneliness is internal and must ultimately be their fault...but given the fact that studies like the above show that it is becoming much more prevalent in society seems to suggest there might be societal/structural causes that are effecting the trend, or at least positively affecting its growth in society.

I don't see many articles pointing it out so I think it's good seeing one that does.

I read Tribes yesterday: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28119237-tribe

It’s an up and down sort of book — 6/10, imo — but it makes some interesting connections with the social past of homo sapiens and the tendency of contemporary society to remove the individual from their community (often due to financial independence) countering more than 1m years of human experience.

A couple of interesting quotes:

“Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.”

“We are not a good society. We are an anti-human society. We are not good to each other. Our tribalism is to an extremely narrow group of people: children; spouse, perhaps parents. Our society is alienating, technical, cold, and mystifying. Our fundamental desire is to be close to others, and our society does not allow for that."

> but given the fact that studies like the above show that it is becoming much more prevalent in society seems to suggest there might be societal/structural causes that are effecting the trend, or at least positively affecting its growth in society.

I'm not a social scientist, but if I were to guess I'd say it has to do with our cultural emphasis on objectivist thinking. We are very much told that the only way to approach life is to act in one's own self-interest. Connecting with other human beings is very dangerous to us, you see, because to love something is to give it power over you, and that's not in your self interest is it?

I wonder how much of it is the rise of the exurbs, where you live by many people, but never talk to them and there is very little community to speak of.

I think it's more of why don't you talk to them -- there are more demands on our time or different demands. I get home from work and I normally don't go back outside to socialize with anyone. I might talk to my neighbor when I am going in or out; but, that's about it.

In addition, are newer houses designed for causal chats with neighbors? I recently moved. On my street are houses that are over 100 years old and houses only a couple of years old. Most of the older ones have been well kept or renovated. What's the easiest way to tell the old ones from the new ones? All the old ones have porches big enough for at least a couple of chairs. When I was first looking at my house, I saw people hanging out on their porches and people walking by stopping and chatting or people waling across the street when they saw their neighbor out on the porch. It's a lot easier to stop and talk to someone when you see them outside, than going up and knocking on their door.

It's even worse in dense cities where you may share a building with thousands but not know any of them. It seems the more crowded a location is, the more isolated the people within become.

I've always found the opposite to be true.

Could anyone with knowledge on history provide us with a similar situation in history? I can't imagine this problem is truly new, but I can imagine it's been a while.

Teenagers have always rebelled against the rules and ideas imposed on them by their parents/grandparents.

This does not mean that they will be more lenient/hedonistic than their parents though! We’re seeing the counterexample in the coming generations.

It’s pretty funny to see people’s dismissive reactions in this thread. So much for not being bigoted like your parents, eh? :)

Not saying I fully buy into it, but this shift is exactly as predicted by Strauss–Howe generational theory.[1] The younger, more conformist Artist archetype generation ('Gen Z,' b2005-????) shows different behavior from the older, more individualistic Hero archetype generation ('Gen Y,' b1982-2004).

The cutoff isn't exactly distinct (some people put it after 9/11/2001), so depending on who you ask either Gen Z is just entering teenage years (2005), or most teenagers are already Gen Zers (2001).

Heck, it even predict HN's (Gen Yers) general reaction of disdain for the "overprotected" and "timid" generation. Take comfort though: it also predicts that Gen Y will be a dominant generation ("independent behavior + attitudes in defining an era"), while Gen Z will be recessive ("dependent role in defining an era").

Here are the descriptions. I added the actual and projected dates of the latest cycle in parentheses:

> Hero generations enter childhood after an Awakening (1961–1981), during an Unraveling (1982-2004), a time of individual pragmatism, self-reliance, and laissez faire. Heroes grow up as increasingly protected post-Awakening children, come of age as team-oriented young optimists during a Crisis (2005-2025), emerge as energetic, overly-confident midlifers (2025-2044), and age into politically powerful elders attacked by another Awakening (2045-2064).

> Artist generations enter childhood after an Unraveling (1982-2004), during a Crisis (2005-2025) a time when great dangers cut down social and political complexity in favor of public consensus, aggressive institutions, and an ethic of personal sacrifice. Artists grow up overprotected by adults preoccupied with the Crisis, come of age as the socialized and conformist young adults of a post-Crisis world (2025-2044), break out as process-oriented midlife leaders during an Awakening (2045-2065), and age into thoughtful post-Awakening elders (2065-2084).

"History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes."

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strauss-Howe_generational_theo...

For once, an article that doesn't stigmatize teenagers too much, but rather speak about society changes. Usually it's all about criticizing teenagers because they do this or that badly, but when they're better behaved, adults necessarily try to explain how that's wrong...

Just give the teens a break! Let them live, learn and play the way they want.

I think it's right to ask whether observed changes are healthy, so long as you don't default to saying "change is bad, mmkay".

Indolent and conformist perhaps is another way to describe this.

I fail to see how this a good thing.

A young generation perpetuating pointless taboos imposed on them rather than making their own experiences frankly is a sad development.

Is there anything wrong with waiting to have sex with someone you're invested in? I've found those types of experiences to be worth it, long-term. It's interesting that some see that as naive--it's the opposite if anything. Easy sex is fun but it would seem hard to invest in anyone but myself.

Why would investing in someone but yourself require giving up sex with others? That dichotomy between the unattached bachelor and the loving monogamous spouse seems to be just another of those taboos.

You're not required to "give up sex with others" if you don't want to. Hell, many people are okay with polyamory or casual sex in general.

I was merely stating that committing sexually can in fact be a good thing, and that the parent comment cannot speak for everyone.

>Why would investing in someone but yourself require giving up sex with others?

Because more often than not that someone you've invested in is hurt by your casual sex with others.

Why would be compartmentalizing the casual sex more "rational" than not?

Jealousy is a very real human emotion.


I'd say it depends on if it's truly what you want or if it's something that society wants from you. Too often these ideas are societal norms rather than our own opinions.

Notions like "waiting for Prince Charming" or the one things like purity rings are a symptom of in my opinion are indeed naive and against human nature.

I'm all for encouraging people to be honest with themselves, even if that honesty leads them to ugly places.

But we are talking strictly about the ability to have fulfilling monogamous relationships, not the validity of "prince Charming" narratives or purity rings.

The more open adults are about sex topics, the later children tend to start and the more likely they are to use condoms.

The earlie sex and teenage pregnancies were consequence of the taboo. Not other way round.

Teens having sex and teens getting pregnant are two different things.

There's a whole social/psychological/emotional bunch of things that often goes along with sex and it's probably better to figure that out in high-school when stakes are low and nobody around expects those relationships to last... as long as nobody gets pregnant.

This, and so much this - enough to comment in support.

Conformist in what way? Are you living in the 1950s? Our media and culture certainly does not preach this kind of behavior, but rather the opposite: if you are virgin by 20, don't drink and don't do drugs, you are a loser.

While society in general today is far more liberal than it used to be in 1950s it has also become more conservative again in some ways since the early 2000s ('liberal' and 'conservative' used in terms of society in general rather than as political labels).

Apart from that both perceptions can be right: That society expects people to behave by certain standards yet at the same time by a certain age people are expected to somehow magically have made some experiences that contravene these very standards.

Such an environment and the cognitive dissonance involved probably doesn't exactly make it easier to make the right decisions for yourself.

Not really. If you compared the culture today with the 60s or 70s, it's not even close.

More like living modestly now is taboo and the thing to be rebellious about.

My future kids will have very hard time trying to be rebellious in the usual, conformist way. Stupid haircut, unpleasant music, unacceptable clothing, out-of-bounds societal outlooks, skipping school and causing trouble here and there? That's not rebellious at all, that's what old people did in their days. Now if they'd try to live uptight life in abstinence of all kinds, lead by strict morals and ethics.. Fuck you, now that'd be rebellious and may even make me mad once in a while.

Assuming such "taboos" pointless though (or the very name taboos placed upon them) is an act of faith, not some hard fact.

Historically people have experimented with various modes of existence and found that some restrictions help with some things. Even if they attributed this to some religious decree, there are usually experimental results behind advocating this or that (like the taboo of incest comes from inherited diseases, and the taboo against adultery aims to reduce the infighting and pain between groups).

Historically some taboos might've made sense.

However, mindlessly perpetuating instead of questioning them simply because "It's always been that way." is just cargo cult thinking.

We will never find out if these taboos are still valid in today's society if we don't question or test them.

The problem is that the questioning them is often equally mindless (oh, it's old, should be of no use).

E.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Chesterton%27s_fence

I disagree. Questioning ideas is the foundation of enlightened thinking.

Questioning something doesn't mean doing away with it just because it's old. It means asking yourself (and others) if it still makes sense from today's point of view.

>I disagree. Questioning ideas is the foundation of enlightened thinking.

Not "mindless questioning" though, which is the kind I explicitly wrote about, and which amounts to knee-jerk rejection.

Alternatively, perhaps the trend is that teenagers nowadays tend to lie less when they're asked about how much sex they have.

"Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers."

This quote is hundreds of years old, often misattributed to Socrates, but applies perennially. It describes not values degrading, but changing. To people who value one thing, a younger generation valuing other things feels like degradation since other values seem worse, but there aren't that many human values. Eventually generations cycle through them all and repeat.

When things are often repeated across generations, they can:

a) always be true (we generally go to lower standards from the viewpoint of the previous generation, or even from an absolute viewpoint).

b) always be false

c) Sometimes be true and sometimes be false.

I'm not sure why people immediately jump to (b). Perhaps it's comforting to dismiss any worry of decline, and to always attribute it to change. Or it's not fashionable these days to even think about decline (it marks one as old and not "going with the times").

I find (c) much more plausible. After all, whether Socrates said this or not, some such decline happened after Socrates (the dissolution of the Athenian state and its eventual collapse) -- and several other times (in later Rome, etc).

And conversely, for huge periods of time people have not had much to complain regarding their children having some different lifetimes, because unlike ancient Athens or Rome or the US 50s and 60s or so, nothing much changed between generations -- a rural family in most of the world would have the exact same day in day out things to do, the same customs, etc, for centuries, with the very subtle and slow occasional imported innovation.

It's also funny those that while many would say that steady cultural decline couldn't possibly be happening, as many as all convinced for steady cultural progress -- like history is like some kind of march towards more and more enlightenment. Of course those people have never read history, or experienced how a steady and advanced country (or world, in 1939) can turn backwards in a moment's notice.

The problem is that "values changing" looks an awful lot like "values degrading" to those who held the older values, so it's impossible to tell which is which, until perhaps much later on when you have the benefit of hindsight.

E.g. gradually increased acceptance of homosexual behavior is considered an obvious sign of moral values degrading among many (perhaps most) of the elderly (and percentage-wise this is even more obviously the case if you go back to the 90's).

>Teenagers who communicate largely online can exchange gossip, insults and nude pictures, but not bodily fluids, blows, or bottles of vodka.

>But they are also lonelier and more isolated

Heh. Let's see what effects they have after 10-20 years.

Depression and domesticity?

Health is not be-all end-all, especially when you're younger and can afford to be more loose with your lifestyle.

Better behaved and less hedonistic or just more passive?

We’re turning our own human ecosystems into a panopticon, no wonder newbies are scared of straying off. Anything can and will be used against you, eventually.

(I’m not talking about fascist-kind repression and dissent wipeout, that’s out of our collective memory anyway and eventually only a problem for politicized individuals. No, it’s the much more concrete and pervasive peer control made possible by Facebook, Instagram and the like. It applies to anyone, even the most bland conformist and disengaged people )

Eventually we’ll develop a concept of public persona that takes no shame for the past. Next generation probably, after recognizing their parents were panicked fawns blinded by headlights.

There are only two likely reactions imo.

Either the culture of the next generation of youth will have an unspoken understanding that certain shit doesn't go onto social media, and their culture will enforce that rule (people that violate that will be socially punished, exiled).

Or it'll get worse yet and young people will come up with behavior / approaches to evade social media. Perhaps including an assist from technology in doing so.

Yes, maybe. Although I'm a little older than subjects of this article, coming of age on the cusp of the smartphone era but before Facebook and before any of my friends had even a half-decent camera in their phones, and already suspected that the social energy was much lower than it was for people a few years older.

Yup, also late genX here. Alternative narrative could be that after decades of marketing driven needs system people are exhausted - see Adam Curtis “Century of Self” - and quite probably also broke. Not to mention all the aggressive neoliberal politics that took away so much that people started to notice and suspect it was all a distraction plot

Interesting similarity with 'the light of other days'.

It's about a privacy invading technology and several sections deal with how different groups evolve that deal with the lack of privacy in different ways, both embracing and circumventing the technology.

When almost anything you do or say can (and will) be captured at the flick of a switch it modifies behaviour. Big brother is everywhere now if you're a teenager.

Take that, Plato!

Could be because of many reasons.

e.g: prior generations were exposed to tetraethyllead, which is known to make people aggressive.

If the downstream consequences of this:

> Teenagers are also having less sex, especially of the procreative kind. In 1991, 54% of American teenagers in grades nine to 12 (ages 14-18) reported that they were sexually experienced, and 19% claimed to have had sex with at least four partners. In 2015 those proportions were 41% and 12%. America’s teenage birth rate crashed by two-thirds during the same period.

Is this:

> As with alcohol, the abstention from sex seems to be carrying through into early adulthood. Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University in California, has shown that the proportion of Americans aged 20-24 who report having no sexual partner since the age of 18 rose from 6.3% for the cohort born in the late 1960s to 15.2% for those born in the early 1990s. Japan is a more extreme case. In 2015, 47% of unmarried 20- to 24-year-old Japanese men said they had never had sex with a woman, up from 34% in 2002.

I'm not convinced that is a good thing.

I wonder the impact of social media here again. When I was in high school in 2000, there s been a couple of events that could not be done nowdays: a drunk and naked girl dancing on a table, some other having sex in a bar, oral sex in the middle of a party, etc. You do any of that today, you end up on internet.

Given enough eyeballs, everyone becomes shallow.

Yeah, think of the cam scene in American pie. The gossip that fires through the internet. iPhones are like cctvs per person.

> they were sexually experienced

I would really like to know the precise words they were asked. There might be some Bill Clinton effect going on where a blowjob was considered "active" in 1991 whereas camsex, porn and blowjobs isn't in 2015.

They might even be more active todays, just in a different way.

The birthrate in most of the West is sub-replacement. Inter-generation testosterone decreases, and cultural factors, likely play a part. Youth suicides have gone up considerably in the last decade.

Having two kids, the answer feels really obvious to me, but I’d love to see data supporting any viewpoint.

Raising multiple children in western society is really hard. In many (most?) cases you need to move away from family (parents) so there’s limited support from the community or family. There’s limited childcare available, and on top of that kids are expensive. Often both partners are working (or want to get back to work as soon as possible). So if you can satisfy your procreative desires with one child, you just do that.

Compare this to (totally unjust) prior social norms where people didn’t move as far as they do now. Meaning parents could help out. Where it was common to have one non-working partner (so more available time to look after kids).

We’ve created a modern society where raising one child is super-stressful. Why would any sane person have two? I predict that as more societies transform toward the western model we’ll see a massive population decline.

True. Societies may, however, be hesitant to follow our footsteps towards atomization and low birthrate.

I think globally, most societies are follow this trend. My hope would be that we find a way through it. In part, the solution might be more even distribution of the benefits of automation. Less concentration of wealth, lowered cost of living or support which allows both parents to take time off work for the first few grads of their children’s lives.

Inter-generation testosterone decreases

It’s not just hyperbole: the youth of today really are soft https://uk.news.yahoo.com/generation-wimps-millennial-men-ar...

I wonder if there is co relation to immigrantion from traditional cultures.

Why? Repudiation of this abhorrent ”hookup culture” that seems to be sweeping through our western societies is to be applauded. I’m not arguing for abstention, but reserving sex for monogamous, committed relationships is, as far as I am concerned, an unmitigated good.

The idea that there is a hookup culture sweeping through our western societies is directly contradicted by the numbers presented in the very article we are discussing here.

And anyway, I reject this prudish Judeo-Christian inspired sexual ethics. Sex is good and good for you. There should be more of.

You’re most welcome to reject this ”Judeo-Christian prudishness” (or whatever you want to call it) but just keep in mind I’m an atheist, and all for rejecting dogma — including the new doctrines of consumerism that is snaking it’s way into our private sphere, making us all willing to use each other (apparently) for our short-term jollies.

There is nothing new about us humans having short-term jollies, or even medium- / long-term jollies that are non-monogamous.

Short- / medium- / long-term non-monogamous jollies goes as far back as time immemorial. As far back as the beginnings of life itself. I'm willing to bet monogamy is the new normal as far as historical longevity is concerned. I'm no anthropologist, so I'm willing to be corrected on that matter.

Also, I'd argue consumerism isn't exactly new either. People have been blowing their pay packets at their local pub since the invention of the local pub.

People also have been rejecting that since time immemorial, so the strength of your argument just barely suffices to eat itself.

> Judeo-Christian inspired sexual ethics

There are religions outside the Judeo-Islamic world with similar views. Besides, such mores also have a lot to do with culture and class.

Why? What’s so intrinsically special in monogamy to deserve the label “unmitigated good”?

Long term it's the most stable.

Hmm, not sure there's enough data to discern confounding factors and assert monogamy guarantees stable and durable relations. Narrative and history actually suggest otherwise, that the constraint or expectation of monogamy eventually undoes the relationship...

IMHO it's bad, as long as a lifestyle is pushed heavily from people who aren't immediate family. Doesn't matter if it's "hookup culture" or waiting for the prince charming to marry.

> as long as a lifestyle is pushed heavily from people who aren't immediate family

Is a lifestyle pushed by people who are immediately family inherently a good thing?

I just thought, to a certain age, it may be required. I'm not a parent so I probably don't know what I'm talking about.

I like that for myself but how can you say that is good?

There’s a vast difference between a hookup culture and having consensual, if casual, sex with someone.

A relationship without doubt is a good thing but it isn’t the only thing. Modern society for shallow moral reasons conflates committed relationships with sex.

This causes a lot of problems and probably is one of the main reasons why relationships break up or people feel miserable in relationships.

There’s a vast difference between a hookup culture and having consensual, if casual, sex with someone.

Is hookup necessarily (or even mostly) non-consensual? I'm probably missing some cultural context, what's the distinction you're making?

It's about the way it's painted in the media. Hookups are often depicted as negative, morally questionable and at times non-consensual as well (mostly involving drugs). There's been a moral panic about this in recent years.

Having consensual, casual sex with someone on the other hand shouldn't ever be considered questionable, given that you're being honest with everyone involved, which might include someone you're in a committed relationship with at the time.

So, doing something consensually never is a bad thing. Lying is, to others as well as to yourself.

> Hookups are often depicted as negative, morally questionable and at times non-consensual as well (mostly involving drugs).

Why on Earth would you conflate hookups and rape? Please stop.

To those downvoting this comment: Renowned relationship therapists like Esther Perel seem to agree with me on this matter.

Ah, the vaunted ”appeal to authority”... a logical fallacy that hadn’t yet shown up on this sub-thread.

Can someone explain why less hedonistic is seen as better?

Suppose you have problems in your life, and you're suffering. You could drink alcohol or take opiates, and they might make you feel better for a while. But the effect wears off, and you're back in the same situation, except now maybe your problems are a bit worse, because the drugs made you sick, or made you do something you regret, or you become addicted, or you miss the feeling of them, or your tolerance has increased. You're flirting with a downward spiral. It's an unskillful way to handle suffering.

Well, same thing for trying to get solace from sex. It's like two drowning people trying to use each other as life preservers. Or two junkies who stay together just as long as they think the other person is helping them get the feeling they want. Love makes relationships safer because you will not purposefully harm the other person if you love them. You cannot love someone and use them to get a feeling to their detriment because if you love them their well-being is more important to you than your own.

I love your analogy of two drowning people. It really helps put into perspective so many of the relationships I have witnessed.

That's the debate in the article body.

Less hedonistic meaning they are having less sex and so fewer unintended and teenage pregnancies, less drinking and drugs and so less violence and anti-social behavior, better relations with the parents and in particular their fathers, and more pursuing further education.

Basically every metric of bad behavior that used to be a cause of concern for 80s and 90s teenagers is across the board at record lows for the current generation of teenagers.

Downside is they are more likely to be depressed, stressed, sexless and lonely with weak connections to their age peers.

I don't think drinking less and doing less drugs makes you more depressed, stressed, sexless and lonely. I think the reverse is true with possible exception of loneliness, but you are better off without the type of company booze and drugs provide.

More social isolation could lead to both less drugs and sex. Less drugs is probably good but if it is only because people are becoming depressed shut-ins, that's bad

Booze and drugs are often social activities. If everyone's busy there's less time to go get high with your friends.

If company sans booze and drugs exist. Online gaming doesn't count as company.

Wow, what a lot of boring people we are going to create.

If you're entertained by people who get drunk, smoke and have irresponsible sex, then yes.

So, 3 of the most constant ways to entertain one's self throughout the millennia...

Boring is good.

Perhaps this means that the generation after them will produce great art

The future is finally looking up from my perspective, hopefully this leads to an asetic culture.

I’m surprised no one has brought up how extreme punishment has become for engaging in these behaviors. I don’t have data to back this up, but my sense when I was in high school in the mid 2000s was that any slip up in any of these areas - smoking, drinking, etc. - would result in professional ruin. If caught, the punishment in many “zero tolerance” schools is expulsion and no top college admits students who have been expelled, except in very special cases.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact