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A study of the cognitive determinants of generation Y's entitlement mentality.


During the past forty (40) years, the nature of the American economy has shifted dramatically from one focused on manufacturing and heavy industry to one that is dominated by "white collar" professions and service industry jobs (Robbins, 2005). In its comprehensive survey of Millenials (Generation Y), the Pew Research Center (2010) identified four generational cohorts: The Silent generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and the Millenial generation.

The Silent generation consists of those born between 1928 and 1945. The current age of this group is 65+. They are the children of the Great Depression and World War II. Their dominant work values include honesty, organizational loyalty, conformity and a work ethic that incorporates hard work and moral values (Pew, 2010).

A significant demographic shift is now occurring as members of the "Baby Boomer Generation" (1946-1964) pass from the workforce into retirement. They take with them a work ethic driven by success, ambition, high achievement and a loyalty to their careers and organizations.

While "Generation X" (1965-1981), with their work values of team orientation, a work/family life balance, and loyalty to relationships, dominates the current workforce population, the Millenials, also known as "Generation Y" (1982-2009) have begun to stream into the labor market. The Millenials seem to bring with them a hedonism, narcissism, and cavalier work ethic previously unknown in the American workforce. Nonetheless, these negative traits are contradicted and counterbalanced by this same generation's loyalty to individual managers (not corporations); a commitment to idealistic corporate visions and values; and a willingness to provide an employer with hard work, albeit in exchange for virtually immediate reward and recognition.

Most notably, the Millenials treat technology as their "sixth sense". It is a significant characteristic and skill set that distinguishes them from members of other generations (Deal, Altmann & Rogelberg, 2010). The Internet, cell phones and online social networking were all introduced during the growth years of the Millenials. They are "natives" to the technology while members of all other generations, no matter what their individual technological proficiency may be, are seen as "immigrants" (Hershatter & Epstein, 2010).

Members of the "Baby Boomer Generation", who are often in the upper echelon of corporate management; and the mid or lower level managers from "Generation X" are confronted, and confounded, by the ambiguous attitudes and conflicting behavior of their Millenial employees. Managers in the latter generation are particularly frustrated when they contrast their "sink or swim" entry into the workforce with the organizational "accommodations" offered to Millenials. (2010). Nonetheless, understanding and adapting to this new generation's work ethic will be critical to the restored, continued or future success of American business and industry.

Milllenials display similar attitudes and behavior toward academia. College instructors find that many possess an astonishing lack of drive, motivation and accountability. The mindset of many Millenials is that just "showing up" for all the classes merits a minimum grade of "B" (Newsweek, 2009). There is also evidence of an alarming attitude of "OK. I'm sitting here in class; entertain me." Most disturbing is the Millenial students' lack of concern for the accuracy and the validity of their research sources; their inclination to trust peer opinion and public consensus; and their lack of original thought (Hershatter & Epstein, 2010).


Morrow (2008) has developed a theoretical framework delineating the origins of the mindset of entitlement displayed by Millenials. His research highlights the fact that members of this generation tend to have had child centered parents who exhibited a "trophies for all" attitude in what were previously competitive activities. Such parental attitudes and behaviors create unrealistic expectations by the children who are often unable to comprehend that not everyone wins and that their efforts may often result in failure.

Morrow also addresses the phenomenon of "helicopter parents", or those parents who "hover" over their children and impede a child's development of a good sense of independence and responsibility. This practice may have contributed to the Millenial's risk adversity and fear of ambiguity (Hershatter & Epstein, 2010).

Jayson (2007) found that the motivational constructs behind the entitlement mindset include loyalty, getting rich, meeting family and peer expectations, a desire for fame, being the family provider and living a modest, yet comfortable, lifestyle. Nations (2007) also discovered that a desire for personal time, opportunities for advancement and personal growth, security, a desire for intrinsic rewards, leadership opportunities and team development all served as motivators of this group.

While much of the recent research touts the Millenial worker's loyalty, teamwork and commitment to corporate mission (Hershatter & Epstein, 2010), there is substantial data to suggest that the same worker is twice as likely to leave a company within one year of hire (Ethics Resource Center, 2010). Other areas of concern center on the evidence of obesity and other unhealthy behaviors, and the absence of cultural and intellectual pursuits by Millenials (Deal, Altman & Rogelberg, 2010).

When measuring the impact of the Millenials on academia or the workforce, one need only examine their demographics: they are more than 60 million in number; are three times the size of Generation X; one third is non-Caucasian; three quarters have a working mother; and, in 2010, 37% were unemployed. Although they are computer savvy, with three quarters creating a profile on a social networking site, they suffer from computer overload. (State of Montana Journal, 2007 & Pew, 2010).

Saba (2007) finds the mentality of entitlement to consist of short term financial goals, a sense of privilege, anticipation of long-term financial gains and an effort to command, not earn, respect.


This research was conducted in three phases. The first phase of the research, which drew from an extensive review of relevant literature and the results from interviews with ten focus groups comprised of five subjects each. The focus groups were used to validate the constructs leading to the development of the instrument included in this study. That instrument attempted to measure the behavioral, cognitive and affective antecedents leading to an entitlement mentality; to provide understanding of this issue; and to confirm that the proposed conceptual framework addresses the relevant constructs.

Given the nature of the population, a convenience sample was used in this phase and was based on responses by undergraduate students who were willing to participate in the study. Standardized open-ended interviews were utilized. With this type of approach, each person was asked to provide his or her answers to the questions which were written in advance and drafted exactly the way they were to be asked in the interview. Standardized, open-ended interviews are systematic and ensure that the interviewer's and interviewee's time is used efficiently. Using standardized questions also made data analysis easier and added credibility to the responses because questions were evaluated prior to the actual interviews. However, to allow for individual circumstances that may not be addressed by standardized questions, respondents were also given the opportunity to raise additional issues that they considered to be important in relation to work experiences/behaviors that would contribute to the constructs under investigation.

The second phase, and the subject of this paper, consisted of a survey administered to a convenience sample of two hundred and seventy-two undergraduate business school students at two different institutions: a four year private college and a state sponsored university. The purpose of this phase was to generate responses to survey items generated in the interview phase in order to test the major hypotheses developed in the first phase of this study. The purpose of the survey was to determine whether the items identified in the interview do, indeed, lead to an entitlement mindset. The survey contained fifty items measuring each of the constructs. This paper tested the significance of each of the proposed cognitive determinants. Future research will investigate the behavioral and affective determinants on an entitlement attitude.


Specific cognitive influences as they affect an entitlement mentality were supported by this study. However, one might argue that a self-serving bias or demand characteristic may have affected the results of the interview as well as the completion of the survey, inasmuch as the subjects' responses may have reflected poorly on them. A possible answer to this criticism is, while this argument is probably true, phrasing the questions in the third person, e.g., "Do you feel that individuals in the 18-22 year old age group have parents who tend to smother them? Limit their independence? Put them at the center of the universe?" may have helped to reduce this threat.

Regardless, the personal interviews did support the theoretical framework detailed in this paper. Not surprisingly, some subjects did question the constructs dealing with the characteristics of the Millenial generation, such as lack of initiative, lack of ambition and a poor work ethic. As seen in Table 1 below, not all of the hypotheses were confirmed. Hypotheses for the following independent variables were supported: the influence of "helicopter parents"; "Trophies for all" practice; and the "nagging parents" who attempt to vicariously live through their children. However, the fact that members of this cohort group believe that they have many friends lead them to also believe that they let their friends down an a regular basis; that time to pursue personal interests is very important; they believe that others see them as leaders; that their personal goals are most important; and that when raises are given, they should always receive one. Surprisingly, hypotheses about the following independent variables were not supported: that the members of this cohort group do not live up to or exceed their friend's expectations; that they are more committed to an organization with similar values; and most surprisingly, that they should receive good grades regardless of performance.

As seen in this study, the results indicate specific areas in which academicians, supervisors, subordinates and coworkers, may better understand the motivations, thought processes and resulting behaviors of the Millenial cohort. In addition, this study may provide some food for thought for the parents of the next generation regarding ways in which to discourage and deal with this type of behavior. Although this paper is incomplete as to the predictors of or results of entitlement behavior, it can serve as a starting point for understanding the behavior of this group as it moves through college into the workforce.


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Christopher S. Alexander, King's College

James M. Sysko, Eastern Illinois State University
Table 1: Linear Regression Results
Dependent variable--entitlement

Tested Construct             Hypothesized    # of     Std.
                             Relationship    Obs.    Error

Helicopter Parents           Positive         272     .014
Trophies for All             Positive         272     .025
Nagging Parents              Positive         272     .014
Know All                     Positive         272     .012
Solve                        Positive         272     .010
Many Friends                 Positive         272     .011
Friend's Expectations        Positive         272     .019
Let Down Friends             Positive         272     .018
Time for Self                Positive         272     .017
Others Perceive as Leader    Positive         272     .011
Personal Goals               Positive         272     .014
Org. Commitment              Positive         272     .036
Grades                       Positive         272     .014
Raises                       Positive         272     .016

Tested Construct             Sig.        Results

Helicopter Parents           .002    Confirm
Trophies for All             .023    Confirm
Nagging Parents              .000    Confirm
Know All                     .001    Confirm
Solve                        .000    Confirm
Many Friends                 .000    Confirm
Friend's Expectations        .120    Cannot Confirm
Let Down Friends             .000    Confirm
Time for Self                .000    Confirm
Others Perceive as Leader    .001    Confirm
Personal Goals               .000    Confirm
Org. Commitment              .773    Cannot Confirm
Grades                       .113    Cannot Confirm
Raises                       .000    Confirm
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Author:Alexander, Christopher S.; Sysko, James M.
Publication:Academy of Educational Leadership Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2012
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