home Arts & Literature, Books, Entertainment Ageism in Youth Studies: Generation Maligned Covers an Important Topic, But Has a Flawed Execution

Ageism in Youth Studies: Generation Maligned Covers an Important Topic, But Has a Flawed Execution


There is a current glut of opinion columns, essays, and speculative pieces that all suggest that millennials—generally defined as young people born between 1980 and the late 1990s, although some generational experts disagree on the exact dates—are “ruining” various industries (cereal and golf among them) are too politically correct, are too “cheap” because they are delaying various markers of adulthood defined by major purchases, and are too “coddled” by universities and their parents.

But most millennials—and I include myself among them—know that these charges are absurd, particularly since we have faced horrendous employment numbers and other challenges as direct results of the Great Recession. California State University, Chico Professor of Sociology Gayle Kimball is also convinced that the tendency to blame millennials for various things that are wrong with society is bunk; in her new book Ageism in Youth Studies: Generation Maligned, Kimball takes on the ageism that is frequently leveled against young people in the academic discipline of Youth Studies.

One unique and laudable aspect of Kimball’s book is its global outlook; in her study of youth activism and the challenges that many youth face in a drastically changed world, she has taken care to interview teens and young adults from a variety of countries, income brackets, occupations, activist backgrounds, and racial/ethnic backgrounds. Her survey-based methodology works extremely well for most of Ageism in Youth Studies, as the young people who are quoted—often extensively—in the various chapters get to speak for themselves, instead of simply having their words and opinions simply reported or analyzed through a scholarly lens.

The book also impressively covers several of the supposed negative characteristics of millennials, such as narcissism and self-involvement, political apathy, overreliance on parents and other family members, and the generally higher rates of stress, depression, and anxiety amongst members of “generation maligned.”

However, Kimball’s writing style often gets in the way of her otherwise logical and well-researched arguments. Although she clarifies that all 12 of her books, including this one, have been read critically by youth volunteers prior to publication, the writing style of Ageism in Youth Studies tends to read more like an undergraduate paper than a professionally published academic study. Kimball is so keen on including a summarization and review of the existing scholarly and popular literature on millennials—including Dr. Jean Twenge’s 2006 book Generation Me, one of the most well-known books that purportedly examines “millennial” narcissism and other negative characteristics—that her synthesizing of all of this information sometimes overwhelms her arguments.

Kimball’s otherwise convincing arguments in Ageism in Youth Studies sometimes seem drowned out by her use of statistics and survey figures; at times, I found myself wondering what her intended audience for this book might look like. While Ageism in Youth Studies may prove useful for Sociology and Youth Studies scholars looking for a comprehensive literature review and argument against viewing millennials as the worst generation instead of as actual people, those looking for a more readable defense of this generation will want to look elsewhere.

Photo: ITU Pictures/Creative Commons


Anna Hamilton

Anna Hamilton is a writer, cartoonist, and gadfly residing in the Bay Area.