It's often the case that older generations view today's youth as more rambunctious and less responsible than their younger selves. But is this currently the case? Data collected over the past four decades shows that while American teenagers are less likely to have been employed than teenagers in the 1980s, they are also less likely to engage in other adult activities, such as drinking alcohol and dating.
Yet recent polling by YouGov finds that many people have misperceptions about how teen behavior has changed over the decades. A survey of over 6,000 U.S. adults finds that fewer than half are correct in believing that teen employment has declined, or of drops in the share of teens who have tried alcohol or gone on a date.
Americans are divided in their perceptions of teen employment. Roughly equal shares of people believe that the percentage of teenagers who have ever worked for pay is now higher (32%) and lower (36%) than it was 40 years ago; 18% think it's stayed the same. Older Americans are more likely to say that the share of teens who have ever had a job has fallen: Nearly half of people 50 and older say it has compared to about one in four adults under 40.
There is more consensus when it comes to perceptions of teen drinking. When asked how modern teenagers' experiences with alcohol compare to those of teens 40 years ago, just 15% of Americans believe that the share who have ever tried alcohol has declined; nearly half — 48% — say it has increased and 25% say it has stayed about the same. Younger adults are somewhat more likely to be correct in believing that teen drinking has declined since the 1980s: Around one in five U.S. adults under 40 say the share of teens who have had alcohol has fallen over this period — twice as many as the share of Americans 50 and older who say this.
Teen dating is another area where perceptions don't appear to match reality. While research shows that teens are less likely to have gone on a date now than 40 years ago, only 26% of Americans believe this to be the case; 38% believe teens are now more likely to have dated and 22% believe there hasn't been much change in this regard.
— Matthew Smith and Linley Sanders contributed to this article
See the results from this poll:
- Do you think the share of American teenagers who have ever worked for pay is higher, lower, or about the same as it was 40 years ago?
- Do you think the share of American teenagers who have tried alcohol is higher, lower, or about the same as it was 40 years ago?
- Do you think the share of American teenagers who have ever gone on a date is higher, lower, or about the same as it was 40 years ago?
Methodology: This Daily Questions survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 6,738 U.S. adults interviewed online on January 9 - 10, 2023. The samples were weighted to be representative of the U.S. population, based on gender, age, race, education, U.S. census region, and political party.
Image: Adobe Stock (Jacob Lund)