They have been called the Millenials and Generation Y by some: the "Go-Nowhere Generation" and "Generation Why Bother" by others. The researcher in charge of a new and ongoing national survey on the generation claims, however, that whatever you might call them, this most recent American batch, ages 18-29, are not the slacking, uninterested, overgrown adolescents they've been labeled.
Jeffrey Jensen Arnett is a research professor in psychology at Clark University who has been studying this age group for over 20 years. He analyzed The Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults and also coined the term "emerging adults," now used by many social scientists, to describe the life stage.
Arnett evaluated the poll's 1,029 answers to questions regarding participants' lives: where they're going, how they're feeling and what they want from it.
"I think this survey is valuable in giving a broad perspective on what [they find important]," Arnett told The Huffington Post.
The researcher acknowledged the many negative stereotypes about these "emerging adults," but maintained that he has never agreed with the stereotypes and feels vindicated by national data he says proves his point.
Arnett specifically points to a question concerning independence.
"This group is said to be lazy," Arnett said to HuffPost, "but 75 percent said they're trying to be independent and don't like relying on their parents, even though most of them need to for most of their twenties." (Six percent reported frequent financial support from their parents, and 31 percent said they receive support "occasionally.")
Another question pointed towards Millenials' idealistic tendencies. Some 85 percent of respondents said they would prefer a job that made a difference.
"It's not just about having money and forgetting about everybody else," Arnett said.
What of the other survey results? About 56 percent say they often feel anxious, and 33 percent often feel depressed. Close to 60 percent say, "adulthood will be more enjoyable than my life right now."
In some cases, the participants' answers often contradicted one another, suggesting conflict.
"What I find fascinating is that the majority of them can say, 'I feel anxious,' but that 85 percent say life is fun and exciting," Arnett said. "This fits what I've seen in interviews. It's both things! They feel excited, but they're anxious with how things are going to turn out -- where they are going to fit in in the world."
These traits of cautious optimism produce few older fans. Recent columns in the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times criticized the generation for its alleged wayward childishness.
"Sometime in the past 30 years, someone has hit the brakes and Americans — particularly young Americans — have become risk-averse and sedentary," wrote Todd G. Buchholz and Vicorial Buchholz back in March for The Times.
Similarly, Bret Stephens of The Journal "congratulated" graduates in May for "exertions that — let's be honest — were less than heroic. [M]ost of you have spent the last few years getting inflated grades in useless subjects in order to obtain a debased degree." Stephens pulled no punches. "Please spare us the self-pity," he grumbles.
Arnett said that this type of criticism is puzzling to him but not unpredictable.
"It's very mysterious to me, and I've thought about it a lot," he said. "I think part of the answer is that it does take longer to grow up than it used to, to finish your education, to find a stable job, to get married and have a first job. So I think the baby boomers and other older adults look at emerging adults and say, 'there must be something wrong with them. They're not doing these things when I was doing them, and therefore, they're lazy. They're stupid.'"
Arnett said it may be time to tone down the criticism. "Older adults are still comparing them to a standard that really is obsolete," he said, "and really not fair anymore."
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