the lives we live

The current generation in their twenties are more perfectionist than ever. Where does this performance pressure come from?

by Loeka Oostra -  NRC newspaper - April 13, 2018


An extensive CV, four times a week to the gym, a thriving social life: the current generation of people in their twenties feels a constant pressure to meet high standards. Those who sigh that they have it heavier than previous generations of twenties seem to be right now: large-scale British research shows that highly educated people in their twenties now represent the most perfectionist generation since the eighties.

Health scientists Thomas Curran from the University of Bath and Andrew Hill from York St. John University analyzed data from over 41,000 British, Canadian and American HBO and WO students from 1989 to 2016. In the 164 studies from which the data came, each time same questionnaire. In it, people in their twenties responded to statements about work pressure on a scale of one to seven, performing at the tops of your abilities and the expectations of others. Subsequently, a distinction was made between three forms of perfectionism: the pressure that people in their twenties imposed on themselves, the social pressure experienced from the outside and the pressure that people in their twenties felt when comparing themselves with their peers.

In comparison with the four previous generations, the most recent generation of people in their twenties scored higher than their predecessors on all forms of perfectionism. The study, recently published in the scientific journal Psychological Bulletin, provides a number of figures: the pressure that people in their twenties now impose on themselves to reach the 'extreme' increased by 10 percent compared to previous generations. The social pressure they feel increased by 33 percent and the feeling of having to outpace others increased by 16 percent.


Tarnish each other

Jaap van der Stel, lecturer in mental health at the Hogeschool Leiden, says he is not surprised about the results of the research. He blames a number of social developments: "Our environment is growing under the influence of social media and globalization. The mutual competition is increasing, so that young people on the road to a first job have the idea of ​​continually tapping each other out. "

But the expectations that highly educated people in their twenties have of themselves and others are often not so real at all. "Because they are so young and inexperienced, they are not yet in the position to say that something is too much work," says Van der Stel. "They see people around them who also work hard and do not seem to be bothered by anything, so they reflect on that."

Van der Stel himself was in his twenties in the seventies. "A time when in my opinion we were not so strict for ourselves and the people around us. The feeling that there would be ten others waiting for me, for example, I never had, while that is now a much-heard complaint among people in their twenties. "You could, of course, blame the economic crisis of ten years ago and its consequences for the labor market. to give. But on the other hand, the oil crisis of the 1970s and unprecedented unemployment in the 1980s did not make the search for a job too easy at the time.

Nevertheless, the feeling that the competition among highly educated people in their twenties has increased is not entirely unjustified, according to figures from the Association of Universities and the Association of Universities of Applied Sciences. In the academic year 2017-2018 alone, the number of students in higher education rose by 11 percent in the academic year compared to an academic year, and 5.5 percent in the universities of applied sciences. Together they now have 729,700 registered students. By way of comparison: in 2009, 231,786 students were enrolled at Dutch universities and there were 403,577 students who followed a higher professional education study. The number of people in their twenties did not increase exponentially in the meantime.


Crippling Self Doubt And A General Lack Of Self Confidence
Album : Tell Me How You Really Feel (2018)
Label : Marathon Artists / Milk Records

The people in their twenties are therefore better educated. Moreover, more and more international students are finding our universities. According to figures from the Association of Universities, this means more than 48,000 WO students in the current academic year. In 2010, it was still 23,000 university students. "That makes the race for an internship, PhD position or job only bigger", says Van der Stel. While universities are now quite eager to accept international students. "They receive extra funding for it."

Scientist Curran also emphasizes the role of universities in the increased perfectionism among highly-educated people in their twenties. According to him, they encourage the competition between students and they want to boost meritocracy, in which everyone is responsible for their own socio-economic position. Van der Stel states that the culture in the Netherlands is still different from that in the United Kingdom and the United

States, where the emphasis has always been on manufacturability. "But Dutch universities are also increasingly focused on performance", instead of learning. "And that is a worrying development." Depression and anxiety Claudia van der Heijde, researcher at the Student doctors at the University of Amsterdam, acknowledges that the current education system and the universities in particular are increasingly focused on manufacturability. "And if everything is feasible, the responsibility for success comes to lie entirely with you." For example, students are now being blamed faster on their results, for example through negative binding study advice. "Universities are also paying increasing attention to the way in which students can increase their chances on the labor market. They give tips to acquire additional skills in addition to the study and to expand the CV. With that, you are able to promote perfectionism. "Based on research among students, Van der Heijde is working on the development of online services for students at the University of Amsterdam. 

"Research showed that quite a few students suffer from psychological problems during their studies, but find it difficult to take the step to providing assistance." Van der Heijde therefore developed a health test for students together with colleagues. On the basis of questions about mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, but also, for example, about alcohol and drug use, a student can see how he 'does' it in relation to other students who completed the test. "In this way we try to provide statistical insight into social norms. For example, many students will feel that others are not bothered by anything and only they feel anxiety. The moment they see that they are not so far from the average, that can help. "According to Van der Stel, it is indeed important that twenties are helped to test their findings against reality. "The grass is always greener on the other side, and you can talk yourself into a considerable inferiority complex. It is good to see that your own ideas can be quite remote from reality. "Van der Heijde often sees the perfectionist students. "And certainly more than before. A board year is not enough anymore, because everyone does that. A master ditto dito, so students do two masters. Everything to be the best boy in the class, where they no longer seem to accept their own limits. "What exactly is a burn-out exactly? We answer six questions about the phenomenon. Van der Stel also emphasizes that there is nothing wrong with striving for the 'best'. "But it should not be the case that people suffer." According to him there is a big difference between perfectionism and ambition. "Whoever breaks down and demands that he can not meet, can have to deal with psychological complaints such as stress, depression or a burn-out." Burn-out complaints The experience is also that perfectionism does not stop at the time the study Is finished. On the contrary: on the labor market it is all for itself. This requires a lot of young people: according to figures from the National Labor Force Survey (NEA) of TNO and CBS, among more than 46,000 working Dutch people, 16 percent of men and 18.3 percent of women between 25 and 35 years old had in 2016 suffer from burn-out complaints. The National Salary Survey of Nyenrode University shows that the risk of burn-out complaints for people under 36 is greater than people from other age groups. That many people do not know that perfectionism promotes work stress, Van der Stel calls a large number of people. issue. "People often speak with admiration about the longest days at the office. As a result, we all keep up the turmoil. "