Study: Perfectionism Among the Young Has Significantly Increased Since the 1980s

It seems as if the policies of neoliberalism had a major role in these unhealthy manifestations. I have thought for years now that there is generally too much competition and not enough cooperation in society today, which is part of the reason I advocate for reforms such as increasing the use of democratic co-operatives.

The drive to be perfect in body, mind and career among today’s college students has significantly increased compared with prior generations, which may be taking a toll on young people’s mental health, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

This study is the first to examine group generational differences in perfectionism, according to lead author Thomas Curran, PhD, of the University of Bath. He and his co-author Andrew Hill, PhD, of York St John University suggest that perfectionism entails “an irrational desire to achieve along with being overly critical of oneself and others.”

Curran and Hill analyzed data from 41,641 American, Canadian and British college students from 164 samples who completed the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale, a test for generational changes in perfectionism, from the late 1980s to 2016. They measured three types of perfectionism: self-oriented, or an irrational desire to be perfect; socially prescribed, or perceiving excessive expectations from others; and other-oriented, or placing unrealistic standards on others.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, found that more recent generations of college students reported significantly higher scores for each form of perfectionism than earlier generations. Specifically, between 1989 and 2016, the self-oriented perfectionism score increased by 10 percent, socially prescribed increased by 33 percent and other-oriented increased by 16 percent.

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The increase in perfectionism may in part be affecting the psychological health of students, said Hill, citing higher levels of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts than a decade ago.

Hill urged schools and policymakers to curb fostering competition among young people in order to preserve good mental health.