The drive to be perfect in body, mind and career among today’s college students has increased by more than a third over the past three decades, says a new study. The researchers suggest that perfectionism entails “an irrational desire to achieve along with being overly critical of oneself and others.” The study, published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, suggests that rise in perfectionism among young adults is being driven by a number of factors.
For example, the data suggest that social media use pressures young adults to perfect themselves in comparison to others, which makes them dissatisfied with their bodies and increases social isolation. The drive to earn money, pressure to get a good education and setting lofty career goals are other areas in which today’s young people exhibit perfectionism, the study said.
The researchers also pointed to a rise in meritocracy among millennials, in which universities encourage competition among students to move up the social and economic ladder. “Meritocracy places a strong need for young people to strive, perform and achieve in modern life,” said lead author Thomas Curran of the University of Bath in Britain.
“Young people are responding by reporting increasingly unrealistic educational and professional expectations for themselves. As a result, perfectionism is rising among millennials,” Curran said. For the study, the researchers analysed data from 41,641 American, Canadian and British college students 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. Specifically, between 1989 and 2016, the self-oriented perfectionism score increased by 10%, socially prescribed increased by 33 per cent and other-oriented increased by 16 per cent, the study said. The increase in perfectionism may in part be affecting the psychological health of students, said study co-author Andrew Hill of York St John University in England.