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Karla Vermeulen: Inside the Mind of 'Generation Disaster'

Young people who came of age after 9/11 aren't snowflakes despite being exposed to a series of catastrophic events and apocalyptic news narratives.


What are the long-term psychological effects of growing up in a world where the 9/11 attacks and school shootings drastically restructured your childhood around overblown fears of random violence, where the Great Recession wiped out your parents' savings and the historically slow economic recovery hampered your job prospects for a decade, and where you were reminded every single day that the world only has a few years left before climate change makes the planet uninhabitable? And on top of all that, add increasingly intense political polarization, racial reckonings, and Covid-19?

Meet "Generation Disaster," the subject of a fascinating new book by State University of New York psychologist Karla Vermeulen. Subtitled Coming of Age Post 9/11, Generation Disaster is built around a massive national survey of people born between 1990 and 2001. Vermeulen looks at the cumulative impact of being raised in a relentlessly apocalyptic social and political environment, the role that Boomer and Gen X parents and authorities play in stoking anxiety, and how new forms of technology and media have influenced the worldviews of Millennials and Gen Z members roughly between the ages of 20 and 30.

In an era of mounting generational hostility, Karla Vermeulen is an essential mediator between older and younger Americans and her book, Generation Disaster, is a rich, empathetic portrait of a group too often simply—and wrongly—dismissed as weak, lazy, and entitled.