Brent Donnellan of Michigan State University and Kali Trzesniewski of the University of Western Ontario said that their analysis of 477,380 high school seniors from 1976-2006 showed youth are generally not the self-centered, anti-social slackers that previous research has made them out to be.
"We concluded that, more often than not, kids these days are about the same as they were back in the mid-1970s," Donnellan said in a statement.
Much of the previous research has relied on "convenience studies" of relatively small samples of young adults.
The study found today's youth are more cynical and less trusting of institutions than previous generations, but Donnellan said this is generally true of the broader population.
The current generation is less fearful of social problems such as race relations, hunger, poverty and energy shortages, the study said. They have higher educational expectations.
The findings are published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.