The Surprising Upside of the Recession for Young Adults

The Surprising Upside of the Recession for Young Adults

An economic downturn hurts businesses, puts stress on families, causes people to lose their jobs ... and turns young adults into better people?

New research suggests those who come of age during a recession are less likely to be narcissistic later on.


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Emily Bianchi of Emory University led a series of studies that involved online surveys and in-person interviews with more than 30,000 participants. Her results showed that people who were between the ages of 18 and 25 during a recession (as determined by the national unemployment rate) were less likely to consider themselves unique and special than those who entered adulthood when the economy was stronger.

She also found that company C.E.O.s who came of age during an economic slump were less likely to pay themselves a lot more than their employees. (Other studies have found that narcissistic C.E.O.s do the opposite.)

So what’s the link between recessions and relative selflessness? Recent research suggests that a challenging economic environment makes people more attuned to the needs of others, and Bianchi proposes that’s why those who enter adulthood during a recession are less likely to focus on their own achievements.

Still, the fact that coming of age during tough times makes people less narcissistic isn’t necessarily a reason to celebrate the recent economic downturn. Other researchers have found that people who graduate college in bad national economies tend to end up in lower-level jobs. Plus, Bianchi points out that non-narcissists may be at a disadvantage when it comes to professional and financial success because narcissists tend to be better at promoting themselves.

Curious about other ways the Great Recession has affected our habits? We’re now eco-savvier, more concerned about keeping our homes safe and more likely to steal toilet paper.


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