Teenage overconfidence has us believing we’re grown sometime around 20, but there’s still much to learn and different ways for our personalities to grow. That’s the case especially for the current generation of 20-something Millenials, because according to a new study, those who reached adulthood during the 2008 Great Recession are less likely to be narcissistic — a result of the rather sobering fact that many of them would be leaving college without the opportunity for jobs, among many other things.

“These findings suggest that economic conditions during this formative period of life not only affect how people think about finances and politics, but also how they think about themselves and their importance relative to others,” psychological scientist Emily Bianchi, who also authored the study, said in a press release.

The Great Recession, to put it simply, was caused by banking malpractices collapsing a reported $8 trillion housing market, forcing foreclosure of homes, as homeowners could no longer borrow money from lenders — who didn’t have the money either — to pay for them. Businesses were closing, employers were laying people off, and consumers stopped spending money. Unemployment rates rose from five percent in December 2007 to 10 percent in October 2009, and average household spending dropped about $4,000.

Though young adults may have experienced similar dips in employment, with rates among men and women dropping about six percent over two years, the effects on their mentality, were profound, according to the researchers at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. Contrary to the mentality of a person graduating college during an economic upswing, in which more jobs are available for them to feel entitled to, Millenials were more likely to be humbled by the fact that jobs were scarce.

The team discovered this after surveying about 1,500, ages 18 to 25 at the time of the recession, who scored lower on tests for narcissism later on in life. On average, their narcissism scores were about 2.4 points lower on a 40-point scale than people who were within the same age range during the “best economic climate,” the release said. These results weren’t affected by self-reported self-esteem ratings, gender, or education. They also weren’t consistent among adults who experienced the downturn, suggesting that it was only the Millenials whose personalities were shaped by the circumstances.

To back up the results, they turned to some of the very people responsible for the recession: corporate CEOs. Looking at data on more than 2,000 CEOs’ salaries, they found that CEOs who also “came of age” during a time of economic hardship were less likely to pay themselves exorbitant amounts. Conversely, those who had just graduated college during a time of prosperity also paid themselves more, suggesting that they felt their worth deserved better compensation — an indicator of narcissistic values.

“There seems to be widespread concern that young adults have become more self-absorbed and egotistical in the last several decades,” Bianchi said. “These new findings suggest that part of this rise could be due in part to the terrific prosperity this country has enjoyed since the mid-1980s. If that’s the case, the Great Recession may produce a cohort of less self-focused young adults.”

Another study on Americans’ egotism, which analyzed the words used during the State of the Union addresses, found that it has been growing over the past 200 years. These measures of egotism, however, fell during the recession, possibly because “the challenges facing the country increased the nation’s sense of togetherness and focus on the needs of others,” study author William Chopik said.  

 

Source: Bianchi E. Entering Adulthood in a Recession Tempers Later Narcissism. Psychological Science. 2014.