Narcissism Linked to Economic Conditions during Young Adulthood, Study Finds

Article excerpt

When people enter young adulthood during times of economic hardship they tend to be less narcissistic later in life than people who come of age when the economy is strong.

That's the finding from a fascinating study published this month in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"Whereas previous research has shown that parental behavior during childhood predicts later narcissism, the present findings suggest that macroenvironmental conditions play a similar role at a later stage of development," writes Emily Bianchi, the study's author and an assistant professor of organization and management at Emory University in Atlanta.

Narcissists are defined in the study as people who "regard themselves as superior to other people and believe that they are entitled to good outcomes, excessive admiration, and unyielding praise."

A trio of studies

Bianchi's study is actually three separate studies. In the first one, 1,572 people born between the years 1947 and 1994 filled out an online survey that included the 40-question Narcissism Personality Inventory as well as some questions that measured self-esteem.

Bianchi then took that data, adjusted it slightly for age (narcissism typically declines as people age), and looked to see if there was any correlation between the participants' narcissism scores and the average U.S. unemployment rate during the years the participants were 18 to 25 years old. (The participants who were born during the late 1940s and late 1970s experienced the best economic conditions during young adulthood, while those born in the early 1960s and late 1980s encountered the worst.)

Bianchi found that people who were 18 to 25 years old during periods of high unemployment (average unemployment: 7.7 percent) scored, on average, 2.35 points lower on the 40-point narcissism inventory scale than those who entered young adulthood during periods of low unemployment (average unemployment: 4.3 percent).

This correlation held even after Bianchi adjusted for education and gender. (Men tend to be more narcissistic than women.) And it was not explained by dips or rises in self-esteem, a personality trait associated with but not the same as narcissism.

Importantly, the correlation was not found among slightly older adults -- those aged 26 to 33 during an economic downturn. This finding strengthens the suggestion from other research that the emerging years of adulthood -- 18 to 25 -- are particularly impressionable and significant in terms of shaping people's later attitudes and values.

Bianchi then repeated the study using data collected from a larger, more nationally representative sample of 31,000 people born between 1930 and 1984. The findings were similar.

"People who came of age in worse economic environments were less likely to regard themselves as unique, special, and deserving," she writes. …