Recessions Take a Lasting Toll on Narcissism: Hard Economic Times Deflate Young Adults' Self-Regard for Many Decades

By Bower, Bruce | Science News, June 28, 2014 | Go to article overview

Recessions Take a Lasting Toll on Narcissism: Hard Economic Times Deflate Young Adults' Self-Regard for Many Decades


Bower, Bruce, Science News


Bad economies levy a tax on narcissism, at least among young adults.

People who came of age during economic recessions report and display fewer signs of extreme self-absorption than those who entered adulthood during relatively prosperous periods, says management professor Emily Bianchi of Emory University in Atlanta.

A strong economy during the late 1980s and 1990s may partly explain reports of rising narcissism rates among U.S. college students of that era, Bianchi proposes May 8 in Psychological Science. If so, humility should have begun to reassert itself among young adults who have grappled with the economic recession that began in 2008, she predicts.

Narcissists view themselves as superior in all situations, feel entitled to special treatment and expect to always succeed and be admired and praised (SN: 8/13/11, p. 16).

Earlier research suggested that grandiose self-regard gets nurtured in children whose parents overindulge them and shower them with unearned praise. Some scholars suspect that an emphasis on self-esteem in schools and the growth of self-promotion via social media have both cultivated narcissistic youngsters. "My results suggest that national economic conditions affect narcissism at a later, critical life stage," Bianchi says.

"It may be slightly unsettling to imagine that there is a link between, say, the Fed's monetary policy today and Americans' self-absorption a generation or two later," says psychologist Daniel Ames of Columbia University. "But this new work indicates such a link is plausible."

Bianchi evaluated self-reports of narcissistic attitudes and behaviors in two groups of U.S. adults. One sample consisted of 1,572 volunteers born between 1947 and 1994 who completed an online survey. Participants born in the late 1940s and the late 1970s encountered the best economic conditions as 18- to 25-year-olds, as indicated by low average national unemployment rates; those born in the early 1960s and the late 1980s experienced the worst economic conditions.

A second, nationally representative sample included 31,060 individuals, ages 18 to 72, who were interviewed in 2001 and 2002, and again three years later, as part of a larger survey.

Bianchi statistically controlled for a tendency of narcissism scores to decline with age and to be greater in men than in women. …

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