There has been much debate over which generation, exactly, is the “Me” generation. Is it Millennials? Is it Baby Boomers? People have been taking selfies for pretty much as long as there have been cameras, after all. And painting them before that. There have always been and will always be narcissists, and, seemingly, we will always be horrified by their entitlement. But if there are generational differences in narcissism, a new study published in Psychological Science suggests that they might be attributable to the economy.
Emily Bianchi of Emory University notes in the study that “economic recessions tend to be particularly devastating for young adults,” who are more likely to be unemployed, underemployed, and underpaid during a down economy than older adults with more experience. It stands to reason that such an experience could have a lasting effect, that what you get (or don’t get) when you’re just starting out as a working adult could shape your views of what you think you deserve.
To test the connection between narcissism and the economy, first a group of 1,572 people born between 1947 and 1994 completed an online survey, which measured their narcissism using the 40-question Narcissism Personality Inventory. It also measured their self-esteem, narcissism’s more positive, healthy cousin. Bianchi looked at this data in conjunction with the average national unemployment rate when participants were between the ages of 18 and 25, and found that higher unemployment rates during participants’ young adulthood were linked to lower narcissism scores later in life, even when controlling for gender and education. She also found that the state of the economy when participants were a little older, between 26 and 33 years old, did not have a similar correlation with narcissism. A second, larger study, looking at data from more than 30,000 people in the U.S. had similar results.