London - Children who grow up in a recession are more likely to become well-rounded adults than those who enjoy an easy start to life, a psychological study has found.
Analysis of the characteristics of 35 000 people found that those who entered adulthood during economic downturns were less likely to be self-obsessed.
Growing up in hard times dampens narcissism and a sense of entitlement, US psychologists believe.
The research, which assessed the results of three large studies of people born between 1930 and 1994, found the level of unemployment when a person was young directly correlated with their personality traits later in life.
Those who experienced hard times in their late teens and early 20s were less likely to be narcissistic, while those who had seen times of easy wealth were more likely to feel entitled to the good things that came their way.
Psychological scientist Emily Bianchi, of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, said: “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.
“When people are young adults they are charting their own course for the first time - and their experiences affect them a great deal.
“The state of the economy has perhaps the greatest impact on the young. In a downturn young adults are the last to be hired and the first to be fired. That experience can have a humbling effect.”
The research, published in the journal Psychological Science, assessed the findings of three large studies.
The first study, carried out last year with 1 500 people, focused on the economic conditions during emerging adulthood, as measured by the average unemployment rate when participants were 18 to 25 years old.
The participants, who were born between 1947 and 1994, were asked a series of questions about their views and given a ‘narcissism score’.
Those who entered adulthood in the worst economic climate scored, on average, 2.35 points lower on a 40-point narcissism scale than participants who came of age during the best economic climate.
Those who were born in the early 1960s and the late 1980s experienced the worst economic conditions when they entered the workplace - deep recessions of the early 1980s and the aftermath of the 2007 crash.
Importantly, economic conditions in later stages of adulthood did not show the same association with narcissism.
A second study, commissioned by the US Government in 2005, focused on interviews 31 000 adults born between 1930 and 1984.
Assessments of the participants’ character also found their late teens had a huge impact later in life.
The paper said: “As in study one, people who came of age in worse economic environments were less likely to regard themselves as unique, special and deserving.” Similar results emerged in the third study, which focused on how much chief executives paid themselves.
The final study, carried out by Dr Bianchi in 2007, found that narcissistic CEOs tend to pay themselves considerably more than other senior executives, a signal that they believe they provide unique value to the company and deserved more compensation than their colleagues.
The study, of 2 095 CEOs before the financial crisis, also found a strong correlation with the experiences of their youth.
Dr Bianchi said that together, the findings demonstrate that economic conditions during the formative years can leave a lasting mark.
She said: “There seems to be widespread concern that young adults have become more self-absorbed and egotistical in the last several decades.
“These new findings suggest that part of this rise could be due in part to the terrific prosperity [the US] has enjoyed since the mid-1980s.” - Daily Mail