Facing recession in early adulthood can prevent narcissism later in life

Finding a job is a humbling experience. As I go through the motions of a job search-applying, interviewing, networking- I find myself, inadvertently riding a roller coaster, precariously seated on the tracks of fickle emotions-confidence, self-doubt, poise, jubilation, and desperation.  Fortunately, once in a while,  I get a bolstering call or an email that offers me a positive direction or a much-needed nudge to stay strong to realize my unconventional career goals and interests.

In an economic recession, however, such a nudge is infrequent, or even non-existent, and the hardest hit are the young adults entering the workforce for the first time. A dearth of jobs enables employers to be selective and to only extend offers to highly skilled and experienced individuals, leaving young adults with limited to zero choices. The experience has a long-lasting effect on the psychology of these impressionable individuals, according to the results of a recent study by Emily Binachi at the Emory University.

Binachi started out by asking a reasonable question. “Does entering adulthood during a recession affect how narcissistic a person ultimately becomes? Narcissists regard themselves as superior to other people and believe that they are entitled to good outcomes, excessive admiration, and unyielding praise.”

To answer her question, Binachi surveyed thousands of individuals, asking them a variety of questions aimed at scientifically quantifying their level of narcissism, self-esteem, and economic conditions in emerging adulthood.

Binachi found that “entering adulthood during a recession tempered narcissism later in life, ” and the affected individuals were less likely to feel superior or entitled, related to others. Binachi also found that higher unemployment rates during emerging adulthood were associated with lower narcissism scores later in life, while economic conditions in the subsequent period were not as predictive of current narcissism. Most interesting was Binachi’s finding that CEOs of various companies who came of age in economic recessions paid themselves relatively less than those who entered adulthood in more prosperous times.

The results of Binachi’s studies offer a plausible explanation for the presence of narcissism in certain individuals. Other identified sources of such behavior include overindulgent and overprotective parenting and excessive and unearned praise during childhood. Personally, her study offers me a fresh perspective on my own job search- an opportunity in character building!