How the recession shaped a more humble generation

English model Jean Shrimpton spruces herself up in the back of a car, 12th July 1966. 

Every generation thinks they're better than the next, and the "you kids get off my lawn" attitude has been particularly tough on Millennials. They've been called entitled, lazy and self-involved.

But, they're also young people who came of age during a recession. According to a study done by Dr. Emily Bianchi of Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, recession is an event that could mitigate characteristics of narcissism.

"We don’t know a whole lot about where narcissism comes from, but what we do know seems to suggest that narcissism is tempered by adversity and to some extent by failure,” she says.

Do you think Millennials are more likely to be narcissists?

The word narcissist is one that is often misused to describe people who are vain, rude, or plain old self-centered. In psychology, narcissism has distinguishing characteristics other than self-admiration.

“Hallmarks of narcissism are lack of empathy, a sense that one is better than other people around them, a heightened sense of self-importance. Even a willingness to exploit other people to achieve one’s own gains,” Bianchi says.

While narcissistic tendencies can wreak havoc in one’s personal relationships, these qualities have conflicting implications in the workplace.

“On the one hand, narcissists tend to be very charming, people tend to be drawn to them, they tend to be very charismatic, and they tend to be very inspiring leaders. On the other hand, they tend to be very difficult to work for; they tend to take credit for anything that goes well and tend to assign blame for anything that goes poorly. They don’t tend to make terrific mentors and people often feel out on their own when working for a narcissist,” Bianchi says.

According to Bianchi, "Narcissism is cultivated by allowing egos to expand unchecked by adversity and humbling setbacks or failures." This goes to the pervasive attitude that children of today would be more successful if they weren’t praised as much or didn’t receive a trophy simply for participating, as opposed to actually winning or excelling at something.

Millennials are more likely to graduate college with student debt than those in preceding generations, they are having a harder time finding a job when they do graduate, more than one-third of them are living at home with their parents, and according to Washington Post personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary, Millennials “may be the first cohort to end up worse off than their parents.”

Despite the negative ways in which this generation has been affected by the economy, Bianchi says that there may be a small, bright side to the recession. “We know that their careers have been affected, or likely to be affected in all sorts of negative ways, but I think most people would probably be pleased to hear that this might temper narcissism in the workplace."

About the author

Candace Manriquez is a freelance producer for Marketplace.

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