Study: Recession Made Teens More Socially Conscious

Research finds Great Recession-era high school seniors more interested in social problems and careers helping others than their counterparts who graduated before the downturn.

The recession may have proven a challenge for many people, but it had a side effect that could benefit associations and volunteer groups down the road.

Amidst all of the suffering caused by the recession, there may be positive benefits to society if more Americans are looking outside themselves.

According to a new research study from psychologists at San Diego State University and the University of California, Los Angeles, high school students became more socially conscious during the Great Recession.

Using a nationally representative sample of U.S. high school seniors collected between 1976 and 2010, researchers analyzed data on students from three distinct two-year time periods: immediately before the Great Recession (2004 to 2006), during the recession (2008 to 2010), and the earliest period available (1976 to 1978).

The study found that 47 percent of recession-era high school students said they want a job that is directly helpful to others, compared with 44 percent of those in the 2004–2006 group.

“Although young people’s concern for others and for the environment is still lower than it was in the 1970s, the recession has apparently led youth to focus more on others compared to the economic boom times of the mid-2000s,” said Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at SDSU in a statement. “Amidst all of the suffering caused by the recession, there may be positive benefits to society if more Americans are looking outside themselves.”

Other highlights from the study:

  • 63 percent of recession-era 12th-graders said they made an effort to turn down the heat at home to save energy, compared to 55 percent of the 2004–2006 seniors.
  • 30 percent of recession-era students said they thought often about social problems, compared to 26 percent in the pre-recession group.
  • 36 percent of the latest group said they would be willing to use a bicycle or mass transit to get to work, up from 28 percent in the previous group.
  • 61 percent of recession-era high school seniors said they would eat differently to help the starving, compared with 58 percent of the 2004–2006 group.

“This is the silver lining of the Great Recession,” Patricia Greenfield, a psychology professor at UCLA, said in a statement. “These findings are consistent with my theory that fewer economic resources lead to more concern for others and the community. It is a change very much needed by our society.”


Daniel Ford

By Daniel Ford

Daniel Ford is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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