Unemployment May Not Only Be Bad For Your Wallet – In the Long-term, It can Affect Your Personality

During a period of unemployment, your financial security can take a major hit. So, too, can your personality, according to a study published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Applied Psychology.

Personality and Unemployment

Researchers surveyed over 6,000 German men and women. Participants were given two personality tests during a four-year period, during which time about half were unemployed for less than a year, and the other half was unemployed for a year or longer, even as much as the whole four years.

Personality is typically considered a makeup of five factors: openness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, extraversion and agreeableness. Researchers found that unemployment particularly effected openness, conscientiousness and agreeableness. However, the effects of unemployment on personality were different for men and women.

Openness: In men, openness stayed fairly steady until unemployment became long-term and by year four had plummeted significantly. In women, on the other hand, openness dipped downward during the first several years of unemployment, but their levels of openness had started to pick back up by year four.

Conscientiousness: Women initially became more conscientious during unemployment, but after the first year, that trait took a hit. As with openness, though, by the fourth year, women’s conscientiousness levels began to rise again. Men’s conscientiousness levels went down right away, and began to plunge at a quick rate after being out of work for a year.

Agreeableness : Agreeableness took an almost immediate hit for unemployed women. Men, on the other hand, experienced fairly steady levels for the first year, and after that, their agreeableness actually began to rise. However, after the third year of unemployment, their agreeableness levels dropped sharply, going from significantly higher to that of the general population to significantly lower in the course of just one year.

The Impact of Personality Changes

This study showed that personality is not fixed. Rather, it can be influenced by external factors, such as an extended period of unemployment.

Unfortunately, many of the personality changes that accompany unemployment are often seen in a negative light. These changes can color others’ attitudes toward the unemployed and can also make it harder for unemployed people to find new jobs. And in a society where unemployment levels are high, the result may be a disproportionate number of people whose personalities have been altered by the experience.

Where to Go from Here

Although the study evaluated what personality changes occurred during the unemployment period of the research subjects, it did not fully delve into the causes behind the changes it found. Researchers did suggest that unemployed people may at first experience positive personality changes as they act in people-pleasing ways in hopes of securing a new job, but as time wears on without new employment, their resolve may falter.

Future studies could explore the reasons for personality shifts during unemployment. Additional studies could also take samples from a wider population segment, including a multinational study that covers unemployed people from several countries, since the Germans surveyed for the original study might react differently to their circumstances than people from other cultures.

In the meantime, if you or someone you love is dealing with unemployment, be aware that the situation could affect more than just your pocketbook. Before the situation alters your personality in ways you won’t appreciate, consider talking to a professional therapist, who can help you process the effects of unemployment.