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The Effects of the Great Recession on Young People's Values and Behaviors

Awarded Scholars

Jean Twenge, San Diego State University
Patricia Greenfield, University of California, Los Angeles
Project Date: November, 2011
Award Amount:$159,992

We now know many of the immediate and lingering consequences of the Great Recession. Record home foreclosures, underwater mortgages, historic long-term unemployment rates, declining median income, a lagging economy and the threat of a double-dip recession are all painfully familiar. Although much of the public and academic interest has centered on these obvious consequences, there may well be more subtle, but still important and far-reaching effects that are not yet recognized. Among these are the potential changes in the values and behaviors of an American population experiencing a period of economic turmoil, deprivation, and uncertainty. These effects may be particularly consequential for young people, who experienced the Great Recession at an especially formative life stage as they began to move from late adolescence and into early adulthood. Will these individuals, who spent much of their childhoods in a time of economic plenty and their adolescence and young adulthood years in a period of economic upheaval, differ in either their values or behaviors from cohorts that preceded them?

Professor Patricia Greenfield of UCLA and Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University propose to address this question in their examination of whether and how young Americans’ values and behaviors have changed in response to the recession. Greenfield and Twenge propose to use three nationally representative studies that collect data on individual values and behaviors related to “individualism,” “materialism,” “family,” “community,” and “spirituality.” Using both cross-sectional and longitudinal research designs, they intend to explore changes in these values and behaviors with data collected before and after the recession.