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Can Unemployment Change Your Personality?

Feb 23, 2015 11:05 PM EST

It has been seen that unemployment can sometimes lead to feelings of depression, but one new study says that it can even change your core personality.

Specifically, not having a job can make some people less conscientious, agreeable and open, which in turn may make it difficult for them to find new employment, according to the American Psychological Association.

"The results challenge the idea that our personalities are 'fixed' and show that the effects of external factors such as unemployment can have large impacts on our basic personality," lead researcher Christopher J. Boyce, from the UK's University of Stirling, said in a statement. "This indicates that unemployment has wider psychological implications than previously thought."

Over the course of four years, Boyce and his colleagues studied over 6,700 German adults, focusing on five key personality traits: conscientiousness, neuroticism, agreeableness, extraversion and openness. Some participants were unemployed for anywhere from one to four years during the experiment, while others were unemployed for less than a year before finding new jobs.

What they found was that men experienced increased agreeableness during the first two years of unemployment, compared to men who never lost their jobs. However, after two years of being unemployed their agreeableness began to wane and, in the long run, was lower than those of the men with jobs.

For women, on the other hand, agreeableness declined with each year of unemployment.

"In early unemployment stages, there may be incentives for individuals to behave agreeably in an effort to secure another job or placate those around them," the researchers explained, "but in later years when the situation becomes endemic, such incentives may weaken."

In terms of conscientiousness and openness, both men and women - but men more so - showed decreased levels in these traits. But women particularly seemed able to bounce back in the late stages of their employment. The research team speculates that women may have pursued non-work-related activities, such as caregiving, instead.

The results, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, suggest that unemployment not only has a negative impact on the economy and one's wallet, but that it can also lead to unavoidable personality changes, potentially creating a downward cycle of difficulty in the labor market.

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