Focus on Research

November 27, 2013 11:56 am

The unexpected advantage of graduating in a recession

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Pity those who have the misfortune to graduate during a recession. After all, the financial and career disadvantages of entering the workforce during an economic downturn are well documented.

Despite their deflated salaries and seniority levels, forthcoming research finds that these “unlucky” graduates are set to enjoy one counter-intuitive advantage over those who finished their studies during the boom years: greater job satisfaction.

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Focus on Research

A study by Emily Bianchi, professor of organisation and management at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, concluded that graduates who entered the workforce during economic downturns were more satisfied with their current jobs.

Decades of research on job satisfaction, Prof Bianchi writes, suggests that it is how workers feel about their outcomes – rather than objective assessments of their success – that matters.

Analysis of data from historical surveys of US graduates, who earned their degrees from 1974 to 2011, reveals that recession-era graduates agonise less about their outcomes and are also more grateful for their jobs.

Those who graduated in a strong job market are more likely, she writes, to entertain ideas of missed opportunities which can evoke regret. Given there are more real or imagined paths to consider, there are “consequently more opportunities for second-guessing and rumination.” Conversely, when opportunities are fewer, “people tend to optimise what they do have rather than dwell on what they do not.”

Recession graduates also demonstrate greater gratitude for having found a job, a sentiment which itself improves satisfaction, Prof Bianchi writes. Given that there are fewer job openings and heightened competition, she continues, “a job obtained in this unfavourable climate is perceived as substantially more valuable than one secured when employers are scrambling to find well educated workers.” Successful applicants are moreover more likely to feel deliberately chosen, she says.

The study also finds that the influence of macroeconomic conditions at the start of someone’s career is enduring. People who graduated in more challenging economic times were more satisfied with their current jobs even many years later, she writes.

This silver lining may, however, be scant consolation for today’s debt-laden graduates.

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