The role of the economy on individualism

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Past work has shown that as countries become wealthier, people often become more individualistic. In new research, Emily Bianchi, assistant professor of organization & management, takes the investigation a step further and finds that even subtle fluctuations in the economy are associated with changes in individualism. She finds that during good economic times, Americans are more likely to seek out ways to signal their uniqueness and individuality. For instance, during boom times, Americans tend to give their children more uncommon names and are more likely to prize autonomy and independence in child-rearing. They are also more likely to favor music featuring self-oriented lyrics. Conversely, during recessions, Americans tend to focus more on fitting in and tend to give their children more common names, listen to more relationally oriented music, and encourage their children to get along with others. Additionally, Bianchi discovered that recessions engender uncertainty, which, in turn, decreases individualism and encourages interdependence. The study results indicated that the “link between wealth and individualism is driven not only by differences in how people live, work, and learn but also by their sense of the predictability, orderliness, and certainty of the surrounding environment.”