Photo by Aaron Schasse
A headline in Foreign Policy made the point succinctly, with just the right touch of hyperbole: "Leftists for Life - Why the Great Recession's 'lost generation' may be lost to the right wing — forever."
The article, authored by Alicia P. Wittmeyer, details the plight of millions of young people across Europe and in the United States and their status as "unemployed or underemployed, living at home, and delaying marriage, children, and other fundamental life choices as they seek to make their way through a world still recovering from the worst economic crisis since the 1930s." At issue is not just the economy and whether or not the so-called "lost generation" of the Great Recession will eventually find good jobs and move out of their parents' homes, it's also a question of what effect the economic tough times they've experienced will have on all aspects of their lives: their belief systems, their emotional state and their political leanings.
Assistant Professor Paola Giuliano and her colleague, Antonio Spilimbergo of the International Monetary Fund, have been researching the impact of recessions on political views for a number of years. Their 2009 working paper, "Growing Up In The Recession: Beliefs and the Macroeconomy," looked at the relationship between recessions adn beliefs, identified the effect of recessions on beliefs and demonstrated that individuals who grow up during recessions tend to believe that success in life depends more on luck than on effort, support more government redistribution, but have less confidence in public institutions.
The pair has since updated the paper, the second version accepted by The Review of Economic Studies in October 2013. If the original work had subjective elements, the second, according to Giuliano, had a more objective approach. In this latest version, Giuliano found that persons who were aged 18 to 25 during a severe economic crisis (defined as GDP growth of -3%) formed strong affiliations with liberal politics and parties, such as the Democrats in the United States. The paper analyzed citizens in 40 countries and found such associations were consistent across the international board. Digging deeper, the research showed that those experiencing recessions as impressionable 18 to 25-year-olds formed left-leaning opinions and alliances permanently; those who were less than 18 or over 25 demonstrated that such beliefs were a bit more fleeting and the affects disappeared after two years.
"Eighteen to 25 are the impressionable years and the most important for forming economic beliefs," Giuliano says. 'Before that age you are too young and after that age your network is formed. Also, neuroscientists will tell you that after 25, we have less 'gray matter.'"
Giuliano says that the research did not show that the reverse phenomena was true. In other words, 18 to 25-year-olds who experienced economic "booms" did not form similar relations to right-leaning views or parties such as the U.S. Republicans. She also said that education levels did not impact the results.
"Young people who grew up in a recession have a different preference for government intervention," Giuliano says. The research echoed the earlier research in that those who experienced recessions in these formative years are more likely to believe that economic success is a result of luck, rather than hard work.