Being unemployed can change a person's core personality, making them less conscientious, agreeable and open, which may make it difficult for them to find new jobs. The study by University of Stirling in the United Kingdom suggested that the effect of unemployment across society is more than just an economic concern i.e. the unemployed may be unfairly stigmatized as a result of unavoidable personality change, potentially creating a downward cycle of difficulty in the labor market.
Researcher Christopher J. Boyce said, "The results challenge the idea that personalities are fixed and showed that the effects of external factors such as unemployment could have large impacts on one's basic personality."
Researchers examined a sample of 6,769 German adults (3,733 men and 3,036 women) who took a standard personality test at two points over four years, from 2006-2009. In this group, 210 were unemployed for anywhere from 1-4 years during the experiment; another 251 of them were unemployed less than a year but then got jobs.
The researchers looked at the so-called 'Big Five Personality Traits'- conscientiousness, neuroticism, agreeableness, extraversion and openness. They found that men experienced increased agreeableness during the first 2-years of unemployment, compared to men who never lost their jobs. But, 2-years later, the agreeableness levels of the unemployed men began to diminish and, in the long run, were lower than those of the men with jobs. In women, agreeableness declined with each year of unemployment.
The study revealed that unemployed men showed steady levels of openness in their first year of joblessness, but the levels decreased the longer they were unemployed. Women, in contrast, showed sharp reductions in openness in the second and third years of unemployment but rebounded in the fourth year.
The study appears in APA's Journal of Applied Psychology.