The recession is having a pretty obvious effect on many Americans, with millions being affected by job loss, foreclosures, and financial problems that force them to put off major life events like buying a home or getting married. Yet not every effect the recession has on us is that readily apparent. The recession is also shaping American society in some much more subtle but just as important ways, changing how we live, handle relationships, define ourselves, and potentially even altering the direction, health, and ideas of an entire generation. In fact, even those who haven’t been touched by the worst effects of the recession may be feeling the fallout in ways they don’t even realize. Curious? Read on to learn more about some of the less obvious, sometimes hidden ways the recession is shaping our nation.
You’d think that women would spend less on heading to the salon and buying fancy cosmetics in the recession, right? Actually, the opposite is true. A study released just this year called “Boosting Beauty in an Economic Decline: Mating, Spending, and the Lipstick Effect” found that college-aged women historically spend more on beauty products during recessions and place greater emphasis on outward appearance. Researchers believe that this phenomenon is the result of women looking to attract mates, especially those with resources that can help to support them through tough economic times.
While many women today work outside of the home, American society still largely holds onto the “breadwinner ideology” when it comes to men. With more men being affected by the recession than women (10.4% of men are unemployed versus 8% of women), this so-called “mancession” is leaving many men wondering how to cope with no longer being the main breadwinner in their homes. A sociological study found that unemployment changes how men think of themselves and how they define masculinity, with many having to construct a new identity in the home, taking on traditionally female tasks like housework and child rearing. While many men may ultimately return to the workforce, the long-term effects of so many being out of work may have a marked impact on family dynamicsand gender roles among some groups.
Sadly, the stress of unemployment and financial problems can lead to increased levels of violence and abuse in the home. A study by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia noted a significant increase in children admitted to the nation’s largest children’s hospitals due to serious physical abuse. They also found a strong correlation between the rate of child abuse and local mortgage foreclosures, linking the increase in at least one way to the economic stresses of the recession. Unfortunately, children aren’t the only ones being victimized in increasing numbers. A survey of law enforcement agencies across the country in 2012 found that 56% of them believed that the recession had caused an increase in domestic conflict, an increase of 16% from the same survey done in 2010.
It’s pretty hard to see a connection between global warming and the recession, but according to researchers, there is one. Despite abundant scientific evidence of human-made climate change, recent years have seen Americans becoming increasingly skeptical that the phenomenon exists, and researchers believe a lot of it has to do with the recession. Why? Researchers posit that many people are too wrapped up in their own economic problems to see climate change as an issue, also seeing measures to stop climate change as inhibiting the economic recovery of the country. In 2008, when the unemployment rate was 4.5%, 65% of people believed climate change was imminent. In 2010, with unemployment at 10%, just 50% said the same. The same effect to a lesser degree was seen across all political parties and in Europe, demonstrating a potentially harmful connection between the economy and environmental issues.
The recession has had some pretty serious effects on health, with many having no insurance coverage, foregoing expensive prescriptions, and even having higher mortality rates. Unfortunately, poor eating habits during the recession may be exacerbating health issues for both adults and children. A study released in 2012 found that the poor economy is forcing many to work longer hours and make spending cuts to stay afloat, which often means that families are eating less healthy food. Mothers who work full-time reported fewer family meals, more frequent fast food meals, less frequent encouragement of healthy eating, and lower fruit and vegetable intake. Nutritional deficits in children could lead to some big and potentially life-long problems for children, who may have more health issues, behavioral problems, and academic performance issues.
America has long been a nation where most live in single-family, nuclear dwellings, but the recession is changing that, for the better some think. The percentage of middle-aged adults living with their parents and children has been growing steadily since hitting a low during the 1970s. Boomeranging children who can’t find work after college or who are struggling to make it on their own are part of the trend, but many are families who are simply trying to save on costs by sharing a home, often where older adults are in charge of watching grandchildren or other relatives. In 2010, a Pew research study found that 21.6% of adults 25-34 were living in a multi-generational home, a huge increase from 1980, when the number was just 11%.
Many married adults seem to be having some trouble with the “for richer or poorer” part of their wedding vows, or so research suggests. Psychologist Omri Gillaith found that men seek out more sexual partners when times are tough, which he believes is an evolutionary last-ditch effort to pass on genes that has stuck around in modern times. Those who thought more about death or felt least secure in their current circumstances were the most sexually driven. In the U.K., researchers found a similar pattern, though with a digital twist, as the number of users of cheating-focused sites has skyrocketed, with some sites recording more than 200% increases in members. A poor housing market, family debt, marital conflict, and the inability to afford a divorce were all factors experts say are feeding the infidelity frenzy.
For many Americans, the recession has meant a lot more sleepless nights. New research suggests that sleep deprivation may be another hidden impact of the recession and one that’s having a serious global impact. Studies in 2011 found that those least likely to suffer from sleep deprivation are the employed and, unsurprisingly, the most likely to suffer from sleep deprivation and insomnia were the unemployed. Also affecting sleep is job satisfaction, hours worked, education, gender, and marital status.
Seniors are usually a pretty low-risk group when it comes to drug addiction, but the recession is changing that, with the stress of foreclosure, high medical bills, and other financial problems driving many to do illegal and often extremely dangerous drugs. Sadly, cities like San Francisco are seeing more and more older adults doing drugs like crack and oxycodone, which has left many rehab and treatment facilities full and overburdened. The elderly aren’t alone in increased drug use. Researchers have found the economic downturns increase levels of alcoholism and addiction in nearly all age groups.
Due to financial losses, many are simply not taking care of their health like they used to. Lack of health insurance, little cash, and other factors have lowered health and wellness in a striking number of Americans. In addition to serious health issues like heart problems, addiction, and obesity on the rise, even simple things like going to the dentist are becoming uncommon. In Florida, many are foregoing dental care and simply heading to the ER in the case of dental emergency, a phenomenon that’s increased 9% since 2008 and cost the state a whopping $88 million. Also affecting the overall health of Americans are depression, lack of sleep, stress, unhealthy eating habits, poor relationships, lack of exercise, and compromised immune systems. With many suffering the effects of the recession for months or years, the health impact could be quite serious over the coming decade.
Unfortunately, the recession isn’t just affecting those who are old enough to have a job; children are also feeling the effect of cutbacks and job loss, and will likely continue to do so for years to come. Government cutbacks on education have meant that many are missing out on educational opportunities, college scholarships, and other factors that can play a big role in their long-term success and many parents may no longer be able to pay for tutors, save for college, or send kids to private schools. Additionally, as parents struggle with working longer hours, kids get less attention and supervision and tempers may flare, resulting in a less than ideal home setting. If the recession of the 1980s is a model of what today’s kids can expect, than they’re in serious trouble. Those who families fell into poverty during the 1980s felt the impact throughout their lives, receiving less education, having more trouble finding and keeping work, suffering from more health problems, and making less money throughout their lives.
While it might be surprising, many who are out of work due to the recession are using their unemployment as an opportunity to start a business. The recession has actually helped to create a spike in the number of new entrepreneurs. According to a study from the Kauffman Foundation, the number of adults starting a new business increased from 300 in 100,000 to 320 in 100,000 between 2007 and 2009. Most of these ventures were low to middle value businesses, perhaps because these are lower risk investments. Georgia, New Mexico, and California were the most entrepreneurship-friendly states, while those in Missouri, Iowa, and Wisconsin were the least likely to start a new business.
During the worst part of the recession from 2006 to 2009, the divorce rate in the U.S. fell by 7%. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is hunky-dory between married couples in the U.S., however. In actuality, only 27% of those who were under financial stress reported being “very happy” in their marriage. The real reason for the decrease? It was simply too expensive to get divorced. As the economy begins to recover, the divorce rate is climbing again, as couples feel more secure and able to afford lawyers and other costs associated with divorce and may be able to better sell or divide up assets that were liabilities during the recession. The bright side? Twenty-nine percent of Americans believe that the recession strengthened their marriage and 38% who had been considering divorce set those plans aside.
Birth rates are taking a serious hit, in part because of the economic uncertainty caused by the recession. A Guttmacher Institute study in 2009 revealed some interesting findings about how women’s views of childbearing have changed due to economic woes. Forty-four percent of women in the study reported that they wanted to reduce or delay childbearing because of the economy, with 7% saying they decided to not have children at all due to financial reasons. Sixty-four percent said they couldn’t afford a baby with the economy the way it is, with those in poor economic circumstances reporting even higher levels of uncertainty at 77%. In fact, America’s population growth is at its lowest rate since the Great Depression, just 9.7%. Birth rate declines are the biggest in states with the highest job loss and foreclosures, with Arizona and California being hit especially hard.
The recession is having a serious and potentially lifelong impact on how people spend, save, invest, and manage money, and the changes aren’t all necessarily for the better. Young adults are the hardest hit group, and the high unemployment and wage loss many are facing may make them lifelong savers and reluctant investors, which could be big trouble when it comes to retirement and economic recovery in the U.S. New evidence suggests that these behavioral shifts are already well underway. The personal savings rate has quadrupled from 2008 levels and a study found that nearly half of those surveyed have stopped investing altogether, with the majority of others not planning to do so for at least another three years. A saddening 43% don’t expect the economy to ever fully recover, which means they won’t be changing those behaviors anytime soon, if ever, which could change the economic fabric of America for decades to come.