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How a Bad Economy Makes Us Feel Better Than Average

Here’s a surprising thought: as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, each of us is more likely to rate ourselves as being farther above average. That’s the surprising message from a study of 1,625 people in 15 culturally diverse countries, which found that economic inequality is a strong predictor of what’s called “self-enhancement.” In the study published in Psychological Science, university students were asked to rate themselves from 1 to 7 on various personality traits — how much of the trait they possessed compared with the average student, and how desirable the trait was. Four versions of the questionnaire listed different traits related to agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, open-mindedness, and emotionality. The analytic design adjusted for differing cultural values. The researchers looked at the correlations between evidence of self-enhancement and the individualism or collectivism of a country, its “power distance” (the preference for an autocratic hierarchy versus relative equality of power), and its level of economic inequality. Here’s what they found: Virtually ev …

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