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Effects of the recession on students well being

3310 words (13 pages) Essay in Psychology

5/12/16 Psychology Reference this

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During an economic downturn, many people are negatively affected by the financial strain that ensues. The primary intention of this research was to identify if a relationship existed between financial insecurity and students reported mental well being. A second objective was to find out if students who work part time during college score higher on the GHQ than those who do not. The sample consisted of 100 University of Limerick students; their age range was between 18 and 38. There were 45 male and 55 female participants, all participated voluntarily. The study comprised of participants filling out a Likert scale questionnaire. This included a revised 12 item version of Goldbergs’ General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) and a Financial Insecurity Questionnaire (FIQ). The study was an independent subjects design. The key variables were students mental well being as tested by the GHQ and their sense of financial insecurity as tested by the FIQ. Pearson’s correlation coefficient was used to analyze the measure of the strength of the association between the two variables. The results indicated that strength of association between financial insecurity and mental well being is high (r = .674), (P < 0.001). An insignificant association existed in GHQ results for part time workers (M=3.77, SD=2.98) and non part time workers (M=3.54, SD=3.29), p=.539 showing no significance.

The findings indicate that students who scored high on the FIQ also scored high on the GHQ. The larger implication of this is that the recession has had a negative effect on students mental well being. Those with part time jobs did not show significant higher scores on the GHQ than those who do not work.

This study aims to investigate the effect the recession has had a negative impact on college students mental well being. In Ireland the rates of suicide have risen by 35% in the first half of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008, figures from the Central Statistics Office have shown. Of those who died, 40% were under the age of 35 ( A variety of social conditions or statuses are involved in determination of risk for symptoms of mental distress (Cokes & Kornblum 2010). During the economic downturn, the link between recession and health has featured in many countries’ media, political, and medical debate (Jenkins, Fitch, Hurlston, & Walker 2009). As Ireland has the fourth-highest rate of youth suicide in the European Union (, it is imperative that an Investigation takes place on how the current economic recession is affecting young people to curb the cycle of depression and suicide.

Cokes & Kornblum (2010) concluded from their study that although everyone experiences some amount of stress, economic hardship particularly is a stressor that can be expected to have immediate and powerful negative consequence for mental health. The statistics from the Central Statistics Office are in accordance with this finding. Their research was conducted in the U.S.A during the current economic recession so it is very relevant. They found that experiences of frequent mental distress measured in 2009 were extremely elevated compared to community data collected in 2007 (Cokes & Kornblum 2010).

During a typical college semester high levels of stress have been reported for 52% of college students (Hudd, Dumlao, Erdmann-Sager, Murray, Phan & Soukas 2000). Recently the head of counselling services in the University of Limerick has announced an unprecedented increase in demand for these services among students, he expressed the view that the increased demand could be due to a “general reflection of depressing recessionary times and the general doom and gloom in society” (

Results of research carried out by Krause, Jay , Liang (1991) indicate that financial strain tends to erode feelings of control and self-worth. The weakening of these personal resources in turn tends to increases in depressive symptoms. In accordance with this finding is a study by Angel, Frisco, Angel & Chiriboga (2003) on a sample of older Mexican origin participants. They examined the associations among perceived financial strain and various health measures such as self rated health, self-reported functional capacity. Their findings suggest that financial strain appears to be part of cognitions and emotions suggestive of low morale or demoralization that has negative effects on personal health.

The theoretical framework surrounding the area of financial insecurity and stress may be explained by the stress paradigm. Young people attending college are affected by stress in a large way. College students’ reports of being “frequently overwhelmed” during the college term increased from 16% in 1985 to 27% in 2002 (Sax, 1997). Stressors which affect college students can be categorized as academic, financial, time or health related and self-imposed (Misra & McKean, 2000).

This paradigm has evolved to become one of the primary conceptual frameworks used to understand the relationship between Socio Economic Status and health outcomes (Cokes & Kornblum 2010). The consequences of stress include behavioural, cognitive, physiological and organizational effects (Lang, Katz & Menezes 1998). The effects of some stressors can be adapted by social support, coping skills and an internal sense of control (Miech and Shanahan, 2000). Stress, both chronic and acute, has negative physiological effects, and also has long-term costs for health (Cokes & Kornblum, 2010).

An individual’s participation in social networks including interpersonal and interdependent relationships at varying levels of society have shown to contribute to a mental health ‘safety net’ against stressful situations (Robert, 1998). Although students do participate to a large extent in social networks their coping skills may not be as developed as older adults seen in Collins & Smyer’s (2005) study where they found that stress became more variable with age, with older adults using strategies to maintain or increase self-esteem.

‘Recession Fatigue’ has been described as an array of symptoms including cumulative stress, low confidence and low efficiency (Willaims 1994). There are two facets to this situation – the personal experience and its practical features in work situations. Personal features include a growing sense of frustration, uncertainty, disappointment and ineffectiveness, increased tiredness, confusion, with too many problems to solve. In work situations there is a declining personal efficiency such as timekeeping, work backlog, mistakes due to personal stress, fatigue, and external disruption (Willaims 1994). This theoretical framework may account for college students’ levels of stress increasing in this time of recession.

Much research has been carried out on financial strain and their negative effects on the general population, however there is a significant lack of research on the impact the recession has had on students. A major Irish national survey carried out in 2009 showed that 42.2% of people aged 25-39 reported that they “recently found themselves crying or feeling tearful over financial/employment concerns”. This is in severe contrast to just 12.8% over Ireland’s over-55s reporting this level of distress ( An explanation of this finding may be provided by the following studies.

Collins & Smyer (2005) investigated the relationship between loss and change in self-esteem through a 3-year period in late adulthood. They examined loss in the areas of health, financial security, or work and career and self-esteem before and after the loss. Their results found that loss in one of the areas explained less than 1% of the variance in self-esteem change. The researchers deduced from this that the low incidence of loss and small change in high levels of self-esteem are evidence of resilience in older adults’ psychological well-being. These results point to evidence that self esteem does not decline with age however it becomes more variable with age especially in the older age group. A reason for this may be that older adults use strategies to maintain self esteem.

Solantaus, Leinonen and Punamäki (2004) found that a drop in disposable family income posed a risk for child mental health through increased economic pressure and negative changes in parental mental health, marital interaction, and parenting quality. These studies are evidence of the strong negative correlation between financial and mental health. College students who have a part time job may feel under more pressure than most when it comes to college work. This extra stress may impact negatively on their mental well being.

Barton (1989) concluded in his study that for adolescence part time employment during the school year is associated with lower academic achievement and lower school involvement. Steinberg, Fegley & Dornbusch (1993) conducted a study on the negative impact part time work has on students’ performance in school. Their results indicated that non workers generally were better adjusted than adolescents with moderate work hours, who in turn were better adjusted than adolescents with long work hours. Their class attendance was lower than those who did not work, they had lower expectations of their educational achievements and they had a more negative attitude towards education in general. The article also suggested that working part-time during school negatively affects adoslecents self-esteem .

Along with assessing the impact that financial strain has on students’ mental health, the researchers aim to investigate if students who work part time feel under more strain than those who do not. During this time of recession many students feel they need to work to ease money worries for both themselves and their families. As many college students work part time as well as attending college full time, the researchers in this study feel that there will be a negative correlation between their GHQ results and working during term time.

The researches hypothesize that there will be a significant correlation between financial insecurity and student’s mental well being. A second prediction is that students who work part time during college will have higher stress levels, shown through high scores on the GHQ.



The sample consisted of 100 University of Limerick students; their age range was between 18 and 38. There were 45 male and 55 female participants, all of which participated voluntarily. The sample consisted of 89 undergraduate students and 11 postgraduate students.


Questionnaires were administered by the researchers to participants at random throughout the University of Limerick campus. Each participant was given an information sheet and was asked to sign an informed consent sheet. Participants then received copies of the questionnaires and participants were asked to read each question carefully and define one’s answer by ticking the most suitable box for them. The Financial Security Questionnaire (FSQ) asked participants to indicate their preference on a seven point likert scale regarding their attitudes towards the economic downturn and their own financial position. The General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) is a means of assessing the mental and general health of participants, and it is a frequently used standardized test. All participants were given a detailed debriefing after they had completed the questionnaire. Included in this were the contact details of the UL counselling centre if participants felt that they had been affected by the sensitive nature of the research.


The aim of the research was to investigate if a relationship existed between student’s financial security and their mental well-being. A secondary hypothesis was to examine whether those students who worked felt that it impacted negatively on their studies.

This was a between-subjects design. Each participant completed the survey in one sitting. The two variables were financial security and general well-being. As it was a correlational design there was no independent or dependent variables. Each participant was approached at random on the UL campus and researchers ensured that they were UL students and were over eighteen years of age. Indirect controls were authorised within the research. Counter balancing was performed in order to prevent implicit bias. In the 50 questionnaires the GHQ was presented first and the financial security questionnaire secondly and vice versa with the remaining 50 questionnaires.Positively and negatively worded statements were present in both the FSQ and GHQ to encourage the participants to process the questions in a more comprehensive manner.


The GHQ-12 is a revised edition of Goldberg’s General Health Questionnaire and is a standardised method of assessing a person’s mental health over the past few weeks. This is a four point scale and was labelled with the possible options “more than usual, same as usual, less than usual and much less than usual”.

The FSQ consisted of sixteen statements about personal financial security in relation to the general economic downturn. This scale was created to measure of people’s attitudes towards the current economic situation and its effects on their lives. A seven point likert scale was used; with options ranging from “strongly disagree to strongly agree”.


Reliability of Financial Security.

Reliability Statistics 16 item Financial Security Scale

Cronbach’s Alpha

N of Items


16Table 1

Three items were excluded as they reduced the reliability of the scale and were not directly related to financial security prior to this, internal consistency measured using Cronbach’s alpha for the financial security scale from the sample was .70. This score indicates acceptable reliability as it is in the sufficient score range for acceptable reliability of 0.6-0.7.

Table 2

Reliability Statistics of the 13 item Financial Insecurity Scale

Cronbach’s Alpha

N of Items



In a revised addition of a thirteen item scale, the Cronbach’s alpha for the financial insecurity scale from the current sample was .82. This score indicates good reliability as it is once again higher than the minimum Cronbach’s alpha of .7.

Table 3

GHQ Reliability

Reliability Statistics for the General Health Questionnaire

Cronbach’s Alpha

N of Items



The Cronbach’s alpha for the General Health Questionnaire was 0.803, showing good reliability.

Correlational Analysis

Table 4


Financial Security


Pearson Correlation



Sig. (2-tailed)





Financial Insecurity

Pearson Correlation



Sig. (2-tailed)





**. Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).

There was a significant positive correlation between financial insecurity and general well being (r=.674, N=100, p<.001).

Figure 1

Independent Samples T-test investigating; The General Health Well-being and having a Part time job.

Table 5


Do you have a part time job?


Mean Rank

Sum of Ranks












Group Statistics

Do you have aport time job



Std. Deviation

Std. Error Mean













Mann-Whitney U


Wilcoxon W




Asymp. Sig. (2-tailed)


Do you have a Part time job

There was no statistically significant difference between students who had part time jobs and students who did not have part time jobs in relation to their general well being (U=1161, 000, N1=49, N2=51, p.=.539, two tailed.)


The results indicate a strong relationship between the variables of financial insecurity and students reported scores on the GHQ, proving the first hypothesis. However, no significant association was found between students who work and their GHQ scores compared to those who do not work thus the null hypothesis must be accepted in this case. The GHQ measured students general mental well being over the past few weeks, with a high score indicating high mental strain. Those who were more financially under strain scored higher on the GHQ compared to those not under as much financial strain.

These results are in accordance with Cokes & Kornblum (2010) study which concluded economic hardship is a stressor in particular that can be expected to have immediate and powerful negative consequence for mental health. The GHQ results compounded this statement. Similarily, research carried out by Krause, Jay , Liang (1991) indicated that financial strain erodes feelings of control and self-worth. Some items on the GHQ specifically measured participant’s feelings of self worth. The weakening of these personal resources in turn tends to result in increases in depressive symptoms.

The results found indicate that mental health care resources may be an important area to focus on in times of economic crises (Wen, Browning, & Cagney2003). Evidence of this need is further emphasised by the Chairperson of the Irish Mental Health Coalition, John Saunders who has said that the demand for Console’s counselling services has risen by 20% nationwide in the last 12 months, while the latest figures from the Samaritans show that 1 in 10 of their calls is related to the financial crisis. ( ). Moreover, further research needs to be done to establish how long these reported results last.

The acceptance of the null hypothesis in the case of part time workers and levels of strain is not in accordance with previous research where Steinberg, Fegley & Dornbusch (1993) found that working part-time during school negatively affects adoslecents self-esteem. There was no significant correlation shown in this case but this cannot be generalized to the larger population. In the Financial Insecurity Questionnaire the participant was not asked how many hours they worked per week, thus the hypthesis may not have been tested in an adequate manner. Also one must take into account that while working people are generally time conscious as they may have to work within deadlines. The working student may practice these time management skills in relation to their studies, thus proving to be more efficent.

There were a number of limitations prevelent in this research which should be addressed for future studies. The generalizability of the results is questionable as there was a small sample size of only 100 participants. Furthermore the study took place during one the worst recessions in Ireland, and due to the mean average age of participants it is probably the first one they have experienced first hand. The method of selecting participants on campus may have immediately eliminated students who work long hours during the day, therfore may not have the opportunity to attend college as much as they should. Also as the recession offically began in 2008, many of the students affected in a major way financially may have already dropped out of college.

The reliability of the FIQ is questionable as the researchers had to remove 3 items from the scale to make it reliable. Questions have been raised over the clarity of some questions in the study, the fact that it was self reporting may have caused ambiguity for the participants. While correlational studies can suggest that there is a relationship between two variables, they cannot prove that one variable causes a change in another variable. In other words, correlation does not equal causation. Therefore we do not know for certain if the recession has been the cause of a high GHQ score. Other variables may have played a role in students score on the GHQ, including social relationships, cognitive abilities, personality and socio-economic status. Regardless of these limitations, the survey provides highly suggestive data upon which to base larger, more in-depth population survey studies. Perhaps coping mechanisms be addressed as in Collins & Smyer’s (2005) study where they found that stress became more variable with age, with older adults using strategies to maintain or increase self-esteem. Perhaps college students are only developing their strategies at the moment, thus are not mature enough to deal effectively with financial strains brought on by the recession.

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