Undergraduate Research: Alyssa Deitchman on Economic Shock

Alyssa Deitchman is a graduating senior in Steinhardt’s Department of Applied Psychology. She is a co-editor of Applied Psychology’s online publication, OPUS as well as a recipient of Steinhardt’s John W. Withers award and a President’s Service Award for her contributions in applied psychology.

Your research is called, ‘Household Economic Shock and the Academic Experiences of College Women.’  Why did you choose to undertake this research?

I chose to examine economic loss in college students for a very personal reason in that my family experienced a major bankruptcy when I was younger.  At the time, I had not given much thought to my academic or career goals beyond that of inheriting my dad’s lucrative company. Of course, once we lost everything, my entire view of myself, my future and my options shifted completely.  I was not motivated in school prior to my economic loss because I was set on inheriting millions of dollars– who could blame me for that? After the economic loss, I felt the pressure to establish myself in my career and my own trajectory and became very involved in high school and even more involved and academically motivated once I came to NYU. I undertook this research because I wanted to know if other people who experienced an economic loss at some point in their lives had a similar or different response to the immense pressure and stress that accompanies such a life-changing event.

Can you described briefly who were the subjects of your study and how did you find them?

Participants were recruited mainly through email-list serves, flyers and snowball sampling techniques — which is where you ask people to ask around if they know anyone who would be interested in participating! Six of my participants were seniors at NYU across mainly Steinhardt and Gallatin and 1 was a junior.  While I was initially recruiting for both genders, only females responded, causing me to shift the focus on my work to exclusively women’s issues surrounding economic shock. In terms of their career trajectories, many of these women discussed graduate school and the economic pressures surrounding tuition at graduate school. The experiences of economic shock greatly varied across participants: some discussed major bankruptcies and other discussed minor life adjustments that stemmed from income loss.

What are some of the issues that you uncovered during your research?

My major finding that was uncovered in this research was how economic pressure caused these women to re-evaluate their value systems (increased importance of monetary value in choosing a college major/job) and having to compromise their lifestyle by having to gain employment, go part-time in school or even in some cases, buy less groceries at the store due to economic strain. Because socioeconomic status is largely studied as a static independent variable, viewing it as dynamic highlights a unique perspective that has yet to be studied extensively in the literature.

Tell me one thing I might not know about the effects of economic shock.

The most interesting or unusual finding is the idea that economic pressure truncates the emerging adulthood developmental stage. Emerging adulthood (the elongation of the adolescent period) has been challenged in that it is not translated across cultures. However, tying economic status to emerging adulthood has not yet been discussed at length in the literature. In this way, individuals who experienced a major economic loss have little time to explore career options, get unpaid internships or travel and thus are forced to jump into the job market at a much earlier rate than their peers who have not experienced an economic loss.