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Social Comparison in Coping With Occupational Uncertainty: Self‐Improvement, Self‐Enhancement, and the Regional Context

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Journal of Personality

Published online on


Objective Taking into account the regional context, we investigated whether social comparison in coping with occupational uncertainty served self‐improvement (i.e., adaptive coping) or self‐enhancement (i.e., subjective well‐being). Method Respondents were 620 German adults aged 16 to 43, 59% female, who participated in three yearly follow‐ups of a larger survey. The number of observations was 1,309 for contemporaneous and 1,079 for longitudinal analyses. Participants reported on perceived occupational uncertainty (e.g., risk of losing a job and difficulties with career planning), strategies for coping with it, and whether, and in which direction, they made social comparisons in coping with occupational uncertainty. Results Making social comparisons (vs. not) was associated with higher goal engagement and lower goal disengagement. Upward (as opposed to downward) comparison prospectively predicted higher goal engagement. Under high regional unemployment, upward comparison prospectively predicted lower goal disengagement, whereas making social comparisons was contemporaneously associated with higher subjective well‐being. Higher regional unemployment rates predicted more frequent comparison, whereas comparison direction was predicted only by situational variables, especially personal control over the outcomes. Conclusions When operationalized as a conscious mental action and put in the context of coping with occupational uncertainty, social comparison serves primarily self‐improvement.