Michael Boehm, a researcher at the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance and Bonn University, looked at data from the top 30 universities in the United States from 1955 to 1994.
He found that among students of economics, those who completed their PhDs during a recession went on to produce comparatively more research during their careers, “a fact attributed to the stiff competition for jobs and a need to prove themselves”.
Even though the study focused only on American economists, Dr Boehm argued that the results would “most likely” apply in other countries and disciplines.
The results contrast with the fortunes of those entering the private sector during a recession, he added.
“There is already a lot of evidence out there to show that if you start your career in a recession it can have an ongoing effect for many years. Many people who enter the private sector after graduating can expect to earn a lot less for at least a decade,” he said.
“The academic sector is more stable during a recession – certainly in terms of job security – and there is no real noticeable drop in salaries, unlike the private sector.”
Dr Boehm concluded that this meant that during a recession, universities wielded more power to recruit the most talented in the job market.