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Social class and wellbeing among staff and students in higher education settings: Mapping the problem and exploring underlying mechanisms

Dougall, I. and Weick, M. and Vasiljevic, M. (2021) 'Social class and wellbeing among staff and students in higher education settings: Mapping the problem and exploring underlying mechanisms.', Journal of Applied Social Psychology .


Within Higher Education (HE), staff and students from lower social class backgrounds often experience poorer wellbeing than their higher social class counterparts. Previous research conducted outside educational contexts has linked social class differences in wellbeing with differences in the extent to which low and high social class individuals feel respected (i.e., status), in control (i.e., autonomy), and connected with others (i.e., inclusion). However, to our knowledge, there has been no research that has investigated those psychosocial needs within HE settings. Furthermore, inclusion, status and autonomy are correlated, yet little is known about how these psychosocial needs contribute to wellbeing simultaneously, and independently, of one another. To fill these gaps, we report the results of two studies; firstly with HE students (Study 1; N = 305), and secondly with HE staff (Study 2; N = 261). Consistently across studies, reports of poor wellbeing were relatively common and more than twice as prevalent amongst lower social class staff and students compared to higher social class staff and students. Inclusion, status and autonomy each made a unique contribution and accounted for the relationship between social class and wellbeing (fully amongst students, and partially amongst staff members). These relationships held across various operationalisations of social class and when examining a range of facets of wellbeing. Social class along with inclusion, status and autonomy explained a substantial 40% of the variance in wellbeing. The present research contributes to the literature exploring how social class intersects with psychosocial needs to impact the wellbeing of staff and students within HE.

Item Type:Article
Keywords:social class, wellbeing, Higher Education, status, autonomy, inclusion
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo until 09 August 2022.
(AM) Accepted Manuscript
File format - PDF
Publisher Web site:
Date accepted:15 July 2021
Date deposited:11 August 2021
Date of first online publication:09 August 2021
Date first made open access:09 August 2022

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