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Research Summary

Manstead, T (2013 - 2014) Identity, socioeconomic status, and well-being: Does positively identifying with a group buffer the negative effect of low SES on well-being? ESRC. £105,437.

Summary

People's level of formal education has a large influence on their status in society. In contrast to status assignment based on gender or on social background of parents, education is seen as a personal responsibility and the resulting status hierarchy could be seen as legitimately based on individual achievement. As a consequence, less educated people occupy a low status position for which they are seen as personally responsible. In this project we will investigate the psychological consequences this has for the well-being of less educated people.

In particular, we think that group identity (or the lack thereof) plays a crucial role in explaining the lower levels of well-being among the less educated. Social groups that are excluded or stigmatized can buffer the negative effects on well-being by identifying with their group and building a positive group identity. The problem for less educated people is that they are likely to have difficulty in constructing a positive group identity because (1) education is seen to be based on individual merit and therefore as legitimate, (2) what defines the group is the very factor that defines social status, that is, the lack of education, and (3) it is difficult to construct a positive identity around a negative attribute such as lack of education.

We predict that less educated people will have lower average well-being, but that there are two things that might buffer or nullify this effect. First, if less educated people perceive the class or educational system to be illegitimate, this means that they reject personal responsibility for their own situation. Second, if less educated people identify strongly with their own class (which is likely to be facilitated by the perceived illegitimacy of the class system) this creates the potential for a positive group identity.

Both of these mechanisms could reinstate the buffering function of a positive group identity. We will investigate these issues using existing survey data from the UK and from an international survey. Several editions from the annual British Social Attitudes survey contain information about how illegitimate people perceive the class system to be and about their identification with the class to which they belong. The British Household Panel Survey contains similar information, but has collected this information at four different moments (between 1991 and 2005) from the same individuals. The International Social Survey Programme also contains similar information but for a wide range of countries, thus giving an international dimension to the analyses. All these data will be used to test the predicted relations between being less educated, perceived legitimacy, group identification, and well-being.

In addition to the dissemination of results via scientific journals and conferences, we will work closely with organisations such as the Sutton Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in order to achieve maximum impact.