Elaborating the Connection Between Social Class and Classism in College

Published in: American Journal of Community Psychology, Volume 63, Issue 3-4, pages 476-486 (June 2019). doi: 10.1002/ajcp.12322

Posted on RAND.org on December 24, 2019

by Lauren B. Cattaneo, Wing Yi Chan, Rachel Shor, Kris T. Gebhard, Nour H. Elshabassi

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Scholarship has documented the challenges that face college students of marginalized economic backgrounds, an issue that is relevant for Community Psychology because of the field's commitment to social justice. Community psychologists are concerned with facilitating access to social resources such as education across the full range of social identities. The current study builds on recent research that has identified the key role of classism in students' struggles. We developed a new measure of college student financial stress in order to investigate the relationship between indices of social class (financial stress, subjective social status, and parental education) and indices of classism (institutional, interpersonal, and citational). We also explored whether race or immigration status moderated these relationships in a sample of diverse students (N = 278). Findings show that students' current financial stress has the strongest relationship with classism, and immigration status moderates the exposure to citational classism. Specifically, we found evidence for perpetuation of classism among U.S. born students higher on the social class ladder. Implications for future research include the importance of considering multiple domains of social class, studying social class in a context-specific way, and differentiating dimensions of classism. Findings also suggest that financial stress is an important focus in the work to support marginalized students, and that classist narratives need to be addressed among students of higher social class.

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