Social class
: The role of class identity management strategies in higher education

  • Lukas M. Horstmeier

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The prevailing level of an educational achievement gap between lower-class students and their higher-class peers has led to a growing interest in the psychological dimension of social class in higher education. Complementing objective and subjective measures of social class, this thesis explores the role of class identity management strategies (CIMS). Such strategies are utilized among university students from working-class backgrounds in response to status devaluation. Four commonly observed CIMS in the university context are outlined: (1) desire to change, (2) assimilation, (3) hiding, and (4) categorization-avoidance. Rooted in social identity theory, different CIMS affect class-related psychological outcomes, such as individual mobility beliefs and attitudes towards poverty, in addition to common measures of social class. Structuring equation modeling is used to analyses data from three studies: two cross-sectional (n1= 209, 65% female; n2= 332, 79% female) and one longitudinal (n3= 204, 69% female) from Northern Ireland and the overall United Kingdom. Scales for the four CIMS are developed (Chapter 2) and their relations with socio-economic status (SES) and subjective social status (SSS) are explored (Chapter 3). Furthermore, the explanatory power of CIMS, in comparison to SES, SSS, is explored in regard to students’ individual mobility beliefs (Chapter 4) and attitudes towards poverty (Chapter 5). Suggestions regarding the application of different CIMS and future research on students’ class-based university experiences and social class identities are discussed (Chapter 6). Findings underscore the importance of class-related experiences, such as CIMS, as invisible sources of class-based influence and present evidence for the particular importance of experiences of assimilation.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorLaura Taylor (Supervisor), Christopher Raymond (Supervisor) & Danielle Blaylock (Supervisor)


  • Social class
  • social class identity
  • identity management strategies
  • individual mobility beliefs
  • attitudes towards poverty
  • first- year university students

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