Middle class and marginal? Socioeconomic status, stigma, and self-regulation at an elite university

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 May;100(5):838-52. doi: 10.1037/a0021956.


In four studies, the authors investigated the proposal that in the context of an elite university, individuals from relatively lower socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds possess a stigmatized identity and, as such, experience (a) concerns regarding their academic fit and (b) self-regulatory depletion as a result of managing these concerns. Study 1, a correlational study, revealed the predicted associations between SES, concerns about academic fit, and self-regulatory strength. Results from Studies 2 and 3 suggested that self-presentation involving the academic domain is depleting for lower (but not higher) SES students: After a self-presentation task about academic achievement, lower SES students consumed more candy (Study 2) and exhibited poorer Stroop performance (Study 3) relative to their higher SES peers; in contrast, the groups did not differ after discussing a nonacademic topic (Study 3). Study 4 revealed the potential for eliminating the SES group difference in depletion via a social comparison manipulation. Taken together, these studies support the hypothesis that managing concerns about marginality can have deleterious consequences for self-regulatory resources.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Northwestern United States
  • Poverty
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Class*
  • Social Control, Informal*
  • Social Identification
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stereotyping*
  • Stroop Test
  • Students / psychology*
  • Universities*