Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The Effects of Sexism on Women Miners' Mental Health and Job Satisfaction

In the mining industry, women make up only 19.4% of the workers in Canada, 16.4% in Australia, and 13.3% in the USA (Catalyst, 2015). In the present research, we investigated women’s experiences of sexism in this male-dominated industry and how these experiences related to women’s mental health and job satisfaction.

We surveyed 263 women miners from an Australian-based mining company that has operations in Australia, Africa, South America, and South East Asia. Participants responded to items about sexism, sense of belonging, mental health, and job satisfaction. 

Our research focused on two types of sexism: organizational sexism and interpersonal sexism. Organizational sexism refers to structural inequalities in an organization that are connected with opportunities for promotion and career progression, job stability, training, pay, competence, work-life balance, and performance standards. We found that women miners who felt relatively disadvantaged on these dimensions reported poorer mental health and job satisfaction. Hence, a potential strategy to improve women miners’ mental health and job satisfaction may be to reduce their perceived and actual disadvantage on these dimensions. This might be achieved through a combination of structural changes in the workplace (e.g., more opportunities for women miners’ career progression) and/or greater transparency in the gender-based similarities on these dimensions (e.g., publication of workforce statistics demonstrating equality of pay).

Interpersonal sexism refers to inappropriate images of women in the workplace, sexual harassment, and sexist comments. Like organizational sexism, interpersonal sexism was negatively related to mental health and job satisfaction. Interpersonal sexism is more ingrained in wider intergender relations in society, and addressing interpersonal sexism effectively is likely to require a partnership between employers and (male and female) employees.

A third variable that was associated with women miners' mental health and job satisfaction was sense of belonging in the industry. This variable mediated the effects of organizational sexism on job satisfaction. Hence, an additional approach towards improving women miners’ job satisfaction may be to increase their sense of belonging. An increased sense of belonging may be achieved by promoting community events both within the female group of miners (i.e., as a group of “women miners”) and within the industry as whole (i.e., women identifying as “miners”).

We also found some interesting cross-country differences. Women who worked at Australian mine sites reported significantly less organizational and interpersonal sexism and fewer mental health problems than did women who worked at African, South American, and South East Asian worksites. These differences may reflect cross-cultural differences, with Australia’s more progressive Western culture prescribing less sexism and better mental health practices in the workplace.

It is important to note that our study’s cross-sectional correlational design prevents clear conclusions regarding the causal direction of the associations between the variables that we studied. Future research may wish to use longitudinal research designs to address this issue.

For further information about this research, please see the following journal article:

Rubin. M., Subasic, E., Giacomini, A., & Paolini, S. (2017). An exploratory study of the relations between women miners’ gender-based workplace issues and their mental health and job satisfaction. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. doi: 10.1111/jasp.12448 

For an open access self-archived version, please click here.

Monday, 6 March 2017

If Collectivists like Social Groups, and Cities are Social Groups, do Collectivists like Cities?

Do you like the place where you live? Maybe it's got great architecture, it's clean and crime free, the housing is cheap, and/or the nightlife is good? But maybe your liking for the place is also related to something else - your own tendency to identify with social groups? In some recent research, my colleagues and I investigated this issue by considering the relations between collectivism, city identification, and city evaluation.

Collectivism is a sociocultural orientation towards perceiving the self and others as belonging to social groups, and it influences the extent to which people identify with social groups. The more collectivist you are, the more strongly you identify with social groups.  Prior research has found that people who identify strongly with a place tend to like that place more. Hence, it is possible that people who are relatively high in collectivism identify strongly with the place that they live and, consequently, evaluate that place more positively.

To investigate this possibility, my colleagues and I sampled 1,660 residents of four cities in three countries: Newcastle, Australia; Sydney, Australia; Paris, France; and Istanbul, Turkey. Participants completed an online survey containing measures of collectivism, city identification, and city evaluation. We found that, within each city sample and across the combined samples, a specific measure of collectivism called collective interdependent self-construal was positively related to city evaluation. We also found that city identification mediated this relation. Hence, people's general tendency to construe social groups as part of their self (collectivism; e.g., “The groups I belong to are an important reflection of who I am”) predicted their level of identification with their city (city identification; e.g., "I identify with other people living in Sydney"), which in turn helped to explain their positive appraisal of that city (city evaluation).

A key limitation of our research is that it employed a cross-sectional correlational design, which prevented us from drawing clear conclusions about the causal direction of the relations that we observed. Future research should employ a longitudinal research design in order to provide clearer conclusions on this issue.

The present research results imply that the social psychological group processes that are responsible for people's identification with and evaluation of social groups based on gender, ethnicity, nationality, etc. may also apply to cities because, at their base, cities are social groups.

For further information please see the following journal article:

Rubin, M., Badea, C., Condie, J., Mahfud, Y., Morrison, T., & Peker, M. (2017). Individual differences in collectivism predict city identification and city evaluation in Australian, French, and Turkish cities Journal of Environmental Psychology, 50, 9-16 DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2017.01.007

For a self-archived version, please click here.  

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Lower Social Status Causes Less Social Contact and More Depression in Uni Students

A person’s subjective social status reflects how they rank themselves relative to others in their community. Social status can be considered to be a psychological dimension of social class and socioeconomic status, and it has been shown to be positively related to mental health: The higher one’s perceived social status, the better one’s mental health. However, the process underlying this relation is unclear. In some recent research, my colleagues and I considered social contact as a potential explanatory variable. We investigated the possibility that lower social class reduces the amount of social contact that people have with others, and that this reduced social contact leads to poorer mental health.

We asked 314 first-year undergraduate students at an Australian university to complete an online survey in which they indicated their perceived social status in terms of their money, education, and occupation relative to other people in Australia. Students also indicated the amount of social contact that they had with university friends during the past week (e.g., face-to-face meetings, social media, phone, text messages, etc.). Finally, students reported on the depression, anxiety, and stress that they had experienced over the past week. Students completed the survey twice at least 11 weeks apart. This longitudinal research design allowed us to reach firmer conclusions about the causality.

Our results showed that students who perceived themselves to be lower in social status had less social contact with university friends and greater depressive symptoms. Furthermore, lack of social contact helped to explain (mediated) the relation between social status and depressive symptoms. Notably, these effects were restricted to depressive symptoms and did not generalize to either anxiety or stress, perhaps because depression is more of an interpersonal disorder than either anxiety or stress.

Our research findings suggest that lower class students may be more depressed partly because they have less social contact with friends at university. One method of addressing this problem is to increase the amount of social contact with other university students, perhaps via online social media.

More generally, the present results highlight the importance of social contact in the relation between social status and mental health. Having a lower social status appears to be detrimental to mental health partly because it impacts negatively on one's social relationships. Beneficial mental health interventions may attempt to leverage this social process by improving the quality and quantity of people's social relationships.

For more information, please see the following journal article:

Rubin, M., Evans, O., & Wilkinson, R. (2016). A longitudinal study of the relations among university students' subjective social status, social contact with university friends, and mental health and well-being Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 35 (9), 722-737. doi: 10.1521/jscp.2016.35.9.722

For a self-archived version of the article, please click here.

This study was supported by a research grant from the Australian Government’s Department of Education Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Programme National Priorities Pool.   

Monday, 12 September 2016

Older Women, Deeper Learning, and Greater Satisfaction at University

“The ‘ideal learner’, from an institutional view, is young, well-resourced and not bound by conflicting family obligations” (Mallman & Lee, 2014, p. 3). However, some recent research published in the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education challenges this view. If we consider “ideal learners” to be active, independent, critical, and inquisitive students who go beyond the set curriculum, then older women should be regarded as more ideal than younger women and men of all ages.

In our research, we asked 983 Australian undergraduate students to complete a research survey that contained measures of learning approach and degree satisfaction. We found that older women showed the greatest deep learning. In other words, they were most likely to go beyond the set curriculum and relate the material that they studied to its wider context. This greater deep learning helped to explain older women’s greater satisfaction with their degree.

This study corroborates previous qualitative research in this area, which has found that older women have more intrinsic motives for undertaking higher education. For example, consider the following quotes from mature-aged female university students:

“I’m not doing this because I want to change my job.  I’m not doing this because I think it’s going to get me any more money, I’m doing it because I want to learn” (McCune, Hounsell, Christie, Cree, & Tett, 2010, p. 696).

“I’m not doing it for vocational reasons.  I’m doing it for me” (Reay, 2003, p. 304).

For more information, please see the following journal article:

Rubin, M., Scevak, J., Southgate, E., Macqueen, S., Williams, P., & Douglas, H. (2016). Older women, deeper learning, and greater satisfaction at university: Age and gender predict university students’ learning approach and degree satisfaction. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. doi: 10.1037/dhe0000042

For a self-archived version of the article, please click here

Friday, 11 March 2016

Mates Make Groups for Individualists But Not for Collectivists

Humans are an incredibly groupy type of animal. We form psychologically-meaningful groups based on our gender, age, nationality, religion, politics, skin colour, occupation, sexual inclination, and sports teams, to name just a few. Even in the artificial environment of psychology labs, people will identify with groups based on their totally random allocation to “Group A.” Indeed, they will declare that they feel “more similar” to Group A members than to Group B members, and even discriminate in favour of Group A members and against Group B members! But does everyone around the world identify with groups in the same way?

To investigate this issue, my colleagues and I conducted two studies in which we compared individualists (people from Western countries such as Australia and the USA) with collectivists (people from non-Western countries such as China and India). We measured people’s interpersonal closeness with other group members (in-group ties) and the degree to which they felt similar to other group members (perceived self-to-group similarity; a key indicator of social identification). In both studies, we found that interpersonal closeness was a significant positive predictor of perceived self-to-group similarity. In other words, the closer people felt to other people in their groups, the more similar they felt to them. Critically, however, this positive relation only held for individualists. There was no significant relationship between perceived interpersonal closeness and self-to-group similarity among the collectivists in our samples.

This suggests that interpersonal closeness is a stronger predictor of social identification among people from individualist cultures than among people from collectivist cultures. This is an important finding because social identification predicts prejudice and stereotyping, and so a better understanding of cross-cultural differences in the basis for social identification may help to improve the effectiveness of social interventions that reduce prejudice and stereotyping. For example, interventions based on interpersonal closeness may be more effective among people from individualist Western countries like the USA than among people from collectivist non-Western countries like China.

Our research helps to explain the basis for social identification among individualists. But it does leave an important question unanswered: On what basis do collectivists form their social identities? If interpersonal ties with other group members are not crucial, then what is? We believe that group harmony and sense of duty may represent two potential answers to this question.

For further information about this research, please see the following journal article:

Rubin, M., Milanov, M., & Paolini, S. (2016). Uncovering the diverse cultural bases of social identity: Ingroup ties predict self-stereotyping among individualists but not among collectivists Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 19 (3), 225-234 DOI: 10.1111/ajsp.12137   Self-Archived Version

For a You Tube video explaining the research, please click here.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Social Class Differences in Mental Health: Do Parenting Style and Friendship Play a Role?

It is now well-established that social class and socioeconomic status (SES) are positively related to mental health.  For example, a meta-analysis of 51 studies found that people with a higher SES are less likely to be depressed than people with a lower SES. However, researchers remain unclear about the specific processes that underlie the relation between social class and depression.

In some recent research, Benjamin Kelly and I investigated the potential roles of parenting style and friendship in explaining the relationship between social class and mental health. We predicted that people from higher social class backgrounds experience a warmer and more responsive parenting style from their mother and father than students from lower social class backgrounds, who experience a more restrictive, disciplinary, and controlling parenting style. We also predicted that a more responsive parenting style promotes the development of a range of socially-beneficial psychological resources such as self-management and social competence, which enable people to develop more and better quality friendships.  In turn, better friendships were expected to lead to better mental health and well-being due to their stress-buffering effects and beneficial effects on self-esteem, sense of belonging, and perceived social support. Our model is outlined below.

We tested our model using a sample of 397 psychology undergraduate students at a large public Australian university. Consistent with our predictions, we found that:

  1. Students with higher social class experienced better mental health and well-being than students with lower social class.
  2. Students with higher social class reported their parents to be the warmer and less disciplinary than students with lower social class.
  3. Students with higher social class reported better friendships social integration at university than students with lower social class.
  4. Students who had experienced a warmer and less disciplinary parenting style reported (a) better friendships and (b) better mental health.
  5. Friendship and social integration mediated (statistically explained) the relation between social class and mental health.
Based on this evidence, we concluded that working-class parenting styles may inhibit the development of socially-supportive friendships that protect against mental health problems at university.

Our single cross-sectional study only provides preliminary evidence, and further longitudinal studies that sample from different populations are required in order to arrive at firmer conclusions. However, our initial results suggest two potential interventions for reducing social class differences in mental health in university communities and, potentially other communities if our effects generalize to these communities.  The first is to increase working-class people’s social integration, and I have discussed this issue with regards to working-class students at university elsewhere. The second, more distal intervention is to alter the working-class parenting style in order to make it warmer, more responsive, and less disciplinary. However, any such parenting style intervention needs to take into consideration the impact of an array of sociocultural factors, and we consider these in some depth in our article.

For more information about this research, please see the following open-access article:

Rubin, M., & Kelly, B. (2015). A cross-sectional investigation of parenting style and friendship as mediators of the relation between social class and mental health in a university community International Journal for Equity in Health, 14 (1), 1-11 DOI: 10.1186/s12939-015-0227-2

Friday, 12 December 2014

Party On! (If You're Middle-Class and Young): Age Differences Explain Social Class Differences in University Friendships

In a recent meta-analytic review, I found that working-class students are less integrated at university than their middle-class peers. I offered up nine potential explanations for this working-class exclusion effect. It turns out that one of the simplest explanations in this list is also the most promising. It’s all to do with age.

Working-class students tend to be older than middle-class students. Why? Most likely because they don’t tend to go to university immediately after school but instead get out into the real world and earn a bit of money before accumulating the financial security to upskill in higher education (James, 2000). So, there tends to be a negative correlation between social class and age at university. Younger students tend to be middle-class school leavers, and older students tend to be more mature-aged, worldly-wise students.

In some recent research, Chrysalis Wright and I found that age differences help to explain social class differences in students’ friendships. We surveyed 376 first-year undergraduate psychology students, asking them how many friends they had at uni and how much their friends mattered to their identity. We found that working-class students had fewer identity-relevant friends and regarded the friends that they did have as being less relevant to their identity. Moreover, we found that age differences explained this social class effect.
Put Your Hands Up!...Unless you have kids and no money to go out!
So what? Well, as I’ve argued elsewhere, a potentially important method of improving working-class students’ academic outcomes is to improve the quality and quantity of their university friendships. University friends can help to explain coursework assignments, remind one another about due dates, act as study buddies, provide a shoulder to cry on during stressful periods, and instil a sense of belonging and institutional identification that increases degree commitment and persistence. Research has shown that working-class students are most in need of this type of support.

What our current research shows is that any attempts at improving working-class students’ friendships need to take their more mature age into account. So, night-time discos and parties might be fun for the 20-somethings, but it’s not a realistic approach to social integration for the more mature-aged, child-caring, working-class students. Likewise, on-campus accommodation is an excellent method of improving social integration at university, but this tried-and-tested approach needs to be adapted to take into account students’ social class, age, and concomitant family commitments.

Last thing before I go! Our research found that working-class students had not only fewer friends than middle-class students but also less desire and concern about making new friends. Hence, simply providing opportunities for friendship-building is unlikely to be sufficient. Universities also need to motivate older working-class students to participate in social life at university, perhaps through the use of information campaigns that highlight the informational and emotional support that is provided by university friends.

For more information about our research, please see the following paper:

Rubin, M., & Wright, C. (2014). Age differences explain social class differences in students’ friendship at university: Implications for transition and retention Higher Education DOI: 10.1007/s10734-014-9844-8

Please click here for a self-archived version. 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

How You Feel About People is Related to How You Feel About Cities

You take delight not in a city's seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours. (Calvino, 1978, p. 44).

There are numerous structural factors that influence people’s attitudes towards cities, including the city’s architecture, size, infrastructure, transport, crime rates, population density, and quality of housing, to name just a few.  However, as the Italian writer Calvino (1978) alluded to in his book Invisible Cities, these factors may be constituents of broader sociocultural “questions” that people ask about their cities.  For example, residents’ concern about the transport and entertainment venues of a city might form part of a broader social psychological concern about the potential for the city to accommodate their need to meet friends and socialize with others. Alternatively, people might focus on a city’s economy and job opportunities because they are concerned about the ability of the city to meet their needs for personal income and wealth.

Hong Kong - Why Would You Want to Live There?
In some recently published research, Dr Tessa Morrison and I predicted that individual differences in individualism and collectivism operate as important predictors of people's city needs and goals. Individualism and collectivism are sociocultural orientations towards treating the self and others as individuals or group members respectively: Individualists see themselves and others as being self-reliant, autonomous, and independent, whereas collectivists are more interdependent and concerned about their social groups, including their family, friends, and community. We predicted that these dispositional orientations towards the self and others might also influence how people feel about cities.

To test our predictions, we asked 148 psychology undergraduate students to take virtual guided tours around one of four Utopian historical cities - cities that had never been built and were unfamiliar to our participants. YouTube videos of the four guided tours can be viewed here: Christianopolis, City of the Sun, New Harmony, and Victoria, and the picture below shows a scene from one of the tours. Participants then evaluated the cities’ liveability and environmental quality and completed measures of individualism and collectivism.

Consistent with our predictions, people with a strong sense of self-responsibility (a form of individualism) tended to evaluate the virtual cities in terms of their potential to meet the goal of acquiring resources, income, and wealth, whereas people with a strong sense of collectivism tended to evaluate the cities in terms of their potential to provide community and a sense of connection with others.

Scene from a virtual tour around the Utopian city of Victoria

To paraphrase Calvino (1978), city evaluation may be based on the answers that cities provide to our questions. However, our research suggests that different types of people have different types of questions. Individualists appear to ask: “can this city enhance my personal wealth?” whereas collectivists appear to ask: “can this city enhance my group’s community?”

These findings are important because they can help us to understand why some people choose to move into certain cities and others choose to leave. However, a key limitation of our work is that it lacked ecological validity because it involved nonresidents evaluating novel, historical, virtual, and unpopulated cities. In our future research, we intend to measure residents’ evaluations of more familiar, modern, real-world, populated cities.

For further information, please see the following journal article:

Rubin, M., & Morrison, T. (2014). Individual Differences in Individualism and Collectivism Predict Ratings of Virtual Cities’ Liveability and Environmental Quality The Journal of General Psychology, 141 (4), 348-372 DOI: 10.1080/00221309.2014.938721

A self-archived version of this journal article is available here.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

“I am Working-Class”: Self-Identification as a Measure of Social Class in Educational Research

Governments around the world are trying to open up higher education to working-class people. For example, in January this year, the White House released a report titled: "Increasing college opportunity for low-income students: Promising models and a call to action."

In the context of this general push towards widening participation in higher education, my colleagues and I have been developing a research project that aims to investigate social class differences in social integration among students atuniversity. After all, we need to bring working-class people into our universities socially and psychologically as well as physically. Our Australian research team includes myself, Dr Nida Denson from the University of Western Sydney, Prof Sue Kilpatrick from the University of Tasmania, Ms Kelly Matthews from the University of Queensland, Dr Tom Stehlik from the University of South Australia, and Dr David Zyngier from Monash University.

As we developed our research project, we quickly realised that the measurement of social class is an extremely contentious issue, with different researchers often preferring different measures. In particular, we noticed that there was a clear divergence between social psychologists and educational researchers in the types of social class measures that they used. Following the recommendations of a 2006 American Psychological Association report on measuring social class, modern-day social psychologists use subjective, self-identification measures of social class alongside more objective measures of income, occupation, and education (for a good example, see Michael Kraus’ work). In contrast, educational researchers have tended to restrict themselves to objective measures and to ignore the more subjective aspects of social class (for a recent review, see Rubin, 2012; for a notable exception, see Ostrove & Long, 2007).

We have discussed this interdisciplinary discrepancy in a recent review article published online this month in Educational Researcher. In our article, we call for educational researchers to follow the lead of social psychologists and complement (not replace) their objective measures of social class with measures of subjective social class. We believe that subjective measures are not only valid and reliable but also more direct and sensitive in their assessment of social class compared with objective measures. Most importantly, subjective measures tap the social identity aspect of social class, and they give a voice to students’ own opinions about their social class.

For further information, please see the following article: 

Rubin, M., Denson, N., Kilpatrick, S., Matthews, K., Stehlik, T., & Zyngier, D. (2014). "I am working-class": Subjective self-definition as a missing measure of social class and socioeconomic status in higher education research. Educational Researcher DOI: 10.3102/0013189X14528373 

A self-archived version of this journal article is available here.