Perceived socioeconomic status, educational outcomes and behaviour problems in adolescence: A mixed methods approach

Principal investigator


Caroline E Temcheff, Anne-Marie Tougas

Project status:


June 2015 - May 2017


Traditional models explaining why socioeconomic status is so important for adolescent educational and behavioural outcomes has focused on either the structural or individual factors by which SES shapes these outcomes. The Sociocultural Self Model proposes that self-concept plays an important role in understanding the link between the structural and individual-level factors that shape experiences of socioeconomic disadvantage. Adolescents consistently report positive attitudes towards the rich and negative attitudes towards the poor, regardless of their own socioeconomic status. Few studies, however, focus the nature and consequences self-perceptions of socioeconomic status. The existing work that has largely consists of either (1) qualitative interviews with undergraduate students, which are difficult to link with academic achievement or behavioural outcomes, or (2) single-item measures of perceived social status, which are problematic given the likely multifaceted structure of adolescent perceptions. To address this gap, a mixed-methods design will be used to develop a measure of perceived socioeconomic status among adolescents. These qualitative perceptions and quantitative survey responses will be subsequently linked with educational outcomes (i.e., academic achievement, academic motivation, school attachment and truancy) and behaviour problems (i.e., disruptive or undesirable behaviour). The first phase of the study will employ qualitative data collection with high school students in Sherbrooke, Quebec. Prior to the initial interviews, the questions will be approved by a steering committee of educational professionals who work with adolescents (e.g., school teachers, psychoeducators and school counsellors). The interviews with the students will start with specific and concrete questions on the socioeconomic status variation within their schools. Youth will be subsequently asked about their perceptions of non-tangible indicators of socioeconomic status, using a critical incident approach (e.g., when was the last time you were reminded about the wealth of your family). Finally, the third set of questions will ask youth to discuss how their perceptions of socioeconomic status relate to their educational goals and problem behaviours. These interviews will be transcribed and coded, and participants will be recruited until saturation is attained (approximately 30 hour-long interviews). These coded interviews will be employed as the source material for measure item development. Questionnaire items will be approved by both the initial steering committee and by a panel of experts in poverty and adolescent development. The second phase of this project will employ quantitative methods to assess measure validity and reliability. The first step in this validation will involve testing the perceived socioeconomic status items, along with additional measures of perceived social status and self-reported family income, to assess convergent and divergent validity. These measures will be included as part of an ongoing, FRQSC funded project of high school students in Sherbrooke, Quebec (N = 175). The final items will be compiled, and will be re-validated within an ongoing SSHRC, FQRS and CIHR funded study of youth with and without conduct problems (N = 175). Along with measures of social status, this study includes longitudinal assessments of parent-reported socioeconomic status, parent, teacher, and youth reported educational outcomes and behaviour problems. The third phase of the project takes a mixed-method approach to understand how perceived socioeconomic status is associated with educational outcomes and behaviour problems. Youth’s qualitative perceptions of the associations between socioeconomic status and educational and behavioural outcomes from the first phase and their quantitative responses on measures of perceived socioeconomic status, educational outcomes and problem behaviours at the second phase will be compared. Taking a multiphase, mixed methods approach adheres to modern measure development guidelines and permits for a deeper understanding of how youth experience perceived socioeconomic status, informing future research in this area.

Funding Organization:

Conseil de Recherches en Sciences Humaines du Canada (CRSH) - SSHRC Insight Development Grant
Axis 2:
Change the developmental pathways and the trajectories of children who have difficulties due to their individual or environment-level characteristics.