It’s about having money, but also happiness: A qualitative investigation of how youth understand subjective status in themselves and others

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Martin-Storey A, *Marcellin S, Purtell KM, Tougas A-M, Lessard A. (2018). It’s about having money, but also happiness: A qualitative investigation of how adolescents understand subjective status in themselves and others. Journal of Adolescence. 68: 198-206.


Introduction: Understanding why adolescent subjective assessments of status matter to their psychosocial outcomes over and above objective assessments of socioeconomic status (SES) requires a better comprehension of how adolescents construct status in themselves and others. Using a qualitative approach, the goal of the current study was to better understand what factors adolescents use to assign status, and how their perceptions of this status vary according to their own SES. Method: Qualitative interviews were conducted with 32 adolescents from Quebec, Canada, from varied socioeconomic backgrounds. In particular, they were shown the ladder from the Subjective Social Status Scale and asked what defined scale placement in their communities. They were also asked where they would place themselves on this scale, and why. Results: The importance of traditional indicators of SES such as money, educational level, and occupational prestige were underlined by almost all adolescents, but other factors (e.g., wellbeing, family life, values concerning work, other-orientation, or rule-following) were also frequently discussed. Adolescents used similar criteria in the placement of themselves and others. Contradictions often emerged, however, as adolescents’ scale placement was often higher than what would be expected based on traditional SES indicators. Conclusions: These findings provide a starting point for understanding why adolescents’ subjective assessments of status may matter above and beyond traditional assessments of SES, and how we can better measure this construct.