Middle Class and Marginal? Socioeconomic Status, Stigma, and Self-Regulation at an Elite University

Sarah E. Johnson*, Jennifer A. Richeson, Eli J. Finkel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

189 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)838-852
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2011


  • Self-regulation
  • Social identity threat
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Stigma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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