Subjective Social Status, ResiliencyResources, and Self-Concept amongEmployed African Americans
Verna Keith and Maxine Thompson
Studies that examine the relationship between social class and self-esteem find only moderate to weak associations. Resource-based measures of social class (e.g., education, occupation and income) do not reveal the main processes of self-concept formation – reflected appraisals or social comparison. Subjective social status (SSS), a measure of relative social position, is sensitive to referent groups (e.g., friends or relatives) used in social comparisons, an important process in self-formation among racial/ethnic groups. Using the data on African American respondents in the National Survey of American Life (NSAL), this article examines SSS, along with perceived economic strain, as predictors of self-esteem and self-efficacy in the context of household income, occupation, education, and chronic health stressors, perceived discrimination, and resiliency resources. Findings show consistent robust positive direct effects of SSS and perceived economic strain predicting self-esteem and self-efficacy. Education is the only resource based social class indicator that is associated with both constructs.
Keywords: African Americans, subjective social status, discrimination,
African Americans consistently report higher self-esteem than other racial and ethnic groups (see Twenge and Crocker 2002 for meta-analyses), but report lower self-efficacy than other groups (Coleman et al. 1966; Hunt and Hunt 1977). A plausible explanation for the paradox of high self-esteem and low self-efficacy among African Americans is that self-esteem and self-efficacy are driven by different social processes (Hughes and Demo 1989). Michael Hughes and David Demo argue that self-esteem is driven by within group processes that protect African Americans from inequality while self-efficacy is not. Self-efficacy is more responsive to social inequality processes such as discrimination and financial instability. They conclude that “black self-esteem is insulated from systems of racial inequality or discrimination, while personal efficacy is not,” (Hughes and Demo 1989:132) and suggest that this explains why African Americans have relatively high self-esteem but low personal efficacy.
Our current research extends Hughes and Demo’s (1989) study of the determinants of self-esteem and self-efficacy using the 2001-2003 National Survey of American Life (NSAL). We take as a starting point their hypothesis that “black self-esteem is insulated from systems of racial inequality or discrimination, while personal efficacy is not” and we introduce important concepts that were not included in their study, namely subjective social status, perceived financial strain, and personal experience with racial discrimination. Subjective social status reflects one’s perceived position in the status hierarchy and emerges from a social comparison process, which is also a source of self-concept development. It includes relational information such as comparison of self to others or the perception of how others might judge one (Singh-Manoux, Adler and Marmot 2003). Research on health and social status suggest subjective ranking captures the psychosocial consequences of relative status position and is more strongly related to quality-of-life outcomes than objective social status (Netuveli and Bartley 2012). Subjective social status (SSS) is broader than the concept “relative deprivation.” It is a composite assessment of an individual’s current circumstances, past experiences and future prospects. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that the association between social class and self-perception is stronger for subjective social status than to differences in resource-based indicators of social class that usually tap a moment in time. Few studies on self-esteem and self-efficacy, to our knowledge, have explored the relative influence of resource based social class (e.g., education, income and occupation) and subjective social class for self-perceptions. Further, we investigate a second measure of subjective social class, economic strain, a measure of the subjective perception that one’s income is inadequate, and which is found to undermine self-concept (Angel et al. 2003; Pearlin et al. 1981).
In addition, we draw from stress research which shows that interpersonal discrimination is consequential for mastery and that resiliency resources such as social supports lessen or buffer
the impact of major stressors. The current study extends prior research by investigating the direct linkages between objective social status, subjective social status, racial discrimination, resilience resources, and self-esteem and self-efficacy among employed African Americans. It is possible that one’s subjective relative rank, which captures reflected appraisals and social comparisons, as well as subjective assessment of income adequacy, are more important than objective resource based measures of social class. We begin by focusing on the processes through which the self develops and how the processes complement the relevancy of subjective or objective social status.
SELF-ESTEEM AND SELF-EFFICACY
Self-esteem and self-efficacy are components of the self and, though related, the two components are conceptually distinct (Chen, Gully and Eden 2004). Self-esteem refers to individual feelings of self-worth, self-approval, and self-respect and are grounded in a symbolic interaction conceptual framework (Mead 1934) which assumes the self emerges from negotiation among participants in social interaction. Self-efficacy originates in Albert Bandura’s (1977) social cognitive theory and refers to the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute a course of action required to manage a specific situation. Personal self-efficacy, although related, differs in that it refers to a self-assessment of agency, mastery, effectiveness, control, and competence across a variety of different settings (Gecas 1989). Personal self-efficacy is a relatively stable, generalized competence belief. Self-esteem and personal self-efficacy are closely connected. When self-esteem is high, personal self-efficacy tends to be high as well and when self-esteem is low, self-efficacy is low (Chen, Gully, and Eden 2004). Both concepts are influenced by social situations and experiences; yet, they are derived from different processes.
Morris Rosenberg and Leonard Pearlin (1978) identify three fundamental processes for evaluating the self: reflected appraisals (or perceived judgments of others), social comparisons and self-awareness. According to Bandura (1986), the three sources of self-efficacy (e.g., mastery experiences, verbal judgments of others, and social comparison to others) differ in the strength of their influence on self-efficacy beliefs. The self-appraisal process is based on Charles Cooley’s (1902) looking-glass self and holds that self-perception is a product of how people believe that others perceive them. Early research found self-esteem is related to the way we think others perceive or judge us (Miyamoto and Dornbush 1956; Quarantelli and Cooper 1966), but not to how we are actually viewed by others (Shrauger and Schoeneman 1979). Perceived influence of others as well as verbal judgments that others provide are weaker sources of self-efficacy beliefs (Bandura 1986). Social comparison theory (Festinger 1954) assumes that individuals adjust their evaluations about themselves through comparisons to similarly situated others. Social comparisons made with other individuals can be powerful influences on self-esteem and self-perceptions of competence. Self-awareness, grounded in attribution theory (Bem 1967), suggests that we learn about ourselves in the same way that we evaluate others—we observe our behaviors or interactions, particularly successes and failures. Bandura (1986) emphasized mastery experiences as the most influential source of self-efficacy. Markers of higher education achievement, income and occupational status confer a sense of control, competence, and mastery (Bandura 1986). Thus, self-esteem originates from interpersonal processes and judgments; personal self-efficacy originates from performance experiences and judgments.
SOCIAL CLASS, SELF-ESTEEM AND SELF-EFFICACY
The association between social class and self-perception (i.e., self-esteem and self-efficacy) has been studied by social psychologists who are interested in the influence of social structure (Rosenberg and Pearlin 1978). Social class, as measured by income, occupational prestige, and education, is positively related to self-efficacy. The relationship is not strong, but consistent (Gecas 1989; Gecas and Seff 1989; Gurin, Gurin and Morrison 1978). In contrast, the relationship between social class and self-esteem is not straightforward: some studies find a positive relationship, some negative, and some find no relationship at all (e.g., Mullis, Mullis and Normandin 1992; Rosenberg and Pearlin 1978; Trowbridge 1972; Wiltfang and Scarbecz 1990).
In a meta-analysis of 446 samples, Jean Twenge and Jennifer Crocker (2002) conclude social class has a small but significant positive relationship with self-esteem, and changes across the life course. Studies of adults find indirect effects of social class on self-esteem when examining conditions of work or the social organization of work; most notably that work and job satisfaction are central to feelings of self-efficacy, which, in turn, is associated with higher self-esteem (Gecas and Seff 1989; Schwalbe 1985; Staples, Schwalbe and Gecas 1984). Adults with high social statuses have more resources, power, and successes which lead to favorable self-esteem.
These inconsistent findings may result from a tendency to use a one-dimensional measure of social class that oversimplifies social stratification and masks complex theoretical issues. For
example, an early analysis by Howard Kaplan (1971) did not find a significant association between social class and self-esteem using a unitary measure combining education and occupation (i.e., the Hollingshead’s Index of Social Position). However, when using multiple measures of personal and situational salience of social class the association was significant at the .025 level (Kaplan 1971). These findings highlight the importance of multidimensional measures of social class as well as measures that tap personally relevant information such as subjective social status.
THE CURRENT STUDY: SUBJECTIVE VS. OBJECTIVE SOCIAL STATUS
Given the concerns of previous research, the present study uses an adult sample of employed African Americans, multiple indicators of resource based social class variables, as well as introduces alternative, subjective conceptualizations of social class to interrogate associations between social class and self-concept. Subjective social status (SSS) is assessed by asking individuals to use a ten-rung ladder to position themselves in their community, indicating its relevance for the social comparison process for developing self-esteem and self-efficacy. Education, occupation, and income are resource-based differences in access to opportunity structures. These factors identify a concrete position in status hierarchies. Studies in health research show SSS is related to health status independently of objective economic indicators (Adler et al. 2000; Ghaed and Gallo 2007; Gruenewald, Kemeny and Aziz 2006; Operario, Adler and Williams 2004; Ostrove et al. 2000; Singh-Manoux, Marmot and Adler 2005) and for different populations including healthy White women (Adler et al. 2000), White and Asian American women (Castro, Gee and Takeuchi 2010; Ostrove et al. 2000), Hispanic adults in Texas (Franzini and FernandezEsquer 2006), and African Americans in the Jackson Heart Study (Subramanyam et al. 2012).
Recent research examines whether SSS is sensitive to the referent group used for social comparison; however, the findings are unclear. Using longitudinal data from a panel study of youth, Beverly Stiles and Howard Kaplan (2004) report that Blacks and Hispanics were more likely than Whites to perceive their income level to be lower than their friends and relatives while only Blacks were likely to consider their income lower than the national norm. Other research shows that Blacks have a higher SSS when using the referent of “others in the same race/ethnic group” (Wolff et al. 2010a; Wolff et al. 2010b), but that there are no race/ethnic differences when using the referent norm “others in American society.” Social psychologists assert that strong ethnic group identity is associated with higher SSS (Zagefka and Brown 2005) and that low-status groups prefer to make comparison to “like others” in order to improve their self-esteem and self-assessment (Suls and Wills 1991). Based on previous literature, we examine the following hypotheses:
H1a: Objective status indicators (education, income
and occupation) are unrelated to self-esteem; but have
a positive association with self-efficacy.
H1b: Subjective social status, a measure of comparative
ranking, is positively related to both self-esteem
In this study, perceived economic strain is also used to capture a second dimension of subjective class standing. Perceptions of economic hardship result from evaluations that income is inadequate to meet financial obligations (Kahn and Fazio 2003), and stress literature suggest that exposure to prolonged financial hardship tears down positive evaluations of self (Pearlin et al. 1981). Jade McLeod and Donald Kessler (1990) argue that the economically disadvantaged report poor psychological well-being because they are exposed to greater amounts of stress which increases their vulnerability. Similarly, Rosenberg (1986) claims that to the extent low social status is devalued, individuals in low-status positions may also come to devalue themselves. Though these experiences are more prevalent among the less affluent, more affluent individuals may also perceive an imbalance between income and need due to debt, life style aspirations, and other demands. Following Hughes and Demo (1989), we also expect job satisfaction to bolster self-worth and feelings of control. We offer the following hypotheses:
H1c: Economic strain, a measure of perceived income
inadequacy, is negatively related to both self-esteem
H1d: Job satisfaction, a measure of one’s affective
assessment of one’s work role, is negatively related to
both self-esteem and self-efficacy.
RACIALIZED EXPERIENCES AND RACIAL IDENTITY
Racialized experiences have long been linked with adverse mental health of African Americans (see Fanon 1952; Grier and Cobbs 1968; Pierce, 1970). William Grier and Price Cobbs seminal work on Black rage drew attention to the insidious effects of racism on the psychic and self–image of Black Americans, and Chester Pierce developed the concept “microaggressions” to illustrate how even minor occurrences of racial discrimination in everyda life can have a significant impact on mental health. Racism induced stress emanates from the experience of racial discrimination and harassment. Discriminatory experiences are demeaning, degrading and offensive. Recurring interpersonal encounters such as being treated with less courtesy than others, being verbally abused or receiving poor service in public establishments are commonly reported experiences among African Americans and pose a substantial threat for their well-being (Kessler, Mickelson, and Williams 1999; Schulz et al. 2000). Systemic barriers to upward mobility persist in all spheres of African American life including employment, health care, education, and criminal justice system. Studies report racial discrimination has deleterious effects on physical and mental health of African Americans (Brown et al 2000; Prelow, Mosher, and Bowman 2006; Turner and Avison 2003) and racial discrimination is treated as a unique stressor in stress research. According to D.W. Sue, C.M. Capodilupo, and A.M.B. Holder (2008), Black group identity and perceptions of the cause of their group’s conditions determine how they view themselves. Thus, racialized experiences are important determinants of self-esteem and self-efficacy.
In this article, we focus on the determinants of self-esteem and self-efficacy among African Americans using data from the 2001 National Survey of American Life. To our knowledge, only one study employing a nationally representative sample of African Americans has examined the association between social class and self-esteem in the context of other social variables that are known to have an important influence in shaping their subjective well-being and self-evaluation. Using data from the 1980 National Survey of Black Americans, Hughes and Demo (1989) examine the determinants of multiple dimensions of self-perception—self-esteem, personal efficacy, and racial self-esteem. Their research is grounded in the assumption that self-esteem develops in social interactions and environments where people have meaningful relationships in face-to-face contact. Therefore, African Americans rely on reflected appraisals and social comparisons in interpersonal relationships within the family and community and both processes are important determinants of self-esteem.
A second assumption underlying Hughes and Demo’s research is that self-efficacy is more responsive to the structural systems of inequality that block efficacious actions for marginalized groups. Hughes and Demo argue racial discrimination and its control of objective resources limits opportunity for efficacious actions and is part of the everyday reality of African Americans. Educational attainment, income and occupational prestige, indicators of social class and achievement, are unrelated to self-esteem or feelings of personal worth. In contrast, inequalities in education, income, and occupation prestige explain low self-efficacy among African Americans.
Hughes and Demo’s (1989) research provides the initial evidence that different processes operate in shaping the self-esteem and self-efficacy of African Americans. To capture their underlying assumptions, their analyses included indicators of interpersonal relationship (e.g., interaction with family and friends and church involvement), traditional status attainment and work condition as indicators of social class, and a system blame measure for discrimination, but not day-to-day experience of discrimination. Interestingly, system blame or discrimination was not associated with either self-esteem or self-efficacy. Hughes and Demo (1989) conclude that Black self-esteem is insulated from systems of social inequality, while personal efficacy is not, and suggest that this explains why African Americans have relatively high self-esteem but low personal efficacy. The belief that racial discrimination, rather than individual failure, accounts for low achievement among Blacks is irrelevant to personal self-esteem and personal efficacy. A large body of literature has linked the experience of day-to-day discrimination to deleterious psychological outcomes for African Americans including low self-esteem and depressive symptoms (Williams, Neighbors and Jackson 2003). The stress associated with the experience of everyday racism ranks high on the list of problems African Americans present in counseling (Constantine 2007).
Alicia Cast and Peter Burke (2002) have argued that self-esteem is an outcome for self-verification process that occurs within groups. Essentially their argument is that identification with a social group increases an individual’s self-worth and efficacy-based self-esteem. Verification of group based identities produces self-esteem because it signifies approval and acceptance. Thus, having a positive sense of ethnic identity is related to positive individual self-esteem. Some researchers argue that ethnicity might be an important source of strength and, therefore, beneficial for self-perceptions. Consistent with Hughes and Demo’s findings of a positive relationship between racial and personal self-esteem, recent research on African Americans provide evidence of a positive relationship between ethnic identity self-esteem and self-efficacy (Hughes, Kiecolt, Keith, and Demo 2015). African Americans who possess high ethnic pride and ethnic identity are more likely to hold more positive attitudes about themselves and engage in more efficacious actions. We offer the following hypotheses.
H2a: Perceived race discrimination has a negative
effect on self-esteem and self-efficacy.
H2b: Racial identity has a positive effect on self-esteem
H2c: Perceived race discrimination and racial identity
mediate the influence of objective social status on
self-esteem and self-efficacy.
RESILIENCY RESOURCES: SUPPORTIVE RELATIONSHIPS
Research on social stress, vulnerability, and resiliency has particular relevance for understanding how African Americans develop self-perceptions. The stress literature also suggests that resiliency resources, such as social supports from family and friends, as well as church attendance, are coping resources that protect psychological vulnerability of persons in marginal or stressful environments. A well-established literature demonstrates the importance of social support in facilitating well-being. Moreover, Rosenberg and Simmons (1971) argue that the positive reflected appraisals from family and friends account for positive self-esteem of African Americans.
Similarly, research demonstrates broad salutary effects of religion on a range of outcomes including functional impairment (Koenig, Larson and Larson 2001), mortality (Musick, House and Williams 2004), depression (Schnittker 2001), self-feelings (Idler 1995), and happiness (Ellison and Levin 1998). Religion may serve as a source of social relationships and social integration. Persons who attend church more frequently report more social ties and more frequent interactions with others as well as more positive evaluation of their social ties. Thus, church attendance provides the opportunity for positive self-verification. Studies examining the effects of religion on race and well-being have found that, for African Americans—particularly those with fewer resources—stronger religious commitment is beneficial for life satisfaction (Ellison 1998; Levin, Chatters, and Taylor 1995), self-esteem (Ellison 1993), mental (Ellison 1995; Musick et al. 1998), and physical health (Ellison et al. 2000). We examine the following hypothesis:
H3a: Resiliency resources have a positive influence on
self-esteem and self-efficacy.
H3b: Resiliency resources mediate the influence of
social class on self-esteem and self-efficacy
METHODS DATA AND SAMPLE
The data for this project comes from the National Survey of American Life (NSAL) which are part of the Collaborative Psychiatric Epidemiology Surveys (CPES) data collection (Alegria et al. 2007). The NSAL was administered from 2001 to 2003 to a sample of 6,082 individuals eighteen years of age and older in the United States with a response rate of 73 percent. The survey was designed to examine racial and ethnic differences in psychological disorders, distress, and service use and includes African Americans (N=3,570), Afro-Caribbean (N=1,438), and non-Hispanic White (N=891) adults. For the current study, we restrict analyses to employed African Americans; yielding an analytic sample size of 2,108 respondents with complete data. The mean age is 38.45, slightly more are females (53%), and 40 percent are married.
Dependent Variables: (a) Self-esteem is measured by Rosenberg’s ten-item Self-Esteem Scale. An example of an item in the index is “I feel that I am a person of worth”. Responses range from 1, “strongly disagree” to 4, “strongly agree”. The alpha reliability coefficient for the index is .76. (b) Self-efficacy is the sum of six items from Pearlin’s mastery scale, which includes the following example, “No way can I solve some of the problems I have”. Responses range from 1, “strongly disagree” to 4, “strongly agree”. The alpha reliability coefficient is .70. Items were coded so that high scores indicate high self-esteem and self-efficacy.
Objective Status Variables: (a) Education is number of years of schooling. (b) Two categories of occupation are used: white collar or professional/white collar occupations and nonprofessional occupations. Nonprofessional occupation is the reference category. (c) Household income is total household income logged.
Subjective Status and Work Variables: (a) Measures of subjective status include subjective social status, financial strain, and job satisfaction. Subjective social status is measured by a ten-item ladder anchored by 1, “worst possible way of life for you” and 10, “best possible life for you” (Adler et al. 2000). Subjective social status represents the social comparison process in self-evaluation. (b) Three items measure perceived economic strain. Respondents were asked to indicate “how difficult is it to meet monthly expenses”: 1 for not too difficult to 5 for extremely difficult. “Are you better off financially than 10 years ago?” Responses are 1, “better”; 2, “same”; and 3, “worse”. The third item ask respondents if they “worry that income is not enough.” The responses are 1 “not at all” to 4 “a great deal.” The alpha reliability coefficient is .67. (c) Job satisfaction, a subjective assessment of one’s occupation, is measured using one item that asks how satisfied respondents are with their jobs. Responses are reverse coded and range from 1, “very dissatisfied” to 4, “very satisfied.”
Racial Experiences and Racial Identity: (a) We focus on racial discrimination rather than unfair treatment generally because it is arguably the most insidious (Stetler, Chen, and Miller 2006) and because it poses a greater threat to identity (Williams and Williams-Morris 2000). Discrimination is measured by ten self-report items of day-to- day discrimination such as “treated with less courtesy, called names, followed in stores.” The items are coded 0 for never to 5 for almost every day. The alpha reliability coefficient for the index is .88. (b) Racial identity is measured using two indicators. First, group evaluation is measured by six items that capture positive and negative attitudes about African Americans as a group. The six items are: How true do you think most African Americans are: 1) intelligent; 2) lazy; 3) hardworking; 4) give up easily; 5) proud of themselves; 6) violent. Response categories range from 1 “very true” to 4 “not at all true." Items 1, 3, and 5 are reverse coded. The reliability coefficient is .62. Second, closeness is measured by asking respondents to indicate how close they are in their ideas and feelings to eight categories of African Americans: “Blacks generally” and Blacks who are “poor,” “young,” “upper-class,” “working-class,” “older,” “elected officials,” and “Black professionals.” Response range from 1, “not close at all” to 4, “very close” and has an alpha coefficient of .87.
Friends, Family, and Church: Support from and involvement with friends, family, and church members represent resources which tap into the reflected appraisal process of self-evaluation. (a) Friend involvement is measured using a three-item index that ask 1) how often do friends help you out, 2) how often do you help out your friends, and 3) how close do you feel towards your friends. Responses to the first two items range from 1, “never” to 4, “very often,” and from 1, “not close at all” to 4, “very close” for the third item. The alpha coefficient for the index is .74. (b) Family emotional support is measured by asking respondents how often your family 1) makes you feel loved and cared for; 2) listens to problems; 3) express interest in your well-being. The response categories are 1, “never” to 4, “very often”. The alpha reliability coefficient is .76. (c) These questions and response categories are repeated to ascertain emotional support from church members, with non-affiliated respondents coded 0. The reliability coefficient is .72.
Control Variables: The control variables are age which is measured in years; married coded “1” and not married “0”; female coded “1” and male “0”. In addition to acts of discrimination, persons in marginal status position—race/ethnicity and low social class—also experience more chronic health conditions. Chronic health problems may also decrease self-esteem. Using national data, Toni Antonucci and James Jackson (1983) found persons with health problems had lower self-esteem scores than healthy persons and that increasing severity of health problems was associated with progressively lower self-esteem. The chronic health condition variable is a count of sixteen chronic medical conditions. Table 1 presents the mean, standard deviation, and the empirical range of all the study variables.
Table 1. Descriptive Statistics for Study Variables
Table 2. Regression Analyses for Self-Esteem (Standardized Coefficients)
Table 3. Regression Analyses for Self-Efficacy (Standardized Coefficients)
We conducted ordinary least-squares regression analyses on each dependent variable. The analyses proceed in several stages. For each outcome, we first ran models that included the control variables and objective indicators of social status class (education, occupation and income). We subsequently evaluated models that included subjective dimensions of status in the absence of objective indicators of social status. This strategy allows us to see the independent effects of SSS and resource-based measures. We then examine the effects of subjective status in the context of resource based measure of social class. This is followed by progressively adding in measures of racialized experience and racial identity (racial discrimination, closeness and group evaluation) and the resiliency measures (church involvement, family emotional support and group evaluation) that might explain the observed social inequality effects. Models were compared to one another to determine if the block of measures were statistically significant and improved the amount of explained variance in the dependent outcome. The tables present standardized coefficients.
Tables 2 and 3 show the regression models for self-esteem and self-efficacy, respectively. According to Hypothesis 1a, resource based measures of social status will have a positive effect on self-efficacy, but are unrelated to self-esteem. The results of Model 1 provide partial support for this hypothesis. Of the resource-based measures of social class, education and household income have a positive effect on self-efficacy, but the measure of occupation status is not significant. Surprisingly, all three resource based measures show positive significant effects for self-esteem. This finding is inconsistent with findings reported by Hughes and Demo (1989). Model 1 explains 7 and 8 percent of self-esteem and self-efficacy, respectively.
Results depicted in Models 2 indicate support for Hypotheses 1b, 1c, and 1d. Subjective social status (SSS) has a positive robust association with self-esteem and self–efficacy. The coefficients for job satisfaction are positive and modest. Persons who are satisfied in their job report positive self-esteem and self-efficacy. Although perceived economic strain has significant negative association with both measures of self-perception, the effect of economic strain is competitive with that of SSS in predicting self-efficacy. The variables in Model 2 explain 21 and 17 percent of the variation in self-esteem and self-efficacy respectively. Overall, the coefficients for the resource measures of social status are modest in comparison to that of subjective measures. Looking at Model 3, we see that SSS has positive significant effects on self-esteem and self-efficacy in the presence of resource-based measures, suggesting the importance of social comparison for self-perception. However, the effect of household income is no longer a significant predictor of self-esteem or self-efficacy in the context of SSS and other subjective status measures. There is little change in the coefficient for education suggesting education is a stable reliable measure of social status.
Model 4 adds measures that represent racialized experiences that African Americans encounter in their day-to-day interactions and racial identity. Hypotheses 2a states that race discrimination will have negative association with self-esteem and self-efficacy; and 2b states that racial identity will have a positive association with self-perceptions. Both hypotheses are supported. So, the respondent’s experience with race discrimination is independent of group identity concerns. Hypothesis 2c states the racialized experiences will mediate the effect of objective social status for self-esteem and self-efficacy. This hypothesis is not supported.
Resiliency measures tap social connection to significant others in the respondent’s social network and allows us to examine the assumption that interpersonal relationships play a critical role in shaping self-esteem and self-efficacy among African Americans. The third set of hypotheses predicts the resiliency resources will have a positive association with both self-esteem and self-efficacy as well as mediate the influence of objective social class. Results in Model 5 reveal the expected positive relationship for the family emotional support and church involvement predicting self-efficacy, but not self-esteem. Friend support and family support have significant positive effects on self-esteem. Do the resiliency resources mediate the effect of resource-based social class variables on self-esteem and self-efficacy? We find so empirical support for this hypothesis. To the degree that the resiliency resources of church involvement, support from family and friends capture the reflected appraisal process, they do not eliminate the self-awareness or self-attribution which is captured by the resource measures.
Model 6 is the full model that includes measures for the control variables, resource measures of social status, subjective social status, racialized experience variables and resiliency variables. SSS has a significant association with self-esteem and self-efficacy net of the objective social status measures. Education is the only objective social status variable that has a significant effect on both the outcome measures. In each instance, the effect coefficient for SSS and economic strain are larger than that of education. Looking at self-esteem, the coefficient for SSS is three times larger than the effect for education and it is 1.7 times larger than the effect of education predicting self-efficacy. Of the other measures, financial strain, job satisfaction, and perceived discrimination remain statistically significant in the final model for both self-esteem and self-efficacy. Group evaluation coefficients have significant positive effects on both self-esteem and self-efficacy. For the resiliency resource variables, family emotional support predicts self-efficacy and friend emotional support predicts self-esteem.
This study replicates other studies that examine the association between social class and self-esteem and self-efficacy for African Americans. In addition, this article compares the effects of a subjective measure of SES (SSS), along with financial strain and job satisfaction, and objective measures of SES (income, occupation and education) on self-esteem and self-efficacy. Our findings demonstrate that subjective dimensions of social status, especially perceived social standing, accounts for a significant part of the relationship between SES and self-esteem and SES and self-efficacy. In fact, SSS is the most robust predictor of both self-esteem and self-efficacy and is influential over and above objective status indicators. Our finding suggests that social comparisons are more important than social inequality and racialized experiences as well as social resilience. While we have no direct evidence, we assume that the social comparisons were class-based and not necessarily confined to one’s ethnic group. Our findings show an independent effect of racial group evaluation for self-esteem and self-efficacy.
Second, our findings do not support the traditional findings of occupation status and income as predictors of self-esteem and self-efficacy. Education was the only traditional measure of SES that significantly predicted self-esteem and self-efficacy in the context of SSS and other subjective indicators of class. Household income and occupation status are variable and more likely to be influenced by fluctuations in the economic marketplace. Occupation and income are not psychologically central to the self-esteem or self-efficacy for employed African Americans in this instance. Education is a more stable characteristic of SES and one indicator over which individuals have some control. Education, we argue, is an indicator of one’s intrinsic sense of self-worth as well as providing experiences that make one more efficacious. In that way, SSS and education provide a better assessment of a person’s future prospects, opportunities and resources.
Our findings do not support Hughes and Demo’s research (1989) on predictors of self-esteem and self-efficacy. They argued that “black people may generally attribute individual success and failure to a discriminatory system beyond their control, thereby rendering social class irrelevant to black self-esteem" (Hughes and Demo 1989). Following Marylee Taylor and Edward Walsh (1979), Hughes and Demo (1978:151) argue that “system blame would lead to more positive self-image among blacks”. We find perceived racial discrimination has a negative effect on both self-esteem and self-efficacy. Our measure of perceived racial discrimination, a scale not available to Hughes and Demo, captures acute stereotypical social interactions that occur on a day-to-day basis and not discrimination that is distal to every day interactions and well-being.
Our study is not without limitations. We capture status, both subjective and objective, at a very limited time and are unable to address change over time. Similarly, due to the cross-sectional nature of the data we are unable to explicitly determine causal direction. It is possible that self-esteem and self-efficacy influence feelings of subjective social ranking. In addition, there are other measures of key constructs such as racial identity that may have yielded different results. Yet, in spite of these drawbacks, our article makes a contribution to the literature. Our study indicates that socioeconomic standing may indeed impact Black self-concept, but it is more dependent upon subjective dimensions of social class than upon objective measures typically used in research. It offers a plausible explanation for the apparent “paradox” of high self-esteem but low mastery among African Americans.
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About the Authors
Verna Keith, University of Alabama at Birmingham
Maxine Thompson, North Carolina State University