Social background concealment among first-generation students: The role of social belonging and academic achievement concerns

Veldman et al. / Group Processes & Intergroup Relations / April 2022

Classroom of students on laptops

Although higher education has become more accessible to people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, the transition to university is more difficult for first- compared to continuing-generation students. Previous research showed that social identity processes are key to understand differences between first- and continuing-generation students’ experiences at university. In the present paper, the authors argue that social background identity concealment may occur as a coping process among first-generation students. A longitudinal study among 829 first-year university students showed that first-generation students indeed concealed their social background at university more than continuing-generation students. This was especially the case when they had experienced concerns about their social belonging at university, indicating that identity concealment resulted from concerns to fit in at university. Finally, social background concealment was related to a decrease in well-being, suggesting that concealment is a costly social identity management strategy. Instead, universities should put in efforts to increase first-generation students’ sense of belonging.