Higher Education

, Volume 70, Issue 3, pp 427–439 | Cite as

Age differences explain social class differences in students’ friendship at university: implications for transition and retention

  • Mark RubinEmail author
  • Chrysalis L. Wright


The present research tested the hypotheses that (a) working-class students have fewer friends at university than middle-class students and (b) this social class difference occurs because working-class students tend to be older than middle-class students. A sample of 376 first-year undergraduate students from an Australian university completed an online survey that contained measures of social class and age as well as quality and quantity of actual and desired friendship at university. Consistent with predictions, age differences significantly mediated social class differences in friendship. The discussion focuses on potential policy implications for improving working-class students’ friendships at university in order to improve their transition and retention.


First-generation students Friendship Social class Social inclusion Social integration Socioeconomic status 



We are grateful to the following people for their helpful suggestions regarding this research: Belinda Apostolovski, Joshua Ayscough, Jessica Bradley, Edward Broadbent, Michelle Downey, Madeleine Drew, Yasmina Dzenanovic, Margaret Ellis, Kate Ismay, Buruschke Kahts, Tracy Lawrence, Rhianna Mott, and Phillipa Newham.


  1. Allen, J., Robbins, S. B., Casillas, A., & Oh, I. S. (2008). Third-year college retention and transfer: Effects of academic performance, motivation, and social connectedness. Research in Higher Education, 49, 647–664. doi: 10.1007/s11162-008-9098-3 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arulampalam, W., Naylor, R. A., & Smith, J. P. (2005). Effects of in-class variation and student rank on the probability of withdrawal: Cross-section and time-series analysis for UK university students. Economics of Education Review, 24, 251–262. doi: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2004.05.007 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Attewell, P., Heil, S., & Reisel, L. (2011). Competing explanations of undergraduate noncompletion. American Educational Research Journal, 48, 536–559. doi: 10.3102/0002831210392018 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bean, J. P., & Metzner, B. S. (1985). A conceptual model of nontraditional undergraduate student attrition. Review of Educational Research, 55, 485–540. doi: 10.2307/1170245 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beil, C., Reisen, C. A., & Zea, M. C. (1999). A longitudinal study of the effects of academic and social integration and commitment on retention. NASPA Journal, 37, 376–385. doi: 10.2202/1949-6605.1094 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Benner, A. D., & Wang, Y. (2014). Demographic marginalization, social integration, and adolescents’ educational success. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43, 1611–1627. doi: 10.1007/s10964-014-0151-6 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Berger, J. B., & Milem, J. F. (1999). The role of student involvement and perceptions of integration in a causal model of student persistence. Research in Higher Education, 40, 641–664. doi: 10.1023/A:1018708813711 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Braxton, J. M., & McClendon, S. A. (2001). The fostering of social integration and retention through institutional practice. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 3, 57–71. doi: 10.2190/RGXJ-U08C-06VB-JK7D CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brooks, J. H., & DuBois, D. L. (1995). Individual and environmental predictors of adjustment during the first year of college. Journal of College Student Development, 36, 347–360.Google Scholar
  10. Brooman, S., & Darwent, S. (2014). Measuring the beginning: A quantitative study of the transition to higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 39, 1523–1541. doi: 10.1080/03075079.2013.801428
  11. Buote, V. M., Pancer, S. M., Pratt, M. W., Adams, G., Birnie-Lefcovitch, S., Polivy, J., & Wintre, M. G. (2007). The importance of friends: Friendship and adjustment among 1st-year university students. Journal of Adolescent Research, 22, 665–689. doi: 10.1177/0743558407306344 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Campbell, K. E., & Lee, B. A. (1992). Sources of personal neighbor networks: Social integration, need, or time? Social Forces, 70, 1077–1100. doi: 10.1093/sf/70.4.1077 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chapman, D. W., & Pascarella, E. T. (1983). Predictors of academic and social integration of college students. Research in Higher Education, 19, 295–322. doi: 10.1007/BF00976509 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cross, S. E., Bacon, P. L., & Morris, M. L. (2000). The relational-interdependent self-construal and relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 791–808. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.78.4.791 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. DeAndrea, D. C., Ellison, N. B., LaRose, R., Steinfield, C., & Fiore, A. (2012). Serious social media: On the use of social media for improving students’ adjustment to college. The Internet and Higher Education, 15, 15–23. doi: 10.1016/j.iheduc.2011.05.009 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fischer, M. J. (2007). Settling into campus life: Differences by race/ethnicity in college involvement and outcomes. Journal of Higher Education, 78, 125–161. doi: 10.1353/jhe.2007.0009 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gellin, A. (2003). The effect of undergraduate student involvement on critical thinking: A meta-analysis of the literature 1991–2000. Journal of College Student Development, 44, 746–762. doi: 10.1353/csd.2003.0066 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gofen, A. (2009). Family capital: How first-generation higher education students break the intergenerational cycle. Family Relations, 58, 104–120. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3729.2008.00538.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Griskevicius, V., Tybur, J. M., Delton, A. W., & Robertson, T. E. (2011). The influence of mortality and socioeconomic status on risk and delayed rewards: A life history theory approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 1015–1026. doi: 10.1037/a0022403 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hartup, W. W., & Stevens, N. (1997). Friendships and adaptation in the life course. Psychological Bulletin, 121, 355–370. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.121.3.355 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis: A regression-based approach. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  22. Hefner, J., & Eisenberg, D. (2009). Social support and mental health among college students. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 79, 491–499. doi: 10.1037/a0016918 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hernandez, K., Hogan, S., Hathaway, C., & Lovell, C. D. (1999). Analysis of the literature on the impact of student involvement on student development and learning: More questions than answers? NASPA Journal, 36, 184–197. doi: 10.2202/1949-6605.1082 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Holdsworth, C. (2006). ‘Don’t you think you’re missing out, living at home?’ Student experiences and residential transitions. The Sociological Review, 54, 495–519. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-954X.2006.00627.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Inman, W. E., & Mayes, L. D. (1999). The importance of being first: Unique characteristics of first-generation community college students. Community College Review, 26, 3–22. doi: 10.1177/009155219902600402 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ishitani, T. T. (2006). Studying attrition and degree completion behavior among first-generation college students in the United States. Journal of Higher Education, 77, 860–886. doi: 10.1353/jhe.2006.0042 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. James, R. (2002). Socioeconomic background and higher education participation: An analysis of school students’ aspirations and expectations. Canberra, ACT, Australia: Evaluations and Investigations Programme of the Department of Education, Science and Training. Retrieved from
  28. Karp, M. M. (2011). Toward a new understanding of non-academic student support: four mechanisms encouraging positive student outcomes in the community college. CCRC Working Paper No. 28. Assessment of Evidence Series. Community College Research Center, Columbia University.Google Scholar
  29. Kasworm, C. E., & Pike, G. R. (1994). Adult undergraduate students: Evaluating the appropriateness of a traditional model of academic performance. Research in Higher Education, 35, 689–710. doi: 10.1007/BF02497082 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kuh, G. D., & Ardaiolo, F. P. (1979). Adult learners and traditional-age freshmen: Comparing the “new” pool with the “old” pool of students. Research in Higher Education, 10, 207–219. doi: 10.1007/BF00976265 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Langhout, R. D., Drake, P., & Rosselli, F. (2009). Classism in the university setting: Examining student antecedents and outcomes. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 2, 166–181. doi: 10.1037/a0016209 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lundberg, C. A. (2003). The influence of time-limitations, faculty, and peer relationships on adult student learning: A causal model. Journal of Higher Education, 74, 665–688. doi: 10.1353/jhe.2003.0045 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lynch, K., & O’Riordan, C. (1998). Inequality in higher education: A study of class barriers. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 19, 445–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Madge, C., Meek, J., Wellens, J., & Hooley, T. (2009). Facebook, social integration and informal learning at university: ‘It is more for socialising and talking to friends about work than for actually doing work’. Learning, Media and Technology, 34, 141–155. doi: 10.1080/17439880902923606 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Martin, N. D. (2012). The privilege of ease: Social class and campus life at highly selective, private universities. Research in Higher Education, 53, 426–452. doi: 10.1007/s11162-011-9234-3 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Martinez, J. A., Sher, K. J., Krull, J. L., & Wood, P. K. (2009). Blue-collar scholars?: Mediators and moderators of university attrition in first-generation college students. Journal of College Student Development, 50, 87–103. doi: 10.1353/csd.0.0053 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mayer, A., & Puller, S. L. (2008). The old boy (and girl) network: Social network formation on university campuses. Journal of Public Economics, 92, 329–347. doi: 10.1016/j.jpubeco.2007.09.001 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. McConnell, P. J. (2000). ERIC review: What community colleges should do to assist first-generation students. Community College Review, 28, 75–87. doi: 10.1177/009155210002800305 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Moore, J., Lovell, C. D., McGann, T., & Wyrick, J. (1998). Why involvement matters: A review of research on student involvement in the collegiate setting. College Student Affairs Journal, 17, 4–17.Google Scholar
  40. Napoli, A. R., & Wortman, P. M. (1996). A meta-analysis of the impact of academic and social integration on persistence of community college students. Journal of Applied Research in the Community College, 4, 5–21.Google Scholar
  41. Napoli, A. R., & Wortman, P. M. (1998). Psychosocial factors related to retention and early departure of two-year community college students. Research in Higher Education, 39, 419–455. doi: 10.1023/A:1018789320129 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Nuñez, A-.M., & Cuccaro-Alamin, S. (1998). First-generation students: Undergraduates whose parents never enrolled in postsecondary education (Report No. NCES 98-082). Washington, DC: US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from
  43. Ostrove, J. M., & Long, S. M. (2007). Social class and belonging: Implications for college adjustment. Review of Higher Education, 30, 363–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (1991). How college affects students: Findings and insights from twenty years of research. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  45. Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (2005). How college affects students volume 2: A third decade of research. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  46. Paul, E. L., & Kelleher, M. (1995). Precollege concerns about losing and making friends in college: Implications for friendship satisfaction and self-esteem during the college transition. Journal of College Student Development, 36, 513–521.Google Scholar
  47. Pike, G. R., & Kuh, G. D. (2005). First- and second-generation college students: A comparison of their engagement and intellectual development. Journal of Higher Education, 76, 276–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Pittman, L. D., & Richmond, A. (2007). Academic and psychological functioning in late adolescence: The importance of school belonging. Journal of Experimental Education, 75, 270–290. doi: 10.3200/JEXE.75.4.270-292 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Poyrazli, S., & Grahame, K. M. (2007). Barriers to adjustment: Needs of international students within a semi-urban campus community. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 34, 28–45.Google Scholar
  50. Riehl, R. J. (1994). The academic preparation, aspirations, and first-year performance of first-generation students. College and University, 70, 14–19.Google Scholar
  51. Robbins, S. B., Allen, J., Casillas, A., Peterson, C. H., & Le, H. (2006). Unraveling the differential effects of motivation and skills, social, and self-management measures from traditional predictors of college outcomes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 598–616. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.98.3.598 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Robbins, S. B., Le, H., Davis, D., Lauver, K., Langley, R., & Carlstrom, A. (2004). Do psychosocial and study skill factors predict college outcomes? A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 261–288. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.130.2.261 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Rubin, M. (2012a). Social class differences in social integration among students in higher education: A meta analysis and recommendations for future research. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 5, 22–38. doi: 10.1037/a0026162
  54. Rubin, M. (2012b). Working-class students need more friends at university: A cautionary note for Australia’s higher education equity initiative. Higher Education Research and Development, 31, 431–433. doi: 10.1080/07294360.2012.689246
  55. Rubin, M., Denson, N., Kilpatrick, S., Matthews, K. E., Stehlik, T., & Zyngier, D. (2014). “I am working-class”: Subjective self-definition as a missing measure of social class and socioeconomic status in higher education research. Educational Researcher, 43, 196–200. doi: 10.3102/0013189X14528373
  56. Sandler, M. E. (2000). Career decision-making self-efficacy, perceived stress, and an integrated model of student persistence: A structural model of finances, attitudes, behavior, and career development. Research in Higher Education, 41, 537–580. doi: 10.1023/A:1007032525530 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Shields, N. (2002). Anticipatory socialization, adjustment to university life, and perceived stress: Generational and sibling stress. Social Psychology of Education, 5, 365–392. doi: 10.1023/A:1020929822361 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Sirin, S. R. (2005). Socioeconomic status and academic achievement: A meta-analytic review of research. Review of Educational Research, 75, 417–453. doi: 10.3102/00346543075003417 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Soria, K. M., Stebleton, M. J., & Huesman, R. L. (2013). Class counts: Exploring differences in academic and social integration between working-class and middle/upper-class students at large, public research universities. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory and Practice, 15, 215–242. doi: 10.2190/CS.15.2.e CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Stage, F. K. (1988). University attrition: LISREL with logistic regression for the persistence criterion. Research in Higher Education, 29, 343–357. doi: 10.1007/BF00992775 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Stuber, J. M. (2009). Class, culture, and participation in the collegiate extra-curriculum. Sociological Forum, 24, 877–900. doi: 10.1111/j.1573-7861.2009.01140.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Terenzini, P. T., Pascarella, E. T., & Blimling, G. S. (1999). Students’ out-of-class experiences and their influence on learning and cognitive development: A literature review. Journal of College Student Development, 40, 610–623.Google Scholar
  63. Terenzini, P. T., Springer, L., Yaeger, P. M., Pascarella, E. T., & Nora, A. (1996). First-generation college students: Characteristics, experiences, and cognitive development. Research in Higher Education, 37, 1–22. doi: 10.1007/BF01680039 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. The White House. (2014). Increasing college opportunity for low-income students: Promising models and a call to action. The Executive Office of the President. Retrieved from
  65. Thomas, L. (2012). Building student engagement and belonging in Higher Education at a time of change: Final report from the What Works? Student Retention & Success programme. Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Retrieved from:
  66. Tinto, V. (1975). Dropout from higher education: A theoretical synthesis of recent research. Review of Educational Research, 45, 89–125. doi: 10.3102/00346543045001089 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Tripp, R. (1997). Greek organizations and student development: A review of the research. College Student Affairs Journal, 16, 31–39.Google Scholar
  68. Turley, R. N. L., & Wodtke, G. (2010). College residence and academic performance: Who benefits from living on campus? Urban Education, 45, 506–532. doi: 10.1177/0042085910372351 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Yakaboski, T. (2010). Going at it alone: Single-mother undergraduate’s experiences. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 47, 456–474. doi: 10.2202/1949-6605.6185 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Yorke, M., & Thomas, L. (2003). Improving the retention of students from lower socio-economic groups. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 25, 63–74. doi: 10.1080/13600800305737 CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyThe University of NewcastleCallaghanAustralia
  2. 2.University of Central FloridaClermontUSA

Personalised recommendations