Stigma and Social Identity of People Who Are Not in Paid Employment
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
The unifying theme of the chapters presented in this thesis is how people who are not in paid work respond to the stigma of unemployment or the possibility of being regarded as (similar to the) unemployed. Although unemployment is a topic of continuing interdisciplinary interest, most of the extant psychological research has tended to focus on investigating those unemployed people who are officially registered as such. While such an approach is helpful, less research attention has been paid to the fact that there are many groups who are not in paid employment, such as stay-at-home mothers or students. There may be circumstances under which those people may be perceived as very similar to the unemployed. As a consequence, they may perceive a stigma of unemployment. In this thesis we develop this idea by conceptualising people who are not in paid employment in terms of their social identities. The primary goals of this thesis are twofold: first, to demonstrate that the stigma of unemployment not only impacts on the behaviour of registered unemployed people, but also on other people who are not in paid employment. Second, to demonstrate that people not in paid work respond to perceptions of stigma and the possibility of being seen as unemployed by using psychological strategies that are based on their group memberships. Therefore, this thesis investigates how social identification processes interact with perceptions of stigma to influence possible coping behaviour and well-being. In Chapter 1 we begin by reviewing the extant literature on unemployment and stigma. In Chapter 2 we introduce the social identity approach and illustrate how it can be applied to research on groups of people who are not in paid employment in a way that advances both fields. In Chapter 3 we develop the rationale of this thesis and outline a concept to investigate behaviour and responses of different kinds of people not in paid work. In Chapter 4 we present a survey study of unemployed people that supports the notion that they do perceive stigma impacting on their well-being. We present two experiments with university students in Chapter 5 aimed to investigate a threat of possible future unemployment. The findings demonstrate that future job prospects may impact on social identification with other students and well-being. In Chapter 6 we present two studies with stay-at-home mothers that provide evidence that stay-at-home mothers also perceive the stigma of unemployment, but cope with it in different ways than registered unemployed people and students. An experiment with stay-at-home mothers sought to investigate how an imposed unemployed identity affects their coping strategies and well-being. Both studies found support that an alternative identity of being a mother can be a powerful coping resource that is able to protect against negative effects of perceived stigma on well-being. Finally, in Chapter 7, we review and integrate our findings, discuss limitations, and consider theoretical and practical implications. In addition, we suggest new avenues for theoretical and practical work in the research fields of unemployment, stigma, and social identity. We conclude that, overall, the findings we present in this thesis point to the powerful role that stigmatisation and social identification processes can play in determining responses of people who are not in paid work.
PhD in Psychology