The current study sought to test the ability of just world beliefs to explain subjective well-being and long-term academic investment outcomes across social status in a college student sample. Belief in a just world has been posited as a psychological resource that allows individuals to perceive their world as controllable and predictable, which provides not only a basis for moderating emotion, even in the face of obstacles, but also creates a “social contract” of expectation that investments of effort in the short term will pay off in the long term, thus allowing for long-term goal orientation, investment, and planning.
For members of ordinant groups, BJW has been found to be related to higher subjective well-being, lower distress, and increased engagement in long-term academic investments (Jost & Hunyady, 2005; Jost et al., 2003; Tomaka & Blascovich, 1994; Hafer, 2000). In contrast, more recent research with diverse groups has shown evidence that mental health and long-term goal orientation outcomes may not be identical to their majority peers. Just world beliefs among members of marginalized groups have been described as a “double-edged sword,” in which assuming responsibility for one’s social position, as conceptualized as high just world beliefs, has the effect of maintaining motivation to pursue higher education, while at the same time negatively affecting mood, self-esteem, and general well-being. This pattern of negative association between BJW and subjective well-being indicators has been observed in women (Foster & Tsarfati,
2005; Major et al, 2007), ethnic minority students (O’Brien & Major, 2005), and overweight women (Quinn & Crocker, 1999).
The current study extended the literature by examining both outcomes in a single model within the context of subjective social status, using a college student sample. Hypotheses were tested using hierarchical regression and structural equation modeling. Consistent with hypotheses, social status was significantly and positively related to subjective well-being and belief in a just world was positively related to subjective well-being and long-term academic investment. Contrary to hypotheses, social status did not moderate these relationships.
Limitations of the current study are discussed, as are implications for future research and clinical practice.