“Not what I Can, but what I Should”: The Role of Identity Compatibility in Explaining Social Class Educational Aspiration Gap



social class background, identity compatibility, educational aspirations, social class educational aspiration gap


Educational inequalities associated with differences in social class backgrounds remain stable in many Western societies, where students from lower social classes generally have lower academic prospects. Previous research suggested that psychological barriers could explain part of this social class attainment gap. This study aimed to investigate the role of identity compatibility in explaining the relationship between high school students’ socioeconomic background and their educational aspirations. Identity compatibility is defined as perceived compatibility between students’ socioeconomic background and a stereotype of a university student. A total of 362 high school students from Croatia completed an online survey that measured their subjective socioeconomic status, identity compatibility, educational aspirations, and their school achievement. The results showed positive associations between the students’ subjective socioeconomic status and identity compatibility, which was, in turn, positively associated with their educational aspirations. The parallel multiple mediation model confirmed the significant indirect effect of subjective socioeconomic status on educational aspirations via identity compatibility, while the path via school achievement was not significant. These findings suggest that part of the social class educational aspiration gap could be explained by the perceived lack of compatibility between one’s social class identity and future university student identity, potentially leading to lower university enrolment rates among lower social class students. Practical considerations of study results are discussed in terms of the potential of socio-psychological interventions in reducing the social class educational aspiration gap.