Student Wellbeing & Life Outcomes Project


A multi-perspective analysis of university students’ personal mental health and wellbeing capital and its effect on their life outcomes

The Student Wellbeing & Life Outcomes Project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), investigates the mental health, wellbeing, and life outcomes (education and employment) of young people, with a particular focus on those who enter higher education.

Currently, there is a lack of evidence and understanding about which groups of young people going to universities may have poorer life outcomes (such as education, employment, and mental health and wellbeing) as a result of their mental health and wellbeing during their adolescent years. These life outcomes and their mental health and wellbeing, however, are important for understanding the context of the complex social identities of young people, such as the intersections between their gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and socio-economic status (SES). Much of the large body of quantitative research on life outcomes tends to focus on one social characteristic/identity of the student, such as the young person’s gender or ethnicity or socioeconomic status, but not the combination of all of these, i.e. the intersectionalities.

The main objectives of this research project are to:

  1. Reduce the evidence gap on how the mental health and wellbeing of adolescents affect their transitions into higher education and their life outcomes after graduating.
  2. Create information for policymakers (such as government, universities and charities) to implement suitable policies and practices that can enhance mental health and wellbeing outcomes.
  3. Determine whether any findings vary based on individuals’ social characteristics (particularly the intersectionality of social characteristics, such as differences between white male students and black male students).

This research utilises a secondary data analysis approach making use of longitudinal data from the Next Steps Study (formerly the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England [LSYPE]). Next Steps is a major national cohort study following a representative sample of over 15,000 people born in 1989-90 over 7 years between 2004-2010 (from when they were 14-20 years old), then again in 2015 (when they were 25 years old). Data were collected on factors including their attitudes, education, SES, and mental health and wellbeing. We will supplement these data with university environment data.

Recent Project Updates

Summary of our ESRC Festival of Social Sciences 2021 event

On 16th November we held a free interactive online event to discuss the importance of mental wellbeing amongst university students. This event was primarily targeted at young people who were thinking of attending university (or had just started) and their parents or guardians…

An ecological model for university environment effects on life outcomes

Ecological models for understanding health behaviour have proliferated in recent years. Ecological models move away from focusing on individual characteristics alone to consider the role that the environment plays in shaping behaviours. We are using this type of framework to understand life outcomes in the #StudentWellLives Project…

Belonging and wellbeing in higher education

A recent survey of nearly 1000 individuals found that a lack of belonging to the local community may be related to feelings of loneliness. This research found the issue to be particularly acute for individuals from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background, who may feel less welcome in their community than White individuals.…

Modelling mental health inequalities within an intersectional framework

One of the unique angles of the #StudentWellLives Project is that we are using an intersectional approach to investigate mental health inequalities. Lawyer and scholar, Kimberlé Crenshaw, was the first person to come up with the term intersectionality. She wanted to show how discrimination in employment occurred for Black women – and that the discrimination…

Differentiating between mental health and wellbeing

Currently, in the #StudentWellLives project we are grappling with how to define mental health and wellbeing. Often, the terms mental health and wellbeing are used interchangeably, but research suggests they should be viewed as being connected, but conceptually distinct (Keller, 2020). It might be useful to think of wellbeing as a broader concept that encompasses…