Capital limits: Social class, motivations for term-time job searching and the consequences of joblessness among UK university students

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Youth unemployment figures include large numbers of full-time students, yet student joblessness receives very little academic attention, especially at a qualitative level. Despite being relatively less deleterious than youth unemployment more broadly, we show that student unemployment remains an important site for the practice and reinforcement of social inequality. Using a Bourdieusian framework to analyse interviews with 27 undergraduate students who have been unsuccessful in term-time job searching, we expose some of the limits to the extent that social and cultural capital can be converted into positive employment outcomes. Importantly, the data reveal that it is (lack of) access to material and economic resources that is most significant in ensuring that both the experience of unemployment and, concomitantly, the experience of university, in yet another way, remain highly structured by social class. These divisions shape the imperative and timing of the need to work, and also underpin nuances in respect of desires and needs in how students talk about their motivations for part-time work. These should be important considerations if policy-makers want to create a genuinely meritocratic system or deliver equitable psychological and material well-being.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)732-749
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Youth Studies
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Student unemployment
  • employment
  • social class
  • capitals

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