Is being a "small fish in a big pond" bad for studentś psychosomatic health? A multilevel study on the role of class-level school performance

Katharina Rathmann, Ludwig Bilz, Klaus Hurrelmann, Wieland Kiess, Matthias Richter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: Features of schools and classes are closely related to studentś health and wellbeing. However, class composition (e.g. in terms of school performance) has rarely been examined in relation to studentś health and wellbeing. This study focuses on the so called Big-Fish-Little-Pond-Effect (BFLPE), by investigating whether the level of high-performing students in classroom is negatively associated with psychosomatic complaints of students who perceive themselves as poor performers. Methods: Data were derived from the German sample of the WHO-Collaborative "Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC)" study 2013/2014. The sample included 5226 11-, 13- and 15-year-old students. Individual perceived school performance (PSP) was included (very good/good vs. average/below average PSP) at the individual student-level. At the class-level, school performance in class was generated by aggregating the share (in percentage) of students who report a very good/good PSP to the class-level, indicating the percentage of students with good/very good PSP in classroom. Using multilevel regression models, the association between class-level school performance (in percentage of students with very good/good PSP) and individual psychosomatic complaints were analyzed, stratified by studentś individual PSP. Results: Students who report average/below average PSP showed higher likelihoods of psychosomatic complaints (Odds Ratio: 1.75; 95% Confidence Interval: 1.52-2.03) compared to counterparts with very good/good PSP. The aggregated class-level PSP was not significantly associated with psychosomatic complaints. However, in line with the BFLPE, results further revealed that students with average/below average PSP, who attend classes with a higher percentage of students who report very good/good PSP, had higher likelihoods of psychosomatic complaints (Odds Ratio: 1.91; 95% Confidence Interval: 1.01-4.01) compared to classmates with very good/good PSP. Conclusions: This study revealed that class composition in terms of PSP was differentially associated with studentś psychosomatic complaints, depending on their individual PSP. Findings highlight the vulnerability of students with poor PSP placed in classes with a higher percentage of students with good PSP. Results of this study therefore indicate a need for initiatives for low performing students from teachers and school staff in class.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1098
JournalBMC Public Health
Volume18
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 6 Sep 2018
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • BFLPE
  • HBSC
  • Health complaints
  • Multilevel analysis
  • Reference group effects
  • School performance

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