Civic Engagement's Role in Well-Being: Examining a Mediational Model Across Two Samples

Natalie Fenn, University of Rhode Island


Introduction: Generally, civic engagement seems to produce positive health outcomes for those who participate. However, there is conflicting evidence as to whether civic engagement may be more of an added burden for individuals from lower socioeconomic (SES) communities, or among women, perhaps due to the differing types of civic activity in which men and women may choose to engage. Type of activity may also be critical in determining whether certain forms of engagement more strongly predict well-being than others. This study explored several possible factors that inform for whom and under what circumstances civic engagement may improve health outcomes among college students. Methods: Participants were recruited at a mid-sized university in the Northeast. Consented participants completed an online survey consisting of demographics, the Civic Engagement Quiz, Mental Health Continuum-SF, Meaning in Life Questionnaire, Self-Efficacy Towards Service scale, and the Interpersonal Support Evaluation List-12. Mediational, direct, and full effects models were conducted to investigate whether SES predicts civic activity, and if type of civic activity predicts subjective well-being, mediated by meaning in life and self-efficacy. Social support was added to the model as a covariate, and all models were conducted across samples of men and women. Results: Participants (N=438) were primarily White (78%), female (72%) and 68% reported at least one parent having a Bachelor's degree or higher. Students reported mean levels of well-being that indicated flourishing (M=45.42, SD=14.23), high self-efficacy toward service (M=20.17, SD=3.63), adequate social support (M=25.76, SD=6.87), and moderate meaning in life (M=50.22, SD=8.98). Overall, fit indices showed that the full model provided the best fit in men, women, and both samples combined (low χ2 to df ratio, nonsignificant p values, CFI > .95, RMSEA < .10). Due to power concerns, a smaller model was examined using SES as the first predictor variable, mediated by engagement type, with well-being as the dependent variable. Multisample analysis across gender groups showed that the mediational model was the best fit [χ 2(8)=17.19, p=.03;CFI=.95; RMSEA=.08, 90%CI [.03,.14]; R2=.04(W), .05(M)], and there was no significant difference in model fit by gender. Conclusion: Results from this sample showed that the full model in the larger path analysis and the mediational model in the smaller path analysis provided a good fit for both men and women. Thus, contrary to prior literature, men and women did not behave in statistically different ways in this New England sample. Type of activity showed mixed results in relation to well-being, perhaps due to model complexity. Meaning in life and self-efficacy partially mediated the relationship between engagement and well-being, although both factors warrant further investigation. Given sample demographics and limits to generalizability, replication studies using more diverse populations, particularly in terms of age, race and ethnicity could greatly enhance the field if civic engagement is to be considered as a health promotional tool.

Subject Area

Behavioral psychology|Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Natalie Fenn, "Civic Engagement's Role in Well-Being: Examining a Mediational Model Across Two Samples" (2019). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI13808364.