Academic stress and subjective well-being(SWB) have become important indicators of adolescent development and school social work interventions. This study aims to examine the relationship between academic achievement and SWB of South Korean children, focusing on the mediating role of academic stress and the moderating role of perceived fairness of parents and teachers. Previous studies have shown a positive association between academic achievement and SWB among children and youth. However, the underlying mechanisms of this association have not been fully elucidated. Based on the stress process model, we hypothesized that (1) academic stress would mediate the relationship between academic achievement and two SWB indicators, life satisfaction and positive affect, and (2) perceived fairness of parents and teachers would moderate the relationship between academic stress and two SWB indicators.
To test hypotheses, this study analyzed the data collected from a South Korean subsample (ages 10 and 12, n=4,705) of the 2013 International Survey of Children’s Well-Being. Life satisfaction was measured by the Student’s Life Satisfaction Scale that consists of five items on an 11-point scale. Positive affect was measured by six items from the Russell’s Core Affect on an 11-point scale. Academic achievement was measured by self-reported level of achievement overall and in three major subjects on a 5-point scale. Academic stress was measured by three items asking about how much stress they feel with regard to studying or school marks on a 4-point scale. Perceived fairness of adults was measured by two items asking to what extent they think parents or teachers treat them fairly on a 5-point scale. Structural equation modeling(SEM) was employed to examine a moderated mediation model.
The results from a mediation analysis suggest that academic achievement was positively related to both life satisfaction and positive affect, partially mediated through academic stress, controlling for grade and gender. Higher academic achievement is associated with lower academic stress (β =-0.27, p<.001) which in turn relates to higher life satisfaction (β=-0.42, p<.001) and positive affect (β=-0.42, p<.001). The 95% confidence interval for the indirect effect of academic achievement was [.11-.16] on life satisfaction and [.11-.15] on positive affect. Also, the results from a moderated mediation analysis suggest that the negative relationships between academic stress and two SWB indicators were moderated by the perceived fairness of parents and teachers. Perceived higher fairness of parents lowered the effect of academic stress on life satisfaction (β=.09, p<.001) and positive affect (β=.11, p<.001). Similarly, perceived higher fairness of teachers lowered the effect of academic stress on life satisfaction (β=.04, p<.001) and positive affect (β=.06, p<.001). The indirect effects of academic achievement through academic stress on subjective well-being decreased as perceived adult fairness increased.
Conclusions and Implications
In summary, the findings of this study suggest that academic stress is negatively related to subjective well-being and mediates the effect of academic achievement on subjective well-being. This study also shows that perceived fairness of parents and teachers can function as a stress-coping resource, buffering the negative effect of academic stress on subjective well-being.