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  • Social Support and Adjustment Outcomes of First-Year University Students in Hong Kong: Self-Esteem as a Mediator
  • Eva Yi Hung Lau, Kevin Ka Shing Chan, and Chun Bun Lam (bio)

Although the majority of students successfully navigate the transition to university, a significant number experience considerable adjustment difficulties (Beiter et al., 2015). According to the ecological systems theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1986), the social environment can contribute to positive functioning by exposing individuals to supportive networks and opportunities for personal growth. Therefore, the support provided for new university students by the proximal settings in which they reside, such as family and peer contexts, determines whether they are able to successfully navigate the transition to university while struggling with the tangible task of individuation (Laible, Carlo, & Raffaelli, 2000).

University students spend a considerable proportion of their waking hours outside their family homes. As a result, peer support becomes increasingly salient during university transition; it has a profound influence on students’ day-to-day behavior and can facilitate their learning and development (Roman, Cuestas, & Fenollar, 2008). However, despite their growing reliance on peers for support, the vast majority of university students continue to depend on their parents for emotional support and advice. Research has indicated that parental support facilitates adjustment because young people in a warm and accepting family atmosphere feel more secure in their exploration of new commitments (Maccoby & Martin, 1983). A distinct aspect of Chinese culture is its emphasis on familial ties (Huang & Gove, 2012). Given the collectivist nature of Chinese culture, it is particularly important to consider the potential benefits of familial support in the Chinese postsecondary setting. We hypothesized that social support from both family and peers is negatively correlated with stress and positively correlated with academic competence, social acceptance, and aspiration to continue education.

Although the contribution of family support and peer support to university adjustment has been examined separately, few attempts have been made to explore the mechanism underlying this relation. This is the first study in the Asian context to test the role of self-esteem in mediating the effect of social support on first-year university adjustment outcomes. Self-esteem is a measure of one’s positive or negative attitudes toward oneself (Rosenberg, 1965). Higher self-esteem is vital to a variety of developmental outcomes in early adulthood, such as the transition to university, whereas lower self-esteem has been related to poorer adjustment (Hickman, Bartholomae, & McKenry, 2000). Perceived self-esteem stems from social attachments to others that reflect positively on oneself and [End Page 129] provide interpersonal support (Friedlander, Reid, Shupak, & Cribbie, 2007). High self-esteem developed as a result of social support from family and peers may increase individuals’ belief in their ability to solve problems, leading to better university adjustment. Therefore, we hypothesized that self-esteem mediates the impact of family support and peer support on university adjustment.



The participants in this study were 418 first-year university students (mean age 19.94 years; 65% female) at an education university in Hong Kong, China, offering mainly education-related subjects. The sample can be considered to represent a middle-class background; 23% of participants represent the largest bracket of reported monthly household income equivalent to US$2,579–3,867; 21% of participants’ mothers and 23% of their fathers had received some post–high school education; most of the participants (74%) continued to live with their parents after entering university. The participants were recruited through several means, such as mass e-mails, flyers, and direct invitations from a group of student helpers in common areas on campus. Interested students then contacted the research team to schedule times to complete the questionnaires in group sessions in a laboratory during office hours. A research assistant quickly checked the returned questionnaires for missing items to ensure as much as possible that the participants had completed the questionnaires. Each participant received US$6 as a token of appreciation.

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Table 1.

Descriptive Statistics and Correlational Results of Major Variables


The measures used in this study were selected because they have been validated in empirical studies and have been used fairly widely by researchers to measure the constructs under...


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pp. 129-134
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