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A Deep Dive Into the Benefits of School Belonging

A recap of major research findings.

Key points

  • A sense of school belonging is an important component of a successful school experience.
  • The benefits associated with having a sense of belonging are widely known.
  • Studies that have explored school belonging show that it has many benefits for individuals.

Over three decades ago, researchers identified that the need to feel a sense of belonging was a powerful motivator of human behaviour. Despite this, ongoing studies are still uncovering the implications, drivers, and effects of a sense of belonging in our daily lives. Researchers continue to seek answers to how belonging should be defined, treated, and enhanced.

In a school setting, students have a need to feel accepted and appreciated by their peers and teachers in order to feel like they belong. Those who feel included in their school communities are more likely to attend class, participate actively in their school work, and build lasting bonds with fellow students. It’s well established that belonging is important, but sometimes the magnitude of this importance can be overlooked.

In this post, we are going to do a deep dive into the benefits of school belonging to gain a greater appreciation as to why belonging matters and recap what we know so far.

What is belonging and school belonging? A refresher

Baumeister and Leary (1995) defined belonging as an individuals’ innate motivation to form and maintain interpersonal relationships that are lasting, positive, and significant. Their belongingness hypothesis proposes that we have a universal need to belong, that is, a pervasive desire to form and maintain interpersonal relationships that are lasting, positive, and significant (Baumeister & Leary, 1995).

Since this time, the definition of belonging has become broader—often associated also with places or experiences (Allen, 2020)—with a general feeling of being an integral part of something including surroundings, culture, community, school, and work (Hagerty et al., 1992). Not necessarily people alone. The expansion of how belonging has been conceptualised intends to draw from a more universal perspective and honours perspectives of belonging related to diverse cultures and connections that people have with the land, the environment, and the ecosystem.

What is school belonging?

School belonging refers to a student’s feelings of being accepted within their school. Students often describe it as "fitting in" or feeling safe and comfortable at school. It is commonly defined as the extent to which individuals feel they are “personally accepted, respected, included, and supported by others—especially teachers and other adults in the school social environment” (Goodenow & Grady, 1993, pp. 60-1). School belonging can include a sense of affiliation with the school, relationships within the school environment, and an individual’s perceptions and feelings about school.

What are the benefits of school belonging?

Studies that have explored school belonging show that it has many benefits for individuals, especially for adolescents, through psychological health and adjustment, academic development and outcomes, and physical health. The following sections aim to summarise the literature to demonstrate the expansive nature of this research.

Psychological health and adjustment

Belonging to school may impact students' mental health and adjustment more than we realize. Ongoing research has established that students' mental health and well-being improves when they have a better sense that they belong at school (and vice versa).

Here are the findings from a selection of studies as illustrative examples of the benefits of school belonging concerning psychological health and adjustment. That is, school belonging has been found to:

  • Improve mental health and emotional well-being (Arslan, 2018, Arslan et al., 2020; Li & Jiang, 2018; Parr et al., 2020; Sebokova et al., 2018; Zhang et al., 2018)
  • Boost self-esteem and associated positive outcomes (Foster et al., 2017; Peng et al., 2019)
  • Reduce feelings of alienation, isolation, and disaffection or low social integration and social exclusion (Allen & Kern, 2017; Arslan et al., 2020; Palikara et al., 2020)
  • Be negatively related to mental health problems such anxiety and depression (Allen et al., 2018)
  • Increase performance and self-belief in abilities to succeed academically (Chun et al., 2016; Holloway-Friesen, 2019)
  • Encourage connection to social institutions other than schools where individuals might be required to compete for places for jobs or further education (Parker et al., 2021)
  • Reduce the likelihood of adolescents being neither in employment nor in education or training (NEET) (Parker et al., 2021)
  • Facilitate emotional stability, enjoyable learning experiences, positive attitudes towards learning, attachment to peers as well as increase happiness and satisfaction, all of which can improve motivation at school (Ibrahim & El Zaatari, 2020)
  • Protect against feelings of disconnection with schools and the likelihood of social ills such as internet addiction to satisfy unfulfilled psychological needs (Li et al., 2016; Peng et al., 2019)
  • Offer a protective factor against peer conflicts or other forms of abuse by encouraging positive interactions and reducing risks of involvement in school aggression (Davis et al., 2019; Denny et al., 2016; Li et al., 2020; Valido et al., 2021; Zhang et al., 2021)
  • Aid in the psychosocial adjustment of students who have gone through traumatic experiences or other forms of stresses (Cardeli et al., 2020; Zhang et al., 2021)

Academic development and outcomes

Students who feel like they belong to school are more likely to have successful school experiences. Students' motivation and effort towards schoolwork are influenced by their sense of school belonging.

Listed below are the examples of the benefits of school belonging concerning academic development and outcomes. School belonging has been found to be positively related to:

  • Academic success, social inclusion, and life satisfaction (Arslan et al., 2020, Brooms, 2016; Palikara et al., 2020; Scorgie & Forlin, 2019)
  • Decreased school dropouts (OECD, 2018; Tuhanioglu, 2016; Uslu & Gizir, 2017)
  • Increased academic motivation and lower academic stress or educational dissatisfaction after leaving school (Abdollahi et al., 2020; Allen et al., 2018)
  • Reduced likelihood of absenteeism, misconduct, school disengagement, or students leaving school early without a qualification (Allen et al., 2016; Ibrahim & El Zaatari, 2020; Korpershoek et al., 2020; OECD, 2018)
  • Academic hardiness (Abdollahi, et al 2020)
  • The promotion of academic attainment and increased likelihood of on-time graduation among students with chronic medical conditions (Kirkpatrick, 2020)
  • Greater school achievement and reduced school bullying (Arslan, 2021)
  • Favourable school grades, positive experience in school, and higher self-worth and perception of scholastic competence (Korpershoek et al., 2020; Pittman & Richmond, 2007)

Physical Health

Belonging to a school community has various effects on kids' physical well-being. It also has an inverse link with risk-taking behaviours, such as using substances and tobacco products and the development of early sexual orientation (Allen et al., 2018; Goodenow, 1993; Slaten et al., 2016). Sense of belonging is linked to:

  • Less internalizing and externalizing behaviours and improved wellbeing (Arslan, 2021; Arslan et al., 2020; Pittman & Richmond, 2007)
  • Lower body mass index among girls (Richmond et al., 2014)
  • Reduced odds of emotional distress, suicidal ideation, physical violence, illicit drug use, and having multiple partners in adulthood (Steiner et al., 2019)
  • The avoidance of risks associated with emotional distress, physical violence, prescription and other drug misuse in adulthood (Steiner et al., 2019)
  • Better health perceptions (Hale et al., 2005)


Establishing the beneficial effects of improving a student's school belonging is critical if we are to prioritise it through interventions, research, and practice. The many and varied benefits of school belonging need to be reminded so that we are able to propel it forward as a future goal in educational contexts going forward.


Abdollahi, A., Panahipour, S., Tafti, M. A., & Allen, K. A. (2020). Academic hardiness as a mediator for the relationship between school belonging and academic stress. Psychology in the Schools, 57(5), 823-832.

Allen, K. A. (2020). Psychology of belonging. Routledge (Taylor and Francis Group).

Allen, K. A., & Kern, M. L. (2017). School belonging in adolescents: Theory, research and practice. Springer.

Allen, K. A., Kern, M. L., Vella-Brodrick, D., Waters, L., & Hattie, J. (2018). What schools need to know about belonging: A meta-analysis. Educational Psychology Review, 30(1), 1-34.

Allen, K., Kern, P., Vella-Brodrick, D., & Waters, L. (2018). Understanding the priorities of Australian secondary schools through an analysis of their mission and vision statements. Educational Administration Quarterly, 54(2), 249-274.

Allen, K. A., Vella-Brodrick, D., & Waters, L. (2016). Fostering school belonging in secondary schools using a socio-ecological framework. The Educational and Developmental Psychologist, 33(1), 97-121.

Arslan, G. (2018). Exploring the association between school belonging and emotional health among adolescents. International Journal of Educational Psychology, 7(1), 21-41.

Arslan, G. (2021). School bullying and youth internalizing and externalizing behaviors: Do school belonging and school achievement matter? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction.

Arslan, G., Allen, K. A., & Ryan, T. (2020). Exploring the impacts of school belonging on youth wellbeing and mental health among Turkish adolescents. Child Indicators Research, 13, 1619-1635.

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497-529.

Brooms, D. R. (2016). “I Was Just Trying to Make It”: Examining urban Black males’ sense of belonging, schooling experiences, and academic success. Urban Education, 54(6), 804-830.

Cardeli, E., Phan, J., Mulder, L., Benson, M., Adhikari, R., & Ellis, B. H. (2020). Bhutanese refugee youth: The importance of assessing and addressing psychosocial needs in a school setting. The Journal of School Health, 90(9), 731–742.

Chun, H., Marin, M. R., Pham, A., Schwartz, J. P., & Castro-Olivo, S. M. (2016). Psychosociocultural structural model of college success among Latina/o students in Hispanic-serving institutions. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 9, 385-400.

Davis, J. P., Merrin, G. J., Ingram, K. M., Espelage, D. L., Valido, A., & El Sheikh, A. J. (2019). Examining pathways between bully victimization, depression, & school belonging among early adolescents. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 28(9), 2365-2378.

Denny, S., Lucassen, M. F., Stuart, J., Fleming, T., Bullen, P., Peiris-John, R., Rossen, F., & Utter, J. (2016). The association between supportive high school environments and depressive symptoms and suicidality among sexual minority students. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 45(3), 248-261.

Foster, C. E., Horwitz, A., Thomas, A., Opperman, K., Gipson, P., Burnside, A., Stone, D. M., & King, C. A. (2017). Connectedness to family, school, peers, and community in socially vulnerable adolescents. Children and Youth Services Review, 81, 321–331.

Goodenow, C. (1993). The psychological sense of school membership among adolescents – scale development and educational correlates. Psychology in the Schools, 30(1), 79-90.

Goodenow, C., & Grady, K. E. (1993). The relationship of school belonging and friends' values to academic motivation among urban adolescent students. Journal of Experimental Education, 62(1), 60-71.

Hagerty, B. M., Lynch-Sauer, J., Patusky, K. L., Bouwsema, M., & Collier, P. (1992). Sense of belonging: A vital mental health concept. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 6(3), 172-177.

Hale, C. J., Hannum, J. W., & Espelage, D. L. (2005). Social support and physical health: The importance of belonging. Journal of American College Health, 53(6), 276–284.

Holloway-Friesen, H. (2019). The role of mentoring on Hispanic graduate students' sense of belonging and academic self-efficacy. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 20(1), 46-58.

Ibrahim, A., & El Zaatari, W. (2020). The teacher–student relationship and adolescents’ sense of school belonging. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 25(1), 382-395.

Kirkpatrick, K. M. (2020). Adolescents with chronic medical conditions and high school completion: The importance of perceived school belonging. Continuity in Education, 1(1), 50–63.

Korpershoek, H., Canrinus, E. T., Fokkens-Bruinsma, M., & de Boer, H. (2020). The relationships between school belonging and students’ motivational, social-emotional, behavioural, and academic outcomes in secondary education: A meta-analytic review. Research Papers in Education, 35(6), 641-680.

Li, C., & Jiang, S. (2018). Social exclusion, sense of school belonging and mental health of migrant children in China: A structural equation modeling analysis. Children and Youth Services Review, 89, 6-12.

Li, D., Zhang, W., Li, X., Zhou, Y., Zhao, L., & Wang, Y. (2016). Stressful life events and adolescent Internet addiction: The mediating role of psychological needs satisfaction and the moderating role of coping style. Computers in Human Behavior, 63, 408-415.

Li, S., Zhao, F., & Yu, G. (2020). Childhood emotional abuse and depression among adolescents: roles of deviant peer affiliation and gender. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 37(1-2).

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2018). What school life means for students.

Palikara, O., Castro-Kemp, S., Gaona, C., & Eirinaki, V. (2021). The mediating role of school belonging in the relationship between socioemotional well-being and loneliness in primary school age children. Australian Journal of Psychology, 73(1), 24-34.

Parker, P., Allen, K. A., Parker, R., Dickel, T., Guo, J., Marsh, H. W., & Basarkod, G. (2021). Does school belonging predict NEET Status in emerging adults? PsyArXiv.

Parr, E. J., Shochet, I. M., Cockshaw, W. D., & Kelly, R. L. (2020). General belonging is a key predictor of adolescent depressive symptoms and partially mediates school belonging. School Mental Health, 12, 626–637.

Peng, W., Li, D., Li, D., Jia, J., Wang, Y., & Sun, W. (2019). School disconnectedness and adolescent internet addiction: Mediation by self-esteem and moderation by emotional intelligence. Computers in Human Behavior, 98, 111-121.

Pittman, L. D., & Richmond, A. (2007). Academic and psychological functioning in late adolescence: The importance of school belonging. Journal of Experimental Education, 75(4), 270–290.

Richmond, T. K., Milliren, C., Walls, C. E., & Kawachi, I. (2014). School social capital and body mass index in the national longitudinal study of adolescent health. Journal of School Health, 84(12), 759-768.

Scorgie, K., & Forlin, C. (2019). Promoting social inclusion: Co-creating environments that foster equity and belonging (Volume 13). Emerald

Šeboková, G., Uhláriková, J., & Halamová, M. (2018). Cognitive and social sources of adolescent well-being: Mediating role of school belonging. Studia Psychologica, 60(1), 16–29.

Slaten, C. D., Ferguson, J. K., Allen, K. A., Brodrick, D. V., & Waters, L. (2016). School belonging: A review of the history, current trends, and future directions. The Educational and Developmental Psychologist, 33(1), 1-15.

Steiner, R. J., Sheremenko, G., Lesesne, C., Dittus, P. J., Sieving, R. E., & Ethier, K. A. (2019). Adolescent connectedness and adult health outcomes. Pediatrics, 144(1), e20183766.

Uslu, F., & Gizir, S. (2017). School belonging of adolescents: The role of teacher–student relationships, peer relationships and family involvement. Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice, 17, 63‒82. estp.2017.1.0104

Valido, A., Ingram, K., Espelage, D. L., Torgal, C., Merrin, G. J., & Davis, J. P. (2021). Intra-familial violence and peer aggression among early adolescents: Moderating role of school sense of belonging. Journal of Family Violence, 36(1), 87-98.

Zhang, H., Liu, M., & Long, H. (2021). Child Maltreatment and Suicide Ideation in Rural China: The Roles of Self-compassion and School Belonging. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 38, 325–335.

Zhang, M. X., Mou, N. L., Tong, K. K., & Wu, A. (2018). Investigation of the effects of purpose in life, grit, gratitude, and school belonging on mental distress among Chinese emerging adults. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(10), 2147.

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