Born to fight
: the university experiences of the daughters of single mothers who are first-generation students in the United Kingdom

  • Jessica Gagnon

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis explores the university experiences of the daughters of single mothers who are first-generation students in the United Kingdom. Data was collected during spring and summer of 2013. Participants were recruited through flyers, email, and social networking sites. Participants were sought who met the following criteria: they considered themselves to have been primarily raised by their mother (or their mother raised them alone for about five years or more during their childhood); they were current or recent undergraduate university students at any university in the UK, any mode of study (full or part time), and any age (traditional age or mature students); and they were first-generation students (the first in their family to attend university, which includes students whose siblings might have gone to university). A preliminary 30-question, online questionnaire was completed by 110 respondents. Among the survey respondents, 26 participated in qualitative, semi- structured interviews. After the interview, participants were encouraged to engage in reflective writing. Data was explored through a thematic, theoretical, and autoethnographical analysis. This research examines intersectionalities of gender, socio-economic class, race, and family status as they shape the students’ identities and their university experiences. The theoretical and conceptual frameworks upon which this study is built include feminist theory, intersectionality theory, and the concept of social exclusion. The findings from this study contribute to the existing literature within the area of widening participation and social identities and illuminate the ways that single mother families are constructed by the media, by politicians, and in society. Additionally, this study bridges the gap between the existing literature on the experience of single mother families and the existing literature on the experiences of students in higher education, providing a deeper understanding of access, participation, and inclusion of this specific population of students as yet unexplored within existing research.
Date of AwardFeb 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Sussex
SupervisorPenny Jane Burke (Supervisor) & Tamsin Hinton-Smith (Supervisor)

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