Second Joanna Stillwell Dissertation Prize Winner

Each year we offer the Joanna Stillwell Prize recognising an outstanding undergraduate dissertation project in the field of population geographies. This year we received 11 fantastic dissertations which demonstrated how undergraduates are pushing new boundaries in the field and showcased excellent work using a variety of research methods. Recognising this we shared the Prize between two winners, our second blog highlighting their work will look at Lauren Mcdougall’s work on the Unequal Impact of Covid-19 on Subjective Well-being In The UK.

Image of a woman in her graduation gown

My name is Lauren and I’m a recent graduate from the University of St Andrews with a Bachelor of Science in Geography. I initially came to the university to study Biology but quickly became fascinated with Geography’s exploration of population trends and inequalities whilst taking Geography as an elective. I soon switched my degree to focus on Human Geography and have become more and more passionate about studying and ending inequalities ever since.

I started to think about my dissertation project during the Covid-19 lockdown. I had previously been interested in population health and inequalities in health outcomes between sub-groups of a population. In late 2020 I wrote a research essay exploring the relationship between deprivation and socioeconomic status with Covid-19 mortality rates by electoral ward in the city of Glasgow. I felt very enthusiastic about uncovering the injustice that appeared here but, after completing this essay, found that I did not yet possess the data to provide substantial evidence of these inequalities. As a result, I knew I wanted to continue to explore the health impacts of Covid-19, going deeper into population demographics and variables associated with poor Covid-19 health. After exploring the literature, I discovered that whilst there was a vast amount of research on physical impacts of Covid-19, not many studies explored the impact on non-physical measures of health, such as well-being. Additionally, reading works of the likes of Harvey and Soja had sparked an interest in how the social and spatial aspects of inequality (such as those in health) are interconnected. I also felt that an approach from the viewpoint of ‘the urban’ as a socially produced space of inequality/injustice was somewhat absent in the Covid-19 health literature, and from there my research project was born.

As a recent graduate, I will be temporarily taking a step back from academia in order to intern for a charity concerned with helping people get out of debt and poverty. I’m looking forward to using the knowledge and skills I’ve gained from studying Geographical inequalities along lines of health/wealth in a practical sense during this next year.


The Unequal Impact of Covid-19 on Subjective Well-being In The UK

My study sought the answer to two questions I felt had been under-explored within the literature. The first was to determine whether the Covid-19 pandemic had significantly impacted well-being in the UK, thus providing research into the psychological impacts of the pandemic. The second was to explore how this varied across differential groups of society, tying these well-being impacts with the social nature of health to show where disadvantage exists within our society and emphasising how the pandemic further exposes inequality.

This research was carried out through a quantitative approach utilising longitudinal data from Understanding Society, collected both before and during the pandemic. Methods of spline regression allowed the sharp changes in well-being across time to be represented accurately and displayed that well-being had significantly deteriorated over the course of the pandemic, with the worst average well-being recorded around January 2021, during the winter lockdown. This led to the first conclusion; the pandemic had significantly impacted well-being, showing a large deterioration compared with the time periods before the beginning of the pandemic. Well-being had also continued to decline during the pandemic until after the winter lockdown of December 2020/January 2021.

The second interest of my research was to explore which factors were associated with poor well-being during Covid-19, displaying disparities along certain lines of society. This was explored using linear mixed effects models including variables such as age, sex, race/ethnicity, educational attainment, government region, employment, and household size. From these analyses it was found that subjective well-being was significantly worse for those who reported as; non-White, female, having lower educational attainment, living alone, unemployed, and residing in regions such as Northern Ireland, Yorkshire, or the East of England. Thus, the study also concluded that the well-being impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic were not experienced equally, but were stratified across groups of society. These disparities in well-being mirror many other inequalities previously discussed in literature, and are a result of deep-rooted injustices that persist within our society.

Overall, my study displayed that the Covid-19 pandemic further exposed pre-existing inequalities present within our society, revealing where justice is being realised and where it is not. The study also provided further proof of the stratification of health within our society, showing how well-being during Covid-19 has been associated with factors of inequality found in previous studies.