Portrait of Dr Robert de Vries

Dr Robert de Vries

Lecturer in Quantitative Sociology


Dr Robert de Vries is a Lecturer in Quantitative Sociology in the School of Social Policy, Sociology, and Social Research and also part of Kent's Q-Step centre.

He received his PhD in Medical Sociology from Imperial College London in 2012 and subsequently pursued a post-doctoral sociology fellowship at the University of Oxford. 

Research interests

Dr de Vries has a wide variety of research interests, including social stratification and social comparisons, cultural consumption, health inequalities, and social attitudes and stereotypes (particularly as regards welfare benefit claimants). His main current research areas include: 

  • the social patterning of cultural consumption 
  • attitudes towards welfare benefit claimants in the UK
  • the impact of social comparisons on wellbeing. 

He has previously conducted research into the effects of income inequality on health and personality and on the social determinants of health among older people.  


As part of the Q-step Centre, Dr de Vries' main area of teaching is in quantitative methods.  He also teaches a module on critical thinking at undergraduate level.





  • Reeves, A. and de Vries, R. (2018). Can cultural consumption increase future earnings? Exploring the economic returns to cultural capital. British Journal of Sociology [Online]. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1468-4446.12374.
    Cultural consumption is often viewed as a form of embodied cultural capital which can be
    converted into economic rewards because such practices increase the likelihood of moving
    into more advantaged social positions. However, quantitative evidence supporting
    this proposition remains uncertain because it is often unable to rule out alternative explanations.
    Cultural consumption appears to influence hiring decisions in some elite firms,
    in both the U.S. and the U.K., but it is unclear whether these processes are applicable to
    other professional occupations and other labour market processes such as promotions.
    We examine these processes using data from Understanding Society, an individual-level
    panel survey conducted in the UK, allowing us to explore whether cultural consumption
    predicts future earnings, upward social mobility, and promotions. People who consume
    a larger number of cultural activities are more likely to earn higher wages in the future,
    to be upwardly socially mobile, and to be promoted. Cultural consumption, then, can
    function as cultural capital in some labour market settings, potentially contributing to the
    reproduction of income inequality between generations
  • Jerrim, J. and de Vries, R. (2017). The limitations of quantitative social science for informing public policy. Evidence and Policy [Online] 13:117-133. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1332/174426415X14431000856662.
    Quantitative social science (QSS) has the potential to make an important contribution to public policy. However it also has a number of limitations, many of which are unknown or poorly understood by those not familiar with quantitative methodology. The aim of this paper is to explain these limitations to a non-specialist audience and to identify a number of ways in which QSS research could be improved to better inform public policy.
  • Pettinicchio, D. and de Vries, R. (2017). Immigrant Political Participation in Europe: Comparing Different Forms of Political Action Across Groups. Comparative Sociology [Online] 16:523-554. Available at: http://doi.org/10.1163/15691330-12341436.
    This paper compares participation in different forms of political action between natives,immigrants and non-citizen immigrants using data from thirteen European countries across six waves of the European Social Survey. The authors highlight problems associated with previous categorizations of political action, and find that when political action is disaggregated and relative participation between groups is examined, that immigrants’ patterns of participation are not substantially different from those of natives. When comparing citizen immigrants to non-citizen immigrants, previous research has suggested that citizenship acts as a “ticket” to non-institutional, unconventional, confrontational forms of political action. The authors’ findings instead suggest a more complicated relationship between immigrant/citizenship status and preferences for political action since citizenship may facilitate participation in both so-called institutional and extra-institutional activities depending on the context of action.
  • Reeves, A. and de Vries, R. (2016). The social gradient in cultural consumption and the information-processing hypothesis. The Sociological Review [Online] 64:550-574. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1467-954X.12406.
  • Reeves, A. and de Vries, R. (2016). Does media coverage influence public attitudes towards welfare recipients? The impact of the 2011 English riots. British Journal of Sociology [Online] 67:281-306. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1468-4446.12191.
    Following the shooting of Mark Duggan by police on 4 August 2011, there were riots in many large cities in the UK. As the rioting was widely perceived to be perpetrated by the urban poor, links were quickly made with Britain's welfare policies. In this paper, we examine whether the riots, and the subsequent media coverage, influenced attitudes toward welfare recipients. Using the British Social Attitudes survey, we use multivariate difference-in-differences regression models to compare attitudes toward welfare recipients among those interviewed before (pre-intervention: i.e. prior to 6 August) and after (post-intervention: 10 August–10 September) the riots occurred (N?=?3,311). We use variation in exposure to the media coverage to test theories of media persuasion in the context of attitudes toward welfare recipients. Before the riots, there were no significant differences between newspaper readers and non-readers in their attitudes towards welfare recipients. However, after the riots, attitudes diverged. Newspaper readers became more likely than non-readers to believe that those on welfare did not really deserve help, that the unemployed could find a job if they wanted to and that those on the dole were being dishonest in claiming benefits. Although the divergence was clearest between right-leaning newspaper and non-newspaper readers, we do not a find statistically significant difference between right- and left-leaning newspapers. These results suggest that media coverage of the riots influenced attitudes towards welfare recipients; specifically, newspaper coverage of the riots increased the likelihood that readers of the print media expressed negative attitudes towards welfare recipients when compared with the rest of the population.
  • de Vries, R., Blane, D. and Netuveli, G. (2014). Long-term exposure to income inequality: implications for physical functioning at older ages. European Journal of Ageing [Online] 11:19-29. Available at: http://doi.org/10.1007/s10433-013-0285-5.
    The ‘inequality hypothesis’ proposes that higher levels of societal income inequality have a direct negative causal effect on health. Support for this hypothesis has been mixed; particularly among older people. However, most previous studies have not accounted for people’s exposure to inequality over the long-term. We aimed to address this problem by examining the implications of long-term inequality exposure for older people’s physical health. Data on individual health and covariates were drawn from three large, comparable surveys of older people, covering 16 countries: the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, the Survey of Health and Retirement in Europe and the U.S. Health and Retirement Study. Historical inequality information was derived from the Standardised World Income Inequality Database. We used multilevel regression methods to model the association between long-term average inequality and three measures of physical functioning: grip strength, lung function and self-reported activity limitation. Exposure to higher average long-term levels of inequality was significantly negatively related to objectively measured grip strength and lung function, but unrelated to self-reported limitations (although increasing inequality over time was positively related to self-reported limitations). The grip strength and lung function associations were partially explained by between-country differences in height, and in the latter case this factor may fully account for the apparent effect of inequality. We discuss implications of these results for the inequality hypothesis.
  • Webb, E., Blane, D. and de Vries, R. (2013). Housing and respiratory health at older ages. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health [Online] 67:280-285. Available at: http://doi.org/10.1136/jech-2012-201458.
    Background A large proportion of the population of England live in substandard housing. Previous research has suggested that poor-quality housing, particularly in terms of cold temperatures, mould, and damp, poses a health risk, particularly for older people. The present study aimed to examine the association between housing conditions and objectively measured respiratory health in a large general population sample of older people in England.

    Data and methods Data on housing conditions, respiratory health and relevant covariates were obtained from the second wave of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Multivariate regression methods were used to test the association between contemporary housing conditions and respiratory health while accounting for the potential effect of other factors; including social class, previous life-course housing conditions and childhood respiratory health.

    Results Older people who were in fuel poverty or who did not live in a home they owned had significantly worse respiratory health as measured by peak expiratory flow rates. After accounting for covariates, these factors had no effect on any other measures of respiratory health. Self-reported housing problems were not consistently associated with respiratory health.

    Conclusions The housing conditions of older people in England, particularly those associated with fuel poverty and living in rented accommodation, may be harmful to some aspects of respiratory health. This has implications for upcoming UK government housing and energy policy decisions.
  • de Vries, R. and Blane, D. (2013). Fuel poverty and the health of older people: the role of local climate. Journal of Public Health [Online] 35:361-366. Available at: http://doi.org/10.1093/pubmed/fds094.
    Background Fuel poverty is a risk factor for ill-health, particularly among older people. We hypothesized that both the risk of fuel poverty and the strength of its detrimental effects on health would be increased in areas of colder and wetter climate.

    Methods Individual data on respiratory health, hypertension, depressive symptoms and self-rated health were derived from the 2008/09 wave of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Climate data for 89 English counties and unitary authorities were obtained from the UK Met Office. Multilevel regression models (n = 7160) were used to test (i) the association between local climate and fuel poverty risk, and (ii) the association between local climate and the effect of fuel poverty on health (adjusted for age, gender, height, smoking status and household income).

    Results Individual risk of fuel poverty varied across counties. However, this variation was not explained by differences in climate. Fuel poverty was significantly related to worse health for two of the outcomes (respiratory health and depressive symptoms). However, there was no significant effect of climate on fuel poverty's association with these outcomes.

    Conclusions Although there is regional variation in England in both the risk of fuel poverty and its effects on health, this variation is not explained by differences in rainfall and winter temperatures.
  • de Vries, R., Gosling, S. and Potter, J. (2011). Income inequality and personality: Are less equal U.S. states less agreeable? Social Science and Medicine [Online] 72:1978-1985. Available at: http://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.03.046.
    Richard Wilkinson’s ‘inequality hypothesis’ describes the relationship between societal income inequality and population health in terms of the corrosive psychosocial effects of social hierarchy. An explicit component of this hypothesis is that inequality should lead individuals to become more competitive and self-focused, less friendly and altruistic. Together these traits are a close conceptual match to the opposing poles of the Big Five personality factor of Agreeableness; a widely used concept in the field of personality psychology. Based on this fact, we predicted that individuals living in more economically unequal U.S. states should be lower in Agreeableness than those living in more equal states. This hypothesis was tested in both ecological and multilevel analyses in the 50 states plus Washington DC, using a large Internet sample (N = 674,885). Consistent with predictions, ecological and multilevel models both showed a negative relationship between state level inequality and Agreeableness. These relationships were not explained by differences in average income, overall state socio-demographic composition or individual socio-demographic characteristics.


  • de Vries, R. (2018). Critical Statistics: Seeing Beyond the Headlines. [Online]. London, UK: Red Globe Press. Available at: https://www.macmillanihe.com/page/detail/Critical-Statistics/?K=9781137609793.
    This accessible and entertaining new textbook provides students with the knowledge and skills they need to understand the barrage of numbers encountered in their everyday lives and studies. Almost all the statistics in the news, on social media or in scientific reports are based on just a few core concepts, including measurement (ensuring we count the right thing), causation (determining whether one thing causes another) and sampling (using just a few people to understand a whole population). By explaining these concepts in plain language, without complex mathematics, this book prepares students to meet the statistical world head on and to begin their own quantitative research projects.

    Ideal for students facing statistical research for the first time, or for anyone interested in understanding more about the numbers in the news, this textbook helps students to see beyond the headlines and behind the numbers.

Book section

  • de Vries, R. (2017). Negative Attitudes towards Welfare Claimants: The Importance of Unconscious Bias. in: van Oorschot, W. et al. eds. The Social Legitimacy of Targeted Welfare: Attitudes to Welfare Deservingness. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar. Available at: http://www.e-elgar.com/shop/the-social-legitimacy-of-targeted-welfare.


  • de Vries, R. (2015). An evaluation of the nature and effects of negative implicit attitudes towards welfare benefit claimants in the UK. CESS working paper series. Available at: http://cess-web.nuff.ox.ac.uk/files/pdfs/CESS_DP2015_001.pdf.

Research report (external)

  • Baumberg Geiger, B., Reeves, A. and de Vries, R. (2017). Tax avoidance and benefit manipulation: Views on its morality and prevalence. [Online]. NatCen. Available at: http://www.bsa.natcen.ac.uk/media/39196/bsa34_full-report_fin.pdf.
    This chapter identifies a double standard in attitudes to tax avoidance and benefit manipulation: while around half or more regard both as wrong, benefit recipients are judged more harshly than tax offenders for what might be considered similar ‘offences’. This doublestandard varies across different groups: people in the highest income group and who are right-wing are less likely to say that tax avoidance is wrong, while people who hold liberal views are less likely to say that benefit manipulation is wrong. There has been a sudden drop in the perceived prevalence of benefit manipulation, which, if sustained, indicates a major shift in attitudes towards benefit claimants.
  • de Vries, R. (2014). Internship or Indenture? An examination of unpaid internships. [Online]. The Sutton Trust. Available at: http://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Unpaid-Internships.pdf.
    Internships have become a
    prominent feature of the UK jobs
    landscape. For many professional
    careers there is now an expectation
    that graduates will go through
    an internship (or even several
    internships) before starting a full-time
    paid role. This has led to growing
    concern about the extent to which
    internships are paid, and the impact
    of unpaid internships on social
  • de Vries, R. (2014). Analysis of trends in higher education applications, admissions, and enrolments. [Online]. The Independent Commission on Fees. Available at: http://www.independentcommissionfees.org.uk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/ICoF-Report-Aug-2014.pdf.
  • Hutchings, M., Francis, B. and de Vries, R. (2014). Chain Effects: The impact of academy chains on low income students. [Online]. The Sutton Trust. Available at: http://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/chain-effects-july-14-final-1.pdf.
  • de Vries, R. (2014). Earning by Degrees: Differences in the career outcomes of UK graduates. [Online]. The Sutton Trust. Available at: http://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Earnings-by-Degrees-REPORT.pdf.
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