Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Robert Emmett Jones

Committee Members

Donald W. Hastings, J. Mark Fly, Mary Sue Younger, Susan Carlson


That social, economic, and environmental context affect human attitude and agency is a central yet untested assumption in much of sociology. The effect of context on individual attitudes is particularly important when considering how and when environmental policy gains support from the public. Drawing on Ecological Modernization and Economic Contingency theories, this dissertation investigates the influence of economic, social, and pollution contexts on environmental concerns. These theoretical perspectives suggest that failure to protect the environment is a function of political processes that privilege economic concerns over environmental concerns. Drawing on literature indicating that periods of economic growth function as windows of opportunity to promote an environmental message, this dissertation tests assertions that lower levels of economic health may decrease public environmental concern. Data from a 1995 survey of Southern Appalachian residents on environmental attitudes were merged with county level data from the region, with county treated as a higher level unit within which individuals were embedded. A total of 95 counties and 1044 residents were used in single level and multi-level models. Using confirmatory factor analysis, a measure of environmental concern was specified and then introduced into single level and multi-level models. At the individual level, social class, migrant status, and cohort were used to explain environmental concern. Next, multilevel models using economic distress, social distress, and pollution context were introduced to determine the degree to which contextual variables may explain cross-county variation in environmental concerns. Findings support the assertion that economic context is important in explaining the relationship between social class and environmental concern across counties. Even when compositional effects of birth cohorts and migrants are controlled for, the relationship between economic context, social class, and environmental concern remains. Implications of findings are discussed in the final chapter, along with discussions on how to improve multi-level studies of this nature.

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