Feeling a sense of belonging at school is associated with important positive outcomes for youth and requires youth to engage in positive social relationships. Yet there is a limited understanding of the social factors most associated with youths’ school belonging and limited evidence about whether correlates of school belonging vary for marginalized groups like newcomers compared to majority groups. Sweden provides an important context for investigation of these issues because, over the past two decades, the country has experienced an influx of asylum seekers and educational reforms that have altered the composition and functioning of Swedish secondary schools. This study addresses these gaps by (1) investigating which of eight social factors are associated with school belonging among diverse Swedish youth, and (2) examining whether newcomer status moderates the relationship between social factors and school belonging. Hierarchical regression and moderation analyses were used to analyze data from 14 to 19 year-old (n = 233) newcomers and non-newcomers in Sweden. An exploratory factor analysis revealed that the school belonging measure contained two factors: positive perceptions and negative perceptions (reverse coded). For both, stronger school belonging was associated with lower perceived ethnic discrimination. Positive perceptions of school belonging were also associated with more prosocial behaviours and lower emotional problems. Negative perceptions of school belonging were associated with more peer problems. Notably, quantity and quality of peer relationships were not associated with school belonging. There was no consistent evidence of newcomer status moderating the relationship between social factors and school belonging. These results highlight factors associated with school belonging which are modifiable and amenable to intervention or impact by policy-ethnic discrimination, prosocial behaviour, and emotional and peer problems. The absence of moderation by newcomer status suggests that school belonging interventions or related policies are likely to affect newcomer and non-newcomer students similarly.

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0280244
ISSN: 1932-6203