Three Generational Continuity In Achievement Orientations: New Evidence From The U.S. Youth Development Study
Growing inequality in families has prompted great interest in the intergenerational transmission of advantage. Guided by three complementary theoretical perspectives, we examine the continuity of achievement orientations across three generations. The first posits that contemporaneous parental orientations and attainments influence children. Children of more highly educated parents receive more parental encouragement and observe successful parental role models. A second approach posits that prior parental pathways matter for children. Earlier parental behavior may also provide a model of more or less successful action, and impacts children indirectly through parental attainments. A third “selection model” posits that parents’ stable traits, observed during adolescence, influence parents’ pathways, their attainments, and children’s orientations.
The Youth Development Study followed a cohort of over 1,000 Generation 2 youth from age 14-15 (1988) to age 37-38 (2011), and also surveyed their G1 parents (during G2’s adolescence) and 422 of their G3 children age11-21 (2009-2011). An SEM model, based on 384 G1, G2, and G3 triads, provides a three-generational assessment of the transmission of achievement orientations. Confirming the first perspective, contemporaneous parental educational expectations were strong predictors of both G2’s and G3’s orientations toward academic achievement during adolescence (self-perceptions as intelligent, a good reader, and having high ability in school). Providing evidence for the second approach, a high agency G2 parental pathway (with high aspirations, career certainty and active job search, age 18-30) strongly influenced G2’s educational attainment and entirely mediated the effects of G1’s expectations and G2’s academic orientation in adolescence on G2’s achievement. Finally, supporting the third perspective, G2’s academic orientation during adolescence significantly predicted G2’s expectation for the G3 child more than 20 years later. The G2 parent’s orientation, measured during adolescence, thus indirectly influenced G3 orientations. This analysis supports Conger and Dogan’s (2007) integrative model of intergenerational transmission, including both selection and socialization processes.