Educational Aspirations and Reference Groups

Research question/goal: 

The aim of this project has been the explanation of those processes, which leads to differences according to the social origin in students’ educational success. Within the framework of the project, different explanatory approaches were applied and tested in a theoretically comparative way. These are the Rational-Choice Theory (RCT) and the Model of Frame Selection (MFS) as well as different resource-theoretical approaches. The main focus of the analysis in the first part of the project has been the selection between secondary school tracks, whereas the families’ strategies of revision and stabilization of these decisions were the dominant topics of research in the second part. The “Mannheim Educational Panel”, were about 800 families have participated since their children’s 3rd grade, has been conducted during the project period between 2003 and 2009. At the end of the funding period the students visited the 9th grade of secondary school. Altogether six waves of interviews with parents and students, four waves of standardized achievement tests, and cross-sectional-studies with the students’ as well as with the parents’ peer group have been realized. We utilized an innovative egocentric network approach in order to measure the educational climate in the social context around the families. The results have shown first that when controlling for discrepancies in the students’ abilities, about 30 percent of educational inequality according to the occupational status and 50 percent according to the educational status of the parents can be attributed to differences in the decision behavior. These decisions between secondary school types can be explained to a substantial degree as resulting from parental cost-benefit considerations. However, not all hypothesized dimensions of costs and benefits proved to be relevant, and the RCT was not able to explain exhaustively the observed inequality in educational decisions. A second result concerns the significance of reference groups. We found the parents’ educational aspirations to be shaped by the educational demands of their peer group. More important, social influence processes, as predicted in the MFS, have been found to interact with the determinants of rational educational decisions: Parents were found to be insensitive to rational considerations, when the significant others hold ambitious aspirations for the children.

Fact sheet

2003 to 2009
Data Sources: 
Primary data collection
Geographic Space: