Abstract: Understanding the Role of Educational Aspirations and Expectations in the Intergenerational Discontinuity of Poverty (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

13078 Understanding the Role of Educational Aspirations and Expectations in the Intergenerational Discontinuity of Poverty

Thursday, January 14, 2010: 2:00 PM
Seacliff D (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Jungeun Olivia Lee, PhD , University of Washington, Research Scientist, Seattle, WA
Karl G. Hill, PhD , University of Washington, Research Associate Professor, Seattle, WA
J. David Hawkins, PhD , University of Washington, Professor, Director, Seattle, WA
Background and Purpose. The experience of poverty in childhood has consistently been associated with poor developmental outcomes. Most troubling is the possibility that children from poverty end up struggling with their own economic adversity in adulthood. However, the intergenerational cycle of poverty is not certain: many children raised in poor families mange to escape from economic adversity in adulthood. The present study investigates one potential mechanism mediating continuity and discontinuity in poverty across generations: children's educational aspirations and expectations. Specifically, childhood poverty status was hypothesized to predict potential differences in longitudinal trajectories of adolescent educational aspirations and expectations, which were in turn hypothesized to be related to long-term academic outcomes and, eventually, to adult economic status.

Methods. Data are drawn from the Seattle Social Developmental Project (SSDP), a longitudinal panel study (from ages 10 through 30) on a community sample of 808 students from higher risk neighborhoods. Over half of the sample was from economically disadvantaged families. The sample is gender balanced and ethnically diverse. Educational aspirations and expectations were assessed separately from 5th to 12th grade, and then eventually combined into a single derived variable for the present study. A series of Growth Mixture Models were estimated using Mplus 5.0 to identify groups of youths following different trajectories of educational aspirations and expectations during adolescence.

Results. Analyses indicated that the 4 class model of educational expectations/aspirations fit the data best: a “stable high” group (66.8%), a “stable low” group (8.8%), an “increaser” group (8.8%), and a “decreaser” group (15.6%). As hypothesized, low-income children were less likely to belong to the stable high educational expectations group than were their non-poor counterparts. Gender and ethnicity were also included as control variables in the model. Analyses also examined distal outcomes of these adolescent aspirations/expectations trajectories. The stable high aspirations group was most likely to graduate high school on-time, followed by the increaser group, the decreaser group, and the stable low group, respectively. This order held true for the children raised in poverty. As also expected, on-time high school graduation subsequently predicted the level of total household income at age 30 ( Β =13.4, p-value < .003). The subgroup analysis of youths from low-income families showed that on-time high school graduation was positively associated with the level of total household income at age 20 ( Β =15.13, p-value < .005). Conclusions and Implications. Findings suggest that preventive interventions seeking to support educational aspirations and expectations for low-income children may serve to interrupt the intergenerational cycle of poverty. Social work scholars and practitioners should be at the center of efforts to develop and promote empirically-supported prevention programs, as well as studies on the etiology of intergenerational discontinuity of poverty. Particularly, future research seems warranted to understand social contexts including families and schools that influence the difference in longitudinal patterns of educational aspirations and expectations.