Actual and Perceived Parental Social Status: Effects on Adolescent Self-Concept

Article excerpt

The processes that connect adolescent growth to parental social status have been largely neglected in the literature. The present paper investigates the relation between adolescent development and two aspects of parental social status, namely, status as gleaned by objective measures and status as perceived by adolescents.

Parental Social Status and Adolescent Growth

"Social Status" is a term used by sociologists to describe the position of an individual or a group in a hierarchical social structure. This structure encompasses the features of a society (or group within a society) that have certain permanence over time, are interrelated, and largely determine or condition both the functioning of the society (or group) as a whole and the activities of its individual members. Parameters of the social structure are normative patterns, inequalities of power, and material privileges which give members of society and their children widely different opportunities and alternatives. These variables are usually measured by income, education, and occupation (Blau, 1975). Parental social status (PSS) is the term used here to denote the position of the entire family in the social structure.

Adolescents are likely to perceive the structure of their society, and of their parents' position in it (Demo & Savin-Williams, 1983; Rosenberg & Pearlin, 1978), however, perceived parental social status (PEPSS) is not mere knowledge of the position of one's family in society. It also consists of adolescents' impressions of how influential, respected, and socially involved their parents are in their immediate community. Their perception of parental status, therefore, consists of the parents' status in both the wider and narrower boundaries of their society.

One way to measure adolescent growth is through the level of the self-concept, which indicates how worthy individuals believe they are. This level has been found to be stable, and to affect such growth parameters as behavioral adjustment, emotional well-being (Bandura, 1978; Dweck & Elliott, 1983; Eccles, Adler, & Meece, 1984; Epstein, 1973; Sullivan, 1953), school achievement (Assor & Connell, 1991; Marsh, 1990), social involvement (Rosenberg, 1991) and cognitive functioning (Markus, 1977). Notwithstanding the consensus that self-concept reflects growth, there is little agreement regarding terminology and content. Social scientists refer to self-regard (Wylie, 1968), self-image (Rosenberg, 1991), self-esteem (Harter, 1983), and self-perceptions, as well as to self-concept (Marsh, 1990). Moreover, self-concept has been measured by a context-free global parameter in some studies (e.g., Rosenberg, 1991), by a combined measure of several domain-specific scales in others (e.g., Piers & Harris, 1969), and by domain-specific self-concept scales in still others (e.g., Marsh 1990; see also Harter, 1983, and Wylie, 1979, for reviews). The present study conceives of self-concept as an internal, hierarchically organized, multidimensional system, consisting of a number of distinct domain-specific self-concepts, with self-esteem as a context-free global self-appraisal at the apex.

Specific self-concepts are based in part on perceived self-interactions with distinct social systems, such as school and peer groups, which are conceived as self-concepts in the academic and social domain, respectively. This paradigm provides the researcher with two kinds of information: the level of self-appraisals, i.e., the group means of the components of the self-concept, and more important for our goal, information about the organization of the self-concept, i.e., the network of correlations between PSS and PEPSS and domain-specific self-concepts. Information about the levels of domain-specific self-concepts equips the researcher with the means for analyzing the adolescent's level of growth. The organization of the self-concept reveals whether, to what extent, and how a person is affected by the social structure. …