Trajectories of Educational Aspirations through High School and Beyond: A Gendered Phenomenon?

Article excerpt

As one aspect of educational engagement (Suh & Suh, 2006), educational aspirations have been found to be one of the most significant predictors of actual educational and career educational attainment for young people (Garg, Melanson, & Levin, 2007; Mau & Biksos, 2000). More specifically, theory and empirical evidence converge to indicate that level of educational aspiration is predictive of persistence in schooling (e.g., Bui, 2007; Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994; Tinto, 1993); academic motivation (e.g., Domene, Socholotiuk, & Woitowicz, 2011); subsequent educational attainment (e.g., Anders, Adamuti-Trache, Yoon, Pidgeon, & Thomsen, 2007; Wigfield & Eccles, 2000); and eventual occupational outcomes (e.g., Eccles, 2009; Klerman & Karoly, 1995; Schoon & Parsons, 2002). Extant work has also shown that educational aspirations differ according to ethnicity (Chang, Chen, Greenberger, Dooley, & Heckhausen 2006; Strand & Winston, 2008; Uwah, McMahon, & Furlow, 2008), socioeconomic status (Edgerton, Peter, & Roberts, 2008; Marjoribanks, 2003), and family composition (e.g., single-parent homes; Garg, Melanson, Levin, 2007). In attempting to identify factors that influence the development of educational aspirations, research has also explored how other aspects of educational engagement predict school outcomes. For example, in a recent longitudinal study, Wang and Eccles (2011) demonstrated that drops in school participation, sense of school belonging, and self-regulated learning were linked to drops in educational aspirations. Personality factors, such as self-esteem and self-concept (Garg, Melanson, & Levin, 2007; Uwah, McMahon, & Furlow, 2008) have also been shown to influence educational aspirations.

In addition, there is reason to believe that the developmental course of educational aspirations is a gendered phenomenon (Evans, 2009; Shapka, Domene, & Keating, 2008). Eccles has proposed that the subjective task value of a particular achievement-related choice may differ by gender (e.g., Eccles, 1994; Eccles, 2005; Eccles et al., 1983; Wigfield & Eccles, 1992, 2000); that is, evaluating the costs and benefits of pursuing a particular educational goal may involve weighing very different things for girls than for boys. Some support for this possibility is provided in Bank's (1995) study of university students' explanations for pursuing a bachelor's degree, which revealed that female students were more likely than male students to provide internal reasons (e.g. desire for self-fulfillment), and less likely to provide explanations based on luck or circumstances. Existing research on gender differences in high school students' levels of educational aspiration have provided a mixed picture, with some studies indicating that boys have higher educational aspirations (e.g., Inoue, 1999; Mendez & Crawford, 2002; Wilson & Wilson, 1992), some studies indicating that girls have higher educational aspirations (Mahaffy & Ward, 2002; Mau, 1995; Mau & Bikos, 2000), and others finding no significant gender differences (e.g., Garg, Kauppi, Lewko & Urajnik, 2002).

One potential resolution to these seemingly contradictory findings is the possibility that the aspiration levels of male and female adolescents have distinct trajectories over time, such that boys will have higher aspirations at some ages, while girls will have higher aspirations at other ages (e.g., Shapka, Domene, & Keating 2006; Shapka et al., 2008). Andres, Adamute-Trach, Yoon, and Pidgeon (2007) have shown that there are between-gender changes in the level of education that is aspired to over time. These authors, however, did not formally analyze the nature of this change, which is the purpose of the current paper. More specifically, we intend to explore educational expectations longitudinally, using growth curve modeling techniques, which will enable us to examine changes in educational aspirations as a function of gender. …