Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Family Experiences of Competition and Adolescent Performance

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Family Experiences of Competition and Adolescent Performance

Article excerpt

Competition is intricately woven into the structural fabric of U.S. schooling; grades and extracurricular activities are aspects of the educational system where adolescents can differentiate themselves. Recent research suggests that messages about the value of competition may be a salient aspect of the socialization process for children, especially those in families with substantial economic and social resources (Lareau, 2011). However, many of these studies have relied on small purposive samples in which intensive interviews are conducted with small numbers of families (see Friedman, 2013). Despite the contributions of these studies, little is known about how competition is experienced differentially by working mothers and fathers and their daughters and sons at work, school, and home. Using data from The 500 Family Study (http:// www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/instructors/stud ies/4549), we examined how parents' experiences of competition at work and home are associated with their daughters' and sons' experiences of competition and how this parental competitiveness influences their academic activities and performance in school.

SOCIALIZATION OF COMPETITION AT HOME AND IN SCHOOL

One of the most basic and perhaps most influential social contexts in which children learn about social norms-including competition-is the family (Lareau, 2011; Smetana, Campione-Barr, & Metzger, 2006; Steinberg, 2001). Families and their interactions with their children often reinforce messages regarding the value of competition, defined here as the rewards of spending time or other limited resources on perfecting performance in relation to oneself and, in some instances, to others (Burt, 1992; Ericsson & Lehmann, 1996). The actions that middle-class parents take with their children and their own work experiences reinforce the message that competition is a meaningful and important part of adult life. For example, specific values and expectations, such as the importance of obtaining a postsecondary degree and engaging in specific educational activities that assist them in preparing for an increasingly competitive college market, are reinforced (Alon, 2009).

Over the past decades, one of the major changes in the work life of middle-class families has been an increase in the number of households with children under age 18 in which both parents hold full-time paid jobs (Bianchi, 2011). Today, slightly over 59% of these married couples are dual-earner families (see Table 4 in U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013), with the majority of mothers now employed in professional and management positions. The number of married women with children in professional and management positions-including lawyers, physicians and surgeons, architects, economists, and veterinarians-has increased twofold since the 1970s, when 16.5% of women held these positions. Now, many middle-class mothers are working full time in jobs where high levels of performance are expected and there is intense pressure to succeed (Bianchi, Robinson, & Milkie, 2006; Christensen, 2006; Jacobs & Gerson, 2006). Such expectations in the work environment for all parents, and especially today's working mothers, is likely to have an impact on family dynamics regarding the value of investing time and resources to remain competitive.

It is commonly assumed that fathers are likely to thrive in these competitive work environments, whereas working mothers are less likely to have these same feelings, strategies for mobilizing resources, and the behaviors and attitudes needed to succeed. However, this may be more a notion perpetuated by the popular media rather than a fact based on evidence (Eisend, 2010). Given the narrowing gap in occupation segregation between men and women, in particular among those with a college degree (Blau, Brummund, & Liu, 2012), middle-class working mothers may have the same competitive posture and values as their spouses in similar types of jobs (Christensen & Schneider, 2010; Martinez, 2005). …

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