The Role of Educational Aspirations and Expectations in the Discontinuity of Low-income Status Between Generations

Soc Work Res. 2012 Jun 1;36(2):141-151. doi: 10.1093/swr/svs025.


The present study investigates one potential mechanism mediating continuity and discontinuity in low-income status across generations: children's educational aspirations and expectations. Data are drawn from a community sample of 808 students followed from age 10 into their 30s. Four subgroups of trajectories of children's educational expectations and aspirations were identified from ages 10 to 18: a "stable high" group, a "stable low" group, an "increaser" group, and a "decreaser" group. Among youths from low-income families, those in the stable high educational aspirations and expectations group and the increaser group were equally likely to graduate from high school. High school graduation was positively associated with level of total household income at age 30. Findings suggest that social work efforts that support the development of high educational aspirations and expectations in children may serve to reduce the intergenerational continuity of low-income status.

Keywords: Childhood poverty; adult income; educational aspirations; low income.