The relationship of attitudes towards education, social origin and educational success

Dr. Judith Offerhaus, University of Cologne

Project Summary:
Theories of social reproduction explain why educational choices and educational attainment differ by family background. A vast body of empirical literature confirms the considerably strong association between social origin and educational success and provides in-depth insights into the mechanisms behind social inequalities in educational attainment. Yet, little is know about attitudes towards education and their relevance in this process. On the one hand, attitudes shape thoughts and behaviours, and thus should influence educational performance and decision-making; on the other hand, attitudes are shaped by contexts and experiences, so that attitudes towards education should depend on social origin and previous educational experiences. This project theoretically and empirically addresses both sides; it analyses differences in education attitude formation by social background, while also looking at the consequences of heterogeneous attitudes and their interplay with social origin in explaining educational success (measured by grades and successful transitions to upper secondary schooling, vocational training or university). Here, the question arises whether positive attitudes towards education could serve as a compensatory resource for children from less privileged backgrounds through which they could realize educational success despite a lack of family resources. Thus, the project aims to test different theoretically driven assumptions about the attitude-education relationship: Is there a direct attitude effect on educational success? Are attitudes towards education mediating the relationship of social origin and educational success? Does the attitude-education relationship depend on social origin, meaning do attitudes have stronger effects for children of advantaged families or for children of lower social origin? Also, does the interrelationship of attitudes, social origin and educational success change over time and at different stages of the educational career? The project employs high-quality data from the National Educational Panel Study and exploits both the longitudinal structure and multi-cohort design (starting cohorts of fifth graders, ninth graders and university students) to answer these research questions. Using measurement modelling and structural equation techniques, the project also aims to address causality in order to identify the exact ways (particularly focussing on the role of social origin) in which education attitudes are shaped and how these in turn shape educational success.