Development and determinants of student's aspirations in elementary school

Dr. Florian Wohlkinger, Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich

Nicole Gölz, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich

Project Summary:
Already since the late 1960’s, the mediating role of aspirations between social origin and educational outcomes is well-documented (Sewell et al., 1969). Since then, aspirations have become an indispensable factor in research on educational inequalities. However, most investigations on the formation of educational aspirations either examine the parental perspective or focus on adolescents in later stages of schooling, while the perspective of children in younger age groups is largely ignored.
So far, we know from qualitative research that already ten-year-old children have quite concrete ideas about their educational goals (Helsper et al., 2007), but it is still entirely unclear how they develop them. When it comes to the perspective of young children, various questions arise: Can children’s aspirations be considered as result of a conscious consideration of benefits, costs, and the probability of success, as rational choice models assume? Are they, on the other hand, a result of internalized social structures, a disposition of ‘habitus’ (cf. Bourdieu, 1977)? How does such an internalization take place? Is the child a mere inheritor of (intentional and/or unconscious) parental acts, or does he/she play an active part in the mechanisms of social reproduction?
The main goal of this study is to answer questions as these and extend the scarce knowledge on the contribution of children to the reproduction of social inequalities. This challenge will be met by utilizing data from Starting Cohort 2 of the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS). Beginning in grade 3, the children filled out questionnaires, which also include a set of questions on the child’s preferred school type after elementary school and the preferred school leaving certificate, both asked in an idealistic and a realistic version. The children’s answers to these questions on their educational aspirations are the project's main dependent variables.