Motivation, Legitimation, or Both? Reciprocal Effects of Parental Meritocratic Beliefs and Children’s Educational Performance in China

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

Abstract

Different research traditions have long held that parental beliefs motivate children’s performance. However, regarding meritocratic beliefs, sociologists often argue that meritocratic narratives legitimize and make sense of societal inequalities as justly deserved. Using the case of China, I tested these competing hypotheses of the relationship between parental meritocratic beliefs and children’s educational achievement. Parental beliefs about skills and hard work as predictors of higher grades were used. I analyzed data from the first and second waves of the China Educational Panel Survey. Autoregressive cross-lagged structural models indicated that parental meritocratic beliefs do not affect children’s educational performance but, rather, meritocratic beliefs are affected by academic results, suggesting their justificatory role. This pattern is much sharper in rural China, where traditional Chinese culture is preserved. The implications of meritocratic beliefs for a broader discussion of citizens’ beliefs about social inequalities and stratification are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-131
Number of pages22
JournalSocial Psychology Quarterly
Volume84
Issue number2
Early online date1 Feb 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I thank professor Tony Tam and attendees at the postgraduate seminar at the Chinese University of Hong Kong for their insightful comments. I am grateful to Juan Carlos Castillo, Twan Huijsmans, Jonathan Mijs, and Jacqueline Chen Chen for their suggestions on previous drafts of this article. Preliminary versions of this paper were presented at the American Sociological Association 2020 virtual conference, the Hong Kong Sociological Association 21st annual conference, and the NZASIA 23rd biennial international conference at Victoria University of Wellington. The author thanks the support of the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme of the Research Grants Council, Hong Kong SAR.

Funding Information:
The author thanks the support of the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme of the Research Grants Council, Hong Kong SAR.

Publisher Copyright:
© American Sociological Association 2021.

Keywords

  • China
  • educational achievement
  • meritocratic beliefs

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