Monday, May 23, 2011

The Power of Low Expectations

An interesting psychological study published by Wood, Kaplan and McLoyd (2007) raised an interesting point about the power of expectations as it relates to academic achievement. Research has indicated that for African Americans, parental education-related expectations predict their children's own expectations even when controlling for academic achievement. The messages that African American parents convey to their children and the perception of these messages influence the child's future education orientation (Kerpelman,  Eryigit, & Stephens, 2008). Based in part on the idea that parental expectations are linked to youth expectations and that African Americans perceive more barriers for males than females, the researchers hypothesized that African American parents held lower expectations for the future attainment of sons compared to daughters. As a result of these lower expectations, Wood, Kaplan and McLoyd (2007) expected that African American males would hold lower expectations for their educational attainment than females. The study consisted of African American children ranging in age from 6 to 16 with a median age of 12.3 years. Parental expectations were based on the question "how far do you actually think your child will go in school?"

The results showed that African American parents did tend to hold lower expectations for the future educational attainment of their sons compared to their daughters. Parents expected 47% of males but 61% of females to complete college or beyond. As a result, males between the ages of 9 and 16 reported lower expectations for themselves than did females. Similarly, African American males were less sure that they would attend and complete college than females. The researchers found that the link between the youths' gender and self-expectations were fully mediated by parental expectations. Interestingly, they also found that the gender gap in expectation did not increase as a function of age; nine- and ten-year-old African American males already had lower expectations than females. Gender differences in expectations were most pronounced at the lowest income levels. These factors likely contribute to the finding that a significant number of African American males disidentify with education earlier and more often than their female counterparts. While teachers are indeed an important part of the educational process, parents seem to be the more important factor affecting academic achievement. It is imperative that parents become and remain involved in the education of their children (of both genders) in order to avoid the negative outcomes associated with poor achievement.


Kerpelman, J. L., Eryigit, S., & Stephens, C. J. (2007). African American adolescents’ future education orientation: associations with self-efficacy, ethnic identity, and perceived parental support. Journal of Youth Adolescence, 37, 997-1008. 
Wood, D., Kaplan, R., & McLoyd, V. C. (2007). Gender differences in the educational expectations of urban, low-income African American Youth: The role of Parents and the School. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36, 417-427.

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