Understanding when parental aspirations negatively affect student outcomes: The Case of aspiration-expectation inconsistency

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Psychological and sociological studies have often shown how parental aspirations positively influence children’s academic outcomes. However, less is known about how outcomes are affected when parents have aspirations that are higher than the child’s expectations for himself or herself. In this study, aspiration refers to the level of schooling parents ambition for their child while expectation refers to the level the child believes he or she will attain. Using US longitudinal data from a sample of tenth grade students (n = 7,635), I show two circumstances when parental aspirations negatively affect academic outcomes. Confirming previous research on status attainment and blocked opportunities, parents and children who expect less than college have, on average, worse academic outcomes. However, challenging the expectancy-value theory, students whose parents have inconsistently higher aspirations for them also experience worse outcomes. The findings suggest that unnecessarily high and unrealistic parental aspirations can disadvantage students’ performance.