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Understanding the Relationship Between Maternal Role Modeling and Degree Attainment by Gender Abstract
This paper seeks to examine the relationship between parental role models on educational achievement. The aim is to understand how a mother’s educational attainment (in terms of highest degree attained) affects the child’s own educational achievement when taking into account sex. More simply, does a mother’s education more closely relate to that of their daughter or of their son? The findings of this paper suggest a slightly stronger positive relationship between mother’s degree attainment and respondent’s degree attainment for females than for males. Despite this finding, degree attainment is only one measure of maternal role modeling and to complete a full analysis of this phenomenon, more indicators would need to be taken into account (such as maternal income, self-esteem, political attitudes and views, etc). In addition, it may be valuable in the future to contrast the association of maternal role modeling with the phenomena of paternal role modeling. More than anything else, this paper serves as a blue print for future studies in this vein of research and as a preliminary exploration.
In his book, The Pecking Order: Which Siblings Succeed and Why, Dalton Conley conjectures that the following:
“...in families where the mother worked while her children were growing up, her adult daughters and sons attain jobs that are more equitable in terms of prestige. But in cases where the mother did not work - and therefore daughters lacked a direct, same-sex parental role model in the world of careers - sisters fare considerably worse than their brothers: my data show that women whose mothers did not work outside the home when they were growing up are 15 percent less likely to have graduated from college than their brothers were; this statistic stands in contrast to a statistically insignificant 5 percent difference between sisters and
brothers in families where the mother did work outside the home for at least a year during their childhood.”1
Taking Conley’s insight a step further, in this paper I seek to examine whether or not daughters or sons are more influenced by maternal role modeling in education. More clearly, I want to understand whether: 1) there is a relationship between maternal degree attainment and respondent degree attainment, and 2) the association is stronger for males or females. Following along Conley’s line of thought, I hypothesize that daughters will be more influenced by their mothers in terms of educational attainment than sons will be. The reasoning behind this is because so many of the roles that make up contemporary American society are associated with gender, and gender role modeling by parents is an extremely large part of familial life. Thus, we can expect a female’s depth of education to be more closely related to their mother’s than a male’s would be. One issue that may be raised is as to whether or not the respondent lived with their mother during their youth. Clearly, if a respondent that is male did not live with his mother as a child, then he would seem to be less likely to follow her role model. However, because this variable is being measured in very broad terms (by general degree level attained) and not specifically (such as number of years of education), and because all respondents whose data is used in this survey knew the education level of their mother, it can be assumed that parent of residence is not an issue. More plainly, because this project deals with large categories (such as College, Graduate School, High school, etc.), these categories allow for relatively broad responses. Thus, even if a son did not live with his
Conley, Dalton. The Pecking Order: Which Siblings Succeed and Why. Pantheon Publishing: New York, 2004.
mother and thus did not complete exactly the same number of years of school as she did (i.e. 14 versus 15), they both would still likely fit in the same category of Jr. College. The goal of this specific point of discussion is simply to show how the use of degree categories as opposed to a more finely tuned measure, such as years of education, helps to mitigate some issues that may arise had a more precise measurement been applied. For the case of this study the broad categories of degree attained are seen as desirable characteristics of the data.
The 2002 survey is one in a series of the larger General Social Survey (GSS) project, which began in 1972 and was conducted 1973-1978, 1980, and 1982, 1983-1993, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, and 2004 by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago. In addition to the standard demographic questions, such as race, gender, income, etc., which are asked of respondents, each year, the survey also has a unique, rotating set of questions known as topical modules. These inquiries range from feelings on classical music and attendance at cultural events, to political attitudes and viewpoints. Questions that were asked on the 1973 and 1975 surveys are replicated precisely in order to allow longitudinal studies. In 1994, the study became biennial, and the number of respondents increased from 1500 to 3000. Also, every year the GSS utilizes experimental questions to examine wording effects, contextual differences, and differentiated response scales. The overall goal of the GSS is to gather data on social trends, attitudes, and behavior in American society. It primarily is used to assess ongoing processes, and thus the findings are usually longitudinal in nature. The
study surveys all non-institutionalized household adults; this excludes those in college dorms and nursing/assisted living communities. The only other data source used more by sociologists is the U.S. Census.2 The response rate for the 2002 GSS was 70%, and 2765 English-speaking Americans over the age of 18 participated. All respondents were interviewed in person during 90-minute sessions in February, March, and April of 2002. The 2002 survey is subject to the post-1994 changes, which included a significant reduction in the number of core demographic questions asked, as well as the aforementioned biennial format that also included a split sample design. This split sample design involves two parallel samples of approximately 1500 respondents each; all respondents are asked the same core demographic questions however, each sub-sample differs on which topical module it is subjected to. The 2002 survey was the first year in which the interviewer was aided by a computer; in prior years, a pencil and paper were used to gather responses.3
As previously mentioned, three variables – respondent’s highest degree, mother’s highest degree, and respondent’s sex – are utilized in examining the research question of this paper. Both of the degree oriented questions were asked in a similar manner, however, each will be examined separately. First, in measuring the highest degreed obtained by the respondent, the researcher first asked, “Do you have any college degrees?” If the respondent answered yes, then the
“General Social Survey Background.” National Opinion Research Center. University of Chicago. (http://www.norc.uchicago.edu/projects/gensoc.asp) 3 “General Social Survey 2002 [United States]: Codebook.” Cultural Policy and the Arts National Data Archive. Princeton University. (http://www.cpanda.org/codebookDB/stdydscr.jsp?id=a00079)
researcher asked “What degree or degrees?” There were effectively five categories for responses: Less than High School, High School, Junior College, Bachelor, and Graduate. A sixth category was “Don’t Know”. In most cases, it can be assumed that the “Don’t Know” category is not generally applicable in the case of the respondent as all but five respondents knew their own degree attainment; however this is a more important category when dealing with the parental degree attainment.4 The variable of mother’s degree attainment was obtained by asking, “Does she have any college degrees?” Again, if the response was yes, then the interviewer asked, “What degree or degrees?” The response categories were the same as asking about the respondent’s education: Less than High School, High School, Junior College, Bachelor, and Graduate. There were a much larger number of omitted or “Don’t Know” responses (288) on this question than on asking the respondent’s degree. However, in spite of these non-responses there are still 2477 units of data available for analysis, making the sample statistically valid.5 The final variable to be measured is the sex of the respondent. This was coded by the researcher and was present on every data item. There should be no issue in using this variable as it is clear, precise, and fully accounted for among all respondents.
Effect of Mother’s Degree Attainment on Respondent’s Degree Attainment Upon analyzing the data we must first examine the basic relationship between mother’s highest degree and respondent’s highest degree. The results of a cross tabulation
“GSS 1972-2002 Cumulative Data File.” Survey Documentation and Analysis – General Social Survey. University of California, Berkeley. (http://sda.berkeley.edu:7502/D3/GSS02/Doc/gs02.htm) 5 Ibid.
of these two variables is seen in Table A. In this table we can see that generally speaking, as the degree attained by the mother increases, so too does the degree earned by the respondent. Thus, it seems that mother’s degree attainment has a positive relationship with respondent degree attainment. In addition, we can see that if you compare the corresponding groups of the rows and columns for degree (meaning you look at <High School for three mother and <High School for the respondent, High School for the mother and High School for the respondent, and so on) then these cells always have the highest percentages by columns. Though not direct evidence, or even extremely applicable this only further supports the relatively strong, positive association between respondent’s mother’s degree and respondent’s degree attainment. Table A – Maternal Degree Attainment vs. Respondent Degree Attainment
Mother's Highest Education <High School High School Jr. College Bachelor Graduate Total (N) <High School 27.25% 6.83% 3.36% 2.86% 2.50% 312 High School 54.24% 58.03% 43.70% 39.05% 36.25% 1333 Jr. College 5.66% 8.30% 16.81% 4.29% 8.75% 187 Bachelor 8.35% 18.62% 24.37% 32.86% 28.75% 426 Graduate 4.50% 8.22% 11.76% 20.95% 23.75% 218 Total (N) 778 1289 119 210 80 2476
Based on calculations ascertained from this table, we can also derive a statistic that helps to more clearly quantify the association between the variables. For this table, that statistic is 0.4623 on a scale of -1 to +1. The closer to negative one the statistic is, the greater the negative association and the closer to +1 the statistic is, the greater the positive association is; a value near zero indicates no relationship of association. Thus, in this case, the statistic of 0.4623 indicates a relatively strong positive association between mother’s degree and respondent’s degree. Furthermore, we can say that the true level of association between the two variables lies between 0.41526 and 0.50934, 95 percent of the time. This
means that it is very clear, and that we are very confident that there is relatively strong positive association between the two. Finally, on this point, we can also say that there is less than a 1/10 of one percent chance that the value of the association is not correct, again confirming the very strong evidence in favor of a relatively strong positive association.
Interaction Effect of Sex on Mother/Respondent Degree Relationship Beyond the basic relationship of mother’s degree and respondent’s degree, it is valuable to understand how the gender of the respondent affects this relationship. Table B – Maternal Degree Attainment vs. Respondent Degree Attainment for Males
Mother's Highest Education <High School High School Jr. College Bachelor Graduate Total (N) <High School 27.88% 9.45% 1.72% 3.64% 2.50% 148 High School 51.60% 57.04% 43.10% 33.64% 40.00% 571 Jr. College 4.49% 8.25% 18.97% 3.64% 12.50% 82 Bachelor 11.54% 16.15% 18.97% 37.27% 22.50% 191 Graduate 4.49% 9.11% 17.24% 21.82% 22.50% 110 Total (N) 312 582 58 110 40 1102
The first cross tabulation, Table B, illustrates the relationship of mother’s degree and respondent’s degree for males. From this table, we can see that again there is a positive relationship between degree attainment by mother and degree attainment for the respondent, because as mother’s degree increases, there is also a trend for the respondent’s degree to increase. And again, as in Table A, the corresponding degree cells (meaning Jr. College for mother and Jr. College for Respondent, etc.) are home to the largest column percentages of respondents. This indicates that among all of the males who have attended Jr. College, the greatest number of them had mothers who also attended Jr. College.
Table C – Maternal Degree Attainment vs. Respondent Degree Attainment for Females
Mother's Highest Education <High School High School Jr. College Bachelor Graduate Total (N)
<High School 26.82% 4.67% 4.92% 2.00% 2.50% 164
High School 56.01% 58.84% 44.26% 45.00% 32.50% 762
Jr. College 6.44% 8.35% 14.75% 5.00% 5.00% 105
Bachelor 6.22% 20.65% 29.51% 28.00% 35.00% 235
Graduate 4.51% 7.50% 6.56% 20.00% 25.00% 108
Total (N) 466 707 61 100 40 1374
Table C, which is shown above, is a cross tabulation of the degree attained by the mother and that of the respondent for females. Again it is clear that there is a positive relationship between higher degree attainment for mothers and higher degree attainment for the respondent. However, in this case, unlike the previous two tables, the highest percentages by column are not always located in the corresponding degree cells (i.e. Bachelor for mother and Bachelor for respondent). Still, there is again a noticeable positive relationship between the two variables, where an increase in mother’s degree leads to an increase in respondent’s degree as well. Beyond simple table comparison, the aforementioned association statistic for each of these respective tables provides a valuable tool for further understanding the association. For Table B (males), the association statistic is 0.4329, again indicating a relatively strong positive relationship between the two variables, though less so then in the aggregate data presented in Table A (which had a value of 0.4623). In this case, we can say with 95 percent confidence that the value of the statistic for Table B lies between 0.3643 and 0.5015. In addition, we can again say that there is less than a 1/10 of one percent chance that the value of the association is not correct. In analyzing the same thing for Table C (females), we arrive at an association statistic value of 0.4899. We can say that 95 percent of the time, the true value of the association will lie between 0.42718 and 0.55262.
For this table, we can also say that there is a less than 1/10 in one percent chance that the association statistic is incorrect. Overall, in comparing the association statistics of both tables, we can see that there is a stronger association in mother’s degree and respondent’s degree among females than there is among males. Also, the association among males is less than the association for the aggregate table (Table A). Because each of the association values is statistically significant, we can say with confidence that these associations are in fact true. Thus, it is clear that there is an interaction effect present here, as mother’s degree attainment has a stronger relationship with daughter’s degree attainment than it does with son’s degree attainment.
Based on the findings after analyzing the data, my hypothesis that maternal degree attainment is more associated with respondent’s degree attainment for daughters than for sons appears to be substantiated. There seems to be a clear (though relatively small) difference in the degree of association between the two degree variables when taking into account the sex of the respondent, with a higher association level being correlated with being female than with being male. Though degree attainment is only one variable measuring parental role modeling, it can serve as a good beginning point for further research in this area. In the future, and to more fully develop this vein of research it would be valuable to examine this phenomenon of maternal role-modeling as it is manifested in other variables, such as income, political attitudes, type of work, size of family, etc. In other words, do daughters also model their
mothers more closely than sons do in their career path, family size, etc? Through further examination, we can better understand whether maternal role modeling is present only in education or elsewhere as well. In addition to examining maternal role modeling, it would be valuable to understand how this phenomenon contrasts with that of paternal role modeling for sons. Do daughters and sons have similar association statistics with their same-sex parents, or do they differ? Even if one were not to completely examine parental role modeling, a basic comparison would be valuable. One issue that would need to be dealt with is only selecting respondents who lived with both parents, as otherwise the data could potentially be easily thrown out as invalid. In the future, I hope to be able to add a question like this to my analysis. Overall, this project has provided a nice stepping stone for further research into familial relationships and gender role modeling. The affirmation of the hypothesis with statistically significant findings provides positive evidence that further research in related areas might lead to similar results, which in turn would allow for greater understanding into the dynamics within families as well as society as a whole. This has been an extremely worthwhile and engaging exercise and I have learned a great deal about the topic as well as statistics as a whole.
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