A social inequality of motivation? The relationship between beliefs about academic success and young people's educational attainment

Journal article


Smith, Jonathan and Skrbis, Zlatko. (2017) A social inequality of motivation? The relationship between beliefs about academic success and young people's educational attainment. British Educational Research Journal. 43(3), pp. 441 - 465. https://doi.org/10.1002/berj.3272
AuthorsSmith, Jonathan and Skrbis, Zlatko
Abstract

Meritocratic ideals, which emphasise individual responsibility and self‐motivation, have featured prominently in discourses about Australia's international competitiveness in academic achievement. Young people are often encouraged to attribute academic success and failure to individual factors such as hard work and talent, and to downplay extrinsic factors such as luck, task difficulty, or broader structural advantages and disadvantages. Using longitudinal data on a large, single‐age cohort (n=2,145) of young Australians participating in the Social Futures and Life Pathways (‘Our Lives’) project, we analyse the relationship between attributions for academic success across their final years of secondary schooling and how they related to educational attainment at the end of school. The belief that hard work would lead to academic success was widespread within the sample and positively associated with subsequent educational performance. Most students also emphasised the importance of having a supportive family, despite this being negatively associated with performance. Consistent with claims about a ‘social inequality of motivation’, the findings suggest that emphasising meritocracy may compound the disadvantages of young people from less educated or vocational backgrounds, and those living in rural and regional Australia, whilst impacting unevenly on males' and females' academic performance.

Keywordssocial inequality; attribution theory; habitus; meritocracy; academic motivation
Year2017
JournalBritish Educational Research Journal
Journal citation43 (3), pp. 441 - 465
PublisherWiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
ISSN0141-1926
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1002/berj.3272
Scopus EID2-s2.0-85019042297
Open accessPublished as green open access
Research or scholarlyResearch
Page range441 - 465
ProjectOur Lives Project
Research GroupSchool of Arts
Author's accepted manuscript
File Access Level
Open
Publisher's version
File Access Level
Controlled
Output statusPublished
ARC Funded ResearchThis output has been funded, wholly or partially, under the Australian Research Council Act 2001
Grant IDDP130101490
DP0557667
DP0878781
Additional information

This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Smith, J.F. and Skrbiš, Z. (2017), A social inequality of motivation? The relationship between beliefs about academic success and young people's educational attainment. Br Educ Res J, 43: 441-465., which has been published in final form at https://doi.org/10.1002/berj.3272 . This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.

Place of publicationUnited Kingdom
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