"I always knew our Karen would do well"... these words, so typical of a proud mother, have taken on profound significance following a new study by Eirini Flouri and Denise Hawkes at the Institute of Education in London. Their research shows that a mother's expectations about about her daughter's future educational attainment may actually affect that child's future success at work, as well as her sense of control in life.
Flouri and Hawkes used data collected from 1,520 men and 1,765 women as part of the British Cohort Study, which began in 1970. When the study participants were aged ten, their mothers were asked when they thought their child would leave school: at age 16, 17 or 18.
Crucially, those female participants whose mothers predicted that they would stay in school longer, tended to earn more money at the age of 26, and to report having a greater sense of control over their lives at 30, than the female participants whose mothers predicted they would leave school early.
"Given that women are particularly at risk for poor psychological and economic outcomes in adulthood... this is an important conclusion," the researchers said.
This association between mothers' expectations and their daughters' later occupational success and psychological confidence remained even after controlling for a raft of other relevant factors. In other words, mothers' expectations appeared to be exerting an independent effect quite separate from other influences, such as the child's ethnicity or general ability, that might have have simultaneously influenced both the mothers' expectations and their daughters' outcomes.
In contrast to these findings, mothers' expectations had no association with the later occupational success or psychological confidence of sons.
Eirini Flouri, Denise Hawkes (2008). Ambitious mothers - successful daughters: Mothers' early expectations for children's education and children's earnings and sense of control in adult life British Journal of Educational Psychology, 78 (3), 411-433 DOI: 10.1348/000709907X251280
Link to related feature article in The Psychologist magazine (open access).