"Less than half of parents with annual incomes of less than $30,000 expect their child will attain a four-year-college degree, compared with nearly eight in ten parents with incomes over $75,000."
Expectations parents have for their children’s school attainment influence their children’s expectations and achievement, and early expectations tend to persist throughout the child’s school years. Research has shown that parental expectations for children’s academic achievement predict educational outcomes more than do other measures of parental involvement, such as attending school events.
Parents’ expectations influence child outcomes through multiple pathways. Parental expectations are more likely to affect their children when parent-child relationships are characterized by closeness and warmth. Parental expectations directly affect the amount of parent-child communication about school. In addition, families with high educational aspirations for their children provide more out-of-school learning opportunities for them. Students who reported their parents expected them to attend college had better attendance and more positive attitudes toward school, according to one study. Parental expectations also affect the child’s own aspirations and expectations; for instance, studies suggest that parents’ expectations for their children’s academic attainment have a moderate to strong influence on students’ own goals for post secondary education. Further, both sets of expectations are moderated by characteristics of the parent, child, and community.
Overall, prior research has indicated that the great majority of parents expect their children to graduate from high school and complete at least some post secondary education. In 2012, about two-thirds of parents with students in grades six through 12 expected their child would attain a bachelor’s degree or higher (64 percent). About one in four (26 percent) expected their child would achieve some post secondary education short of a bachelor’s degree; and about one in ten (ten percent) expected their child would receive a high school diploma or less. Between 2003 and 2007, parents’ expectations rose modestly, but by 2012 they had fallen. Between 2007 and 2012 there was a decrease in the proportion of parents expecting their child to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher (from 70 to 64 percent), an increase in those expecting “some” post secondary education (from 22 to 26 percent), and a small change in the share of parents expecting children to earn a high school diploma or less (from nine to ten percent).
Differences by Gender
Overall, parents have higher academic expectations for girls than they do for boys, and this gender difference becomes apparent as early as sixth grade. In 2012, more than two-thirds (69 percent) of parents of girls expected them to get a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with six in ten (59 percent) parents of boys. This gender gap grew slightly between 2003 and 2012.
Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin
The proportion of parents with the highest expectations for attainment (bachelor’s degree or more) is greatest among Asian/Pacific Islanders (84 percent in 2012), followed by Hispanics and whites (66 and 63 percent, respectively – not significantly different), and blacks (58 percent). Between 2007 and 2012, parental expectations for attainment at the bachelor’s degree level or above decreased by nine percentage points among whites, by six percentage points among Asian/Pacific Islanders, and by five percentage points among blacks, while they remained the same among Hispanics.
Differences by Household Income Level
Only about half of low-income parents (those with annual incomes of $30,000 or less) expect their children to attain a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with seven out of nine parents earning $75,000 or more. Likewise, ow-income parents are more than three times as likely as the wealthiest parents to expect their child to do no more than finish high school (19 and 6 percent, respectively). When broken down by parents’ own level of education, parental expectations follow a similar pattern.
Differences by Immigrant Status
Compared with U.S.-born parents, immigrant parents have higher expectations for their children’s educational attainment. Among immigrant parents, 72 percent of those with native-born children, and 73 percent of those with foreign-born children, expect their child to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher. Among native-born parents with native-born children, the comparable figure is 61 percent.
Differences by Student's Grade Level
Parents’ educational expectations for their child are conditioned in part by the level of schooling the child has already attained. Parental expectations that a child will get a bachelor’s degree or higher decline with the child’s age, while expectations that a child will receive only some post-secondary education rises. Sixty-seven percent of parents of sixth- through eighth-graders have expectations of a bachelor’s-degree-or-higher for their child, compared with 62 percent of parents of ninth- through twelfth-graders).
Differences by Student's Current Grades
Not surprisingly, parents’ expectations for their child’s academic future are related to their perception of his or her current performance in school. Eighty-four percent of parents who said that their children are currently earning “mostly As” have expectations that they will earn a bachelor’s degree or more, compared with 12 percent of parents who said their children earn “mostly Ds and Fs.” Only three percent with parents whose children are in the “mostly As” group expect their child will get no more than a high school diploma, whereas 55 percent with children in the “mostly Ds and Fs” group have this expectation.
Differences by Number of Activities Parents and Child Share
Parents who are more involved in their children’s lives, as measured by the number of shared activities, are more likely to hold higher expectations for their child’s education. Visiting a library together, attending a concert or play, visiting an art gallery, museum, or historical site, or going together to a zoo or aquarium were listed as the kinds of activities parents and children might have shared in the past month. Among parents who counted three or four such activities, 74 percent expected their child to achieve a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 57 percent among parents who did not share any such activities with their child in the past month. More striking, only between seven and nine percent of parents who shared at least one activity with their child expected that they would not attain more than a high school diploma, compared with 12 percent of parents who shared no activities in the past month.