Aspirations and Schooling: Analysis of the formation and intra-household impact of educational aspirations in rural China

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Conventional household decision-making models exclude children as participatory agents with bargaining power, even though as the child ages and transitions into adulthood, he or she exerts more control over many decisions affecting his or her life, even in tradition-bound societies. In decisions regarding school enrollment and continuation, the preferences of young people remain an important, yet under-explored factor. Especially in a developing country context, few economics studies have attempted to explore the connection between extrinsic socioeconomic variables and the formation of intrinsic educational aspirations, with the latter influencing educational outcomes. This study is the first to investigate whose aspirations matter in education within the household, and how factors such as income, wealth, and child age affect the relative importance of these aspirations, a proxy for decision-making power. Using longitudinal survey data from rural China, this paper first explores the determinants of parent and child aspirations for schooling, and then investigates the different factors that affect the relative importance attributed to parent and child schooling preferences on school continuation. The five main results of the study are: (1) Aspirations for children are lower than parental aspirations, and correspond more strongly to measures of ability, while gender and wealth were not significant. In contrast, wealth is a significant positive predictor for mother and father aspirations, and mothers have lower aspirations for female than male children. (2) Higher children’s aspirations are significant predictors of staying in school, even after controlling for ability, socioeconomic, and demographic variables, and are more important than parental aspirations. (3) Mother’s aspirations are strongly correlated with children’s aspirations, but do not influence school continuation. In contrast, father’s aspirations do not predict children’s aspirations, but significantly influence school continuation, especially of boys. (4) Age increases the weight on father and child aspirations, suggesting that intrinsic motivation matters more at higher levels of education. (5) Income increases the weight on father aspirations, but decreases that of the child. These results support the inclusion of children’s preferences in household decision making models and human capital investment models, and provide insights into the intrinsic influences that affect intra-household decisions.

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Joyce Meng, Parent and Child Aspirations and Continuation of Schooling, dissertation, MSc in Economics for Development, University of Oxford, 2009.
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