ERG SES G 05, Gender and Education
At the end of compulsory education in Finland, ninth-graders are standing before one of the most important decisions affecting the level of education that they will attain (Nyyssölä, 2004), that is, choosing an upper secondary school. Educational aspirations are not only one of the most significant predictors of actual educational and career attainment for adolescents (Wigfield & Eccles, 2000; Schoon & Parsons, 2002), but also, influential to their overall well-being (Ashby & Schoon, 2012). It is therefore important to understand which factors are influencing students’ educational aspirations during this critical transitional phase. Previously, researchers have found that several academic and motivational factors play an important role in the shaping of students’ educational aspirations (Wigfield & Eccles, 2000), and it is suggested that pathways leading to educational aspirations differ between genders (Korhonen et al., 2016; Watt et al., 2012). However, only a few studies have investigated gendered differences in educational aspirations by combining several different academic domains (e.g. reading and mathematics). Also, despite the importance of students’ well-being for various educational and socio-emotional outcomes (e.g., achievement: Fiorelli et al., 2017; motivation: Tuominen-Soini et al., 2012), research that have included factors reflecting students' psychological well-being when investigating educational aspirations, are scarce. Exceptionally, Korhonen et al. (2016) investigated gendered pathways to educational aspirations in two academic domains (reading and mathematics) by including domain-general academic self-concept, school burnout and teacher-rated interest as predictive variables and, found that mathematics performance had a stronger effect for boys’ educational aspirations, while reading was more important for girls. These gender differences could partly reflect the rationale behind the Internal/External frame (I/E) of reference model and gender-typical comparison processes (Marsh, 1986; Marsh et al., 2015), i.e., that boys identify more strongly with mathematics and, consequently, place more emphasis on mathematics, while the opposite applies for girls in reading. Further, according to the I/E model, high performance in one domain, might result in lower self-concept in another domain. However, Korhonen and his colleagues were unable to test these assumptions, due to the lack of domain-specific self-concept measures. Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate how ninth-graders’ performance (reading and mathematics), motivational beliefs (self-concept and interest) and academic well-being (schoolwork engagement and school burnout) predict girls and boys educational aspirations. More specifically, we are complementing prior research by i) including domain specific self-concept and interest in two academic domains (reading and mathematics), ii) by including both positive and negative indicators of academic well-being (schoolwork engagement and school burnout) among the predictive variables and, iii) by including the defining paths of the I/E model in order to investigate the effect of mathematics performance on reading self-concept, and also, the effect of reading performance on mathematics self-concept. Accordingly, we set the following research questions:
How does performance in mathematics and reading predict boys’ and girls’ educational aspirations?
How does domain-specific self-concept and interest (mathematics and reading) predict boys’ and girls’ educational aspirations?
How does students academic well-being (schoolwork engagement and school burnout) predict boys’ and girls’ educational aspirations?
How does performance in mathematics and reading predict boys’ and girls’ mathematics and reading self-concept?
Adolescents in ninth grade (N = 496, 52% girls), studying their last year of comprehensive school, participated in the present study during one school year. The students came from five lower secondary schools in Finland, and completed a standardized mathematics test (KTLT: Räsänen Linnanmäki, Korhonen, Kronberg, & Uppgård, 2013) and a standardized reading comprehension test (LS Klassdiagnoser: Johansson, 2005) in fall, 2016 (T1). Later in the same school year, in spring 2017 (T2), when the students were in the process of choosing an upper secondary school, the students completed measures of both idealistic and realistic educational aspirations (i.e. “Highest academic degree I want to achieve” and “Highest academic degree I will probably achieve”), interest and self-concept in mathematics and reading (Self Description Questionnaire I: Marsh, 1992), school burnout (School Burnout Inventory: Salmela-Aro et al., 2009) and schoolwork engagement (Schoolwork Engagement Inventory: Salmela-Aro & Upadyaya, 2012). The measurements were conducted with groups of students in their own schools, in intact classrooms during teacher-selected lessons. First, measurement invariance was established for boys and girls by fitting a series of multiple group confirmatory factor analyses (CFA) to the data. After achieving prerequisite for meaningful group comparison, a series of multi-group structural equation models were fitted to the data to explore different pathways to educational aspirations. Our hypothetical model was constructed based on theoretical considerations (expectancy-value model: Eccles, 2009, I/E model; Marsh et al., 2015) and previous empirical results. First, all predictive variables (performance, self-concept and interest in mathematics and reading, school burnout and schoolwork engagement) were set to directly predict educational aspirations. Second, given that motivational beliefs mediate the effect of achievement on educational aspirations (Eccles, 2009; Korhonen et al., 2016), we examined the mediating effects of self-concept and interest in mathematics and reading between performance measures and educational aspirations. Third, as students’ well-being have been found to influence both their achievement (Fiorilli et al., 2017) and their motivational beliefs (Tuominen-Soini et al., 2012), both direct and indirect effects of school burnout and schoolwork engagement through self-concept and interest on educational aspirations were examined. Lastly, on the basis of the I/E model (Marsh et al., 2015), mathematics and reading performance was set to predict both mathematics and reading self-concept.
Our hypothesized model described the data well, and explained 34% of the variance in educational aspirations for both boys and girls. The results show both similarities and differences in pathways to educational aspirations between genders. First (RQ1), the only direct path from performance to educational aspirations was found for boys in the mathematics domain, while girls’ reading performance predicted educational aspirations indirectly through reading self-concept. Further, regarding motivational beliefs (RQ2), interest in mathematics predicted educational aspiration directly for both genders, while self-concept in reading only was a predictor for girls. As for pathways from academic well-being to educational aspirations (RQ3), school burnout had negative indirect effects through interest and self-concept in mathematics, while engagement had positive indirect effects through interest in mathematics, for both boys and girls. Lastly (RQ4), as expected, domain-specific performance positively predicted the corresponding, domain-specific self-concept. However, no significant paths from mathematics performance to reading self-concept, or from reading performance to mathematics self-concept were found. In conclusion, our results demonstrate that both between- and within-domain gender differences in how achievement, motivational beliefs and academic well-being predicts educational aspirations for boys and girls occur. The findings largely concur with those found by Korhonen et al. (2016), indicating that mathematics performance is more important in the shaping of boys educational aspirations, while reading seem to be more important for girls. These results emphasize that students’ performance, motivation and well-being all needs to be supported to help them set appropriate educational goals for themselves.
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