Optimism in the face of despair: Black-white differences in beliefs about school as a means for upward social mobility

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Objective. This study aims to provide a better understanding of how beliefs about the system of social mobility affect students' schooling outcomes. Previous studies reach conflicting conclusions because they conflate two forms of beliefs about social mobility (i.e., perceived value of school and perceived barriers despite schooling). Methods. The Maryland Adolescence Development In Context Study (MADICS) is used to examine black-white differences in beliefs about the value of school and barriers to upward mobility despite schooling and how these beliefs predict academic achievement and educational attainment. Results. The analyses show that relative to whites, blacks hold stronger beliefs in both the value of school and barriers to social mobility, and have greater affective attitudes toward schooling. However, belief in barriers to social mobility is not consequential for academic outcomes. Conclusions. Beliefs about upward mobility are mechanisms by which the opportunity structure influences individuals' schooling behaviors and making clear distinctions between various beliefs about the system of social mobility can refine the understanding of this link. This study suggests that individuals make nuanced distinctions about the role of schooling for upward mobility, each with separate effects on academic outcomes. © 2008 by the Southwestern Social Science Association.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Harris, AL

Published Date

  • September 1, 2008

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 89 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 608 - 630

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1540-6237

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0038-4941

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1111/j.1540-6237.2008.00551.x

Citation Source

  • Scopus