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  • Author or Editor: Jeylan T. Mortimer x
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Whereas Glen Elder and associates’ principles of the life course are usually articulated and investigated individually, they reference analytic distinctions that simplify their empirical coexistence and mutual interrelation. This article illustrates this complexity by focusing on the principle of agency and its intersections with ‘linked lives’ and ‘time and place’. Data are drawn from the Youth Development Study (YDS), which has followed a Minnesota cohort (G2, born 1973–74) from mid-adolescence (ages 14–15) to midlife (ages 45–46). The YDS also includes G1 parents and G3 children, the latter surveyed at about the same age as their parents were when the research began. The findings indicate that multiple agentic orientations, observed in adolescence, affect adult attainments; they are shaped by the ‘linked lives’ of grandparents, parents and children over longer periods of time than previously recognised; and their associations with educational achievement are historically specific. Whereas the ‘linked lives’ of parents and adolescents are generally studied contemporaneously, the agentic orientations of parents, measured as teenagers, were found to predict the same psychological resources in their adolescent children (self-concept of ability, optimism and economic efficacy) decades later. We also found evidence that parents’ occupational values continue to influence the values of their children as the children’s biographies unfold. Suggesting a historic shift in the very meaning and behavioural consequences of agentic orientations, optimism and efficacy replaced educational ambition as significant predictors of academic achievement.

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Highly educated parents hold high educational expectations for their children, which influence children’s motivation and achievement in school. However, it is unclear whether grandparents’ (G1) education influences parents’ (G2) expectations for children (G3) independently of, or in interaction with, parents’ own education. We address this question using data from 477 families in the US Youth Development Study, which has followed a cohort of young people from adolescence through adulthood. Using mixed models to account for shared characteristics of children in the same family, our results demonstrate both main and interaction effects. First, they indicate that grandparents influence parents’ expectations for their children directly. Grandparents’ income and the educational expectations they held for their G2 children when they were in high school predict the G2 parents’ expectations for their own children, even after controlling G2 college attendance. G1 college attendance does not directly affect G2 expectations for G3 after accounting for other relevant family characteristics. However, G1 college attendance moderates the effect of G2 college attendance on their expectations for G3. If G1 did not attend college, G2 college attendance does not significantly heighten their expectations for G3. But G2 college attendance does significantly boost their expectations for G3 if G1 also attended college. We partially replicate these findings using nationally representative data from the US National Longitudinal Survey of Youth – Child and Young Adult cohort. This study highlights the need to expand the scope of status attainment research beyond the parent–child dyad to examine the influence of prior generations.

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