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Academic Achievement

Family Influences

Coleman (1997) proposes that family influences can be separated into components such as economic, human, and social capital. Economic capital refers to the financial resources and assets available to families, whereas human capital provides parents with the knowledge resources necessary to create supportive learning environments for their children. In contrast, family social capital is defined by the relationships that develop between family members. It is through these relationships that children gain access to the economic, human, and cultural resources of their families. Similarly, Pierre Bourdieu (1998) suggests that children in families from various social status and ethnic/racial groups have differing degrees of access to those forms of cultural capital that support academic success. Bourdieu claims that within social groups, parents provide experiences that result in children developing similar tastes, preferences, academic motivation, and preferences. Eventually, these attributes are related to social status and ethnic/racial group differences in academic and occupational outcomes. A number of theories have been developed to examine those parent-child interactions that provide children with differential access to family resources.

Steinberg's family model. In a set of investigations, Laurence Steinberg (1996) proposes that to understand family influences, it is important to disentangle three different aspects of parenting. These include: (1) parenting style, which provides the emotional context in which parent-child interactions occur; (2) the goals that parents establish for their children; and (3) the practices adopted by parents to help children attain those goals. It has been shown, for example, that a parenting style defined as authoritative is related to positive academic motivation and successful academic achievement (Darling and Steinberg 1993). Such a style creates a context in which parents encourage their children's independence and individuality, provide opportunities for children to be involved in family decision making, expect high standards for their children, and have warm relationships with their children.

Family achievement syndrome. In one of the most significant attempts to construct a framework for the study of family influences, Bernard C. Rosen (1959, 1973) developed the concept of the family achievement syndrome. He proposes that achievement-oriented families can be characterized by variations in the interrelated components of: achievement training, independence training, achievement-value orientations, and educationaloccupational aspirations. Whereas achievement training aims at getting children to do things well, independence training attempts to teach children to do things on their own. Rosen indicates that achievement and independence training act together to generate achievement motivation, which provides children with the impetus to excel in situations involving standards of excellence. In the achievement syndrome, it is proposed that achievement values help to shape children's behavior so that achievement motivation can be translated into successful academic achievement. Rosen states, however, that unless parents express high aspirations for their children, other family influences may not necessarily be associated with academic success. In analyses of social mobility, it has been shown that families from various social status and ethnic/racial groups place different emphases on the dimensions of the family achievement syndrome, and that variations in mobility are related to these group differences in family-achievement orientations.

Bloom's subenvironment model. It was not until Benjamin S. Bloom (1964) and a number of his students examined the family correlates of children's affective and academic outcomes, that a school of research emerged to investigate the relationships between family influences and academic outcomes. Bloom defines family environments as the conditions, forces, and external stimuli that impinge on children. He proposes that these forces, which may be physical or social as well as intellectual, provide a network that surrounds, engulfs, and plays on the child. The Bloom model suggests that the total family context surrounding a child may be considered as being composed of a number of subenvironments. If the development of particular characteristics, such as academic motivation and academic achievement, are to be understood, then it is necessary to identify those subenvironments that are potentially related to the characteristics. The analyses guided by the subenvironment model indicate that it is possible to measure family influences that, when combined, have medium associations with children's academic motivation and large associations with their academic achievement.

Alterable family influences. In an extension of his family model, Bloom (1980) proposes that the objective of family research should be to search for those variables that can be altered, and therefore make a difference in children's learning. The findings from family learning environment research suggest that children's academic success is influenced by the interrelationships among high parental educational and occupational aspirations; a language environment that is characterized by strong reading habits and rich parent-child verbal interactions; academic involvement and support, where parents become actively involved in their children's schooling; an intellectually stimulating home setting, in which parents provide opportunities for children to explore ideas and encourage their children to become involved in imaginationprovoking activities; and parent-child interactions that support the pursuit of excellence in academic and cultural experiences, and that allow independent-oriented behavior. It is important, therefore, that when attempts are made to help families develop more enriched learning environments, the strategies adopted acknowledge the significance of the interrelationships among such influences.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaPregnancy & ParenthoodAcademic Achievement - Family Influences, Family Background And Family Structure, International Research, Future Family Research