Motivation, Legitimation, or Both?

Reciprocal Effects of Parental Meritocratic Beliefs and Children’s Educational Performance in China


Different research traditions have long held that parental beliefs motivate children’s educational achievement. However, regarding meritocratic beliefs, sociologists often argue that meritocratic narratives legitimize and make sense of societal inequalities as justly deserved. Using the case of China, I simultaneously tested these two competing hypotheses of the relationship between parental perception of meritocracy and children’s educational achievement. Parental beliefs about skills and hard work as predictors of higher grades were used. I analyzed data from the first and second waves of the China Educational Panel Survey. Autoregressive cross-lagged structural models indicated that parental meritocratic beliefs do not affect children’s educational performance but, rather, meritocratic beliefs are affected by academic results, suggesting their justificatory role. This pattern is much sharper in rural China, where traditional Chinese culture is preserved, and more salient in the case of hard work. The implications of meritocratic beliefs for a broader discussion of citizens’ beliefs about social inequalities and stratification are discussed.

Social Psychology Quaterly, 84(2), 110-131