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When aspirations aren't enough: educational aspirations and university participation among Canadian youth Open Access


Other title
Status Attainment Theory
Educational aspirations
Pierre Bourdieu
Post-secondary education
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Hudson, Julie Beth
Supervisor and department
Dr. Harvey Krahn (Sociology)
Dr. Alison Taylor (Educational Policy)
Dr. Michael Haan (Adjunct, Sociology)
Examining committee member and department
Dr. Neil Guppy (University of British Columbia, Sociology)
Dr. Bryan Hogeveen (Sociology)
Department of Sociology

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This study asks are educational aspirations enough? Specifically, this dissertation enquires whether educational aspirations have the potential to allow young people to overcome traditional class-based and other sources of inequality and achieve educational parity with their non-disadvantaged peers. This research utilized Statistics Canada’s Youth in Transition Survey (YITS), a nationally representative longitudinal study that collected data from approximately 26,000 15-year old youth in 2000, as well as from their parents and schools, with follow-up studies in 2002 and 2004. This study used both Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of practice and status attainment theory to help explain both the micro- and macro-level processes involved in the perpetuation of educational inequality using young people’s educational aspirations as the nexus for linking these theoretical approaches. This study showed that educational aspirations at age 15 and educational participation by age 19 systematically vary between groups of youth who come from more or less advantaged backgrounds. Educational aspirations have a strong impact on educational participation. Educational aspirations and grade 12 marks have the strongest direct effect on educational participation. Using path analysis, we find that the sum of the direct and indirect effects of socio-economic, individual demographic and geographic factors, along with parents’ aspirations exceeds the independent effect exerted by both educational aspirations and grade 12 marks. Finally, while school type and quality affect a number of relationships between predictor variables and educational participation at age 19, the role of educational aspirations is not affected by either school quality or type. In conclusion, this research found that yes, educational aspirations do matter. However, despite substantial changes in Canada’s social structure, economy, labour market, and education systems in the past decades, they continue to be shaped and operate within the larger constellation of other socio-economic, individual demographic, geographical, and educational factors. Thus, while elevating educational aspirations alone is not enough to ensure that youth make successful post-secondary transitions, policies and programs that that inform young people and their parents about the variety of post-secondary options and what is required to be successful in them would help make educational aspirations a more meaningful mechanism for future educational success.
License granted by Julie Hudson ( on 2011-08-30T20:54:12Z (GMT): Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of the above terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis, and except as herein provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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