Social Psychology of Education

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 787–803 | Cite as

Qualitative insights into the relationship between socioeconomic status and students’ academic achievement goals

  • Nathan Berger
  • Jennifer Archer


Recent research using quantitative methodologies and an emerging social psychological theory of socioeconomic status (SES) has found an association between students’ SES and their academic achievement goals. As a new area of research in the achievement goal tradition, there has been little investigation of the contextual influences upon particular goal orientations in divergent SES contexts. To explore these influences, focus groups were conducted with 24 secondary school students aged 16–17 years attending a high and a low SES school in New South Wales, Australia. These teenagers were approaching a ‘developmental deadline’ which required immediate decisions about future work and education pathways. As such, they could be experiencing a period of heightened contextual influences. Directed content analysis of the focus groups observed the broad distinctions in achievement goals seen in previous quantitative studies. However, the analysis elucidated some of the ways in which norms and values in different SES contexts influenced the adoption of particular goal orientations. In some cases, the same orientation had markedly different contextual influences stemming from students’ SES backgrounds. From these exploratory findings, we argue for further research into the factors which influence the adoption of different achievement goals by students from different SES backgrounds.


Achievement goals Socioeconomic status Directed content analysis 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Educational ResearchWestern Sydney UniversitySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.School of EducationThe University of NewcastleNewcastleAustralia

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