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Keywords:

  • economic disadvantage;
  • efficacy;
  • ethnicity;
  • family process;
  • life course;
  • poverty

This study applies a family process model to the linkage between early economic disadvantage and later enrollment in higher education. Using two waves of data on low-income youth, the authors found that the attitudes and behaviors of their parents, mostly mothers, mediate the impact of disadvantage on enrollment. Economically disadvantaged parents are less optimistic about their adolescents' educational chances and, in turn, engage less in the proactive parenting that promotes enrollment. The authors also found that parents' perceived efficacy buffers against the more negative consequences of disadvantage that can influence their adolescents' educational trajectories. Group comparisons reveal few differences by gender or ethnicity.