Big fish in little ponds aspire more: Mediation and cross-cultural generalizability of school-average ability effects on self-concept and career aspirations in science

  • Nagengast B
  • Marsh H
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Abstract

Being schooled with other high-achieving peers has a detrimental influence on students' self-perceptions: School-average and class-average achievement have a negative effect on academic self-concept and career aspirations-the big-fish-little-pond effect. Individual achievement, on the other hand, predicts academic self-concept and career aspirations positively. Research from Western and developed countries implies that the negative contextual effect on career aspirations is mediated by academic self-concept. Using data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2006 (a total of 398,750 15-year-old students from 57 countries), we test the generalizability of this mediation model in science using a general multilevel structural equation modeling framework. Individual achievement was positively related to academic self-concept (52 countries) and career aspirations (42 countries). The positive effect on career aspirations was mediated by self-concept in 54 countries. The negative effects of school-average achievement on self-concept (50 countries) and career aspirations (31 countries) also generalized well. After controlling for self-concept at both the individual and the school level, there were significant indirect contextual effects in 34 countries-evidence for mediation of the contextual effect of school-average achievement on career intentions by academic self-concept. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved) (journal abstract)

Author-supplied keywords

  • Academic self-concept
  • Big-fish-little-pond effect
  • Career aspirations
  • Cross-cultural studies
  • Mediation

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Authors

  • Benjamin Nagengast

  • Herbert W. Marsh

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