It's only a dream if you wake up: Young adults' achievement expectations, opportunities, and meritocratic beliefs

Jacob Shane, Jutta Heckhausen
Published Online:
04 Jan 2017
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 52 Issue 1

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The present paper examines university graduates' beliefs about how meritocratic socioeconomic status (SES) attainment in U.S. society is for themselves (merit agency beliefs) and for most other people (merit societal beliefs), and how these distinct beliefs are differentially associated with labour market experiences and achievement‐goal attitudes and expectations in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Data from a 10‐month longitudinal study of 217 graduates from the 2013 class of a large public U.S. university were analysed using multilevel modelling. The results indicate that most participants optimistically expected to attain upward social mobility. Furthermore, participants' merit agency beliefs were reflective of their labour market prospects and experiences, and calibrated their achievement‐goal attitudes and expectations. However, participants' merit societal beliefs were not associated with these labour market experiences and achievement‐goal attitudes and expectations. The distinction between merit agency beliefs and merit societal beliefs may be motivationally beneficial by allowing individuals to continue striving toward the uncertain long‐term goal pursuit of upward social mobility despite the short‐term struggles and setbacks many young adults are likely to experience in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

© 2017 International Union of Psychological Science