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The intergenerational transmission of educational values from working -class mothers to their adolescent daughters in two western Massachusetts mill towns

Mary Jayne Fay, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study was designed to identify what, if any, communications occurred between working-class mothers, who had experience as sole supporters of families, and their adolescent daughters to socialize the daughters to the role of education in the daughters' lives. Additionally, this study was designed to determine whether there was an intergenerational transmission of educational values between working-class mothers and their daughters, and to determine if mothers are their daughters' first educational role models or mentors. The participants were a homogeneous sampling of seven Caucasian working-class mother and daughter pairs from two rural western Massachusetts mill towns. After an initial questionnaire which helped to identify prospective participants, semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with the pairs and a topical guide was used to gather comparable data from all participants. Thematic analysis was conducted to analyze the data. Participants in this study provided insights into both multigenerational and intergenerational messages transmitted across generations and the mechanisms by which those messages were transmitted. They also provided insights into how messages from their working-class work ethic both shaped and contradicted their aspirations for success. The intersection of social class and the mothers' experiences as sole supporters revealed specific messages about working-class values and what it meant for the participants to be successful or not. The mothers in this study used these messages to purposefully push their daughters toward success, which they believed began with a four-year college degree. Finally, this study revealed that these working-class mothers were their daughters' first educational role models and mentors. However, due to gaps in procedural knowledge and the mothers' passivity in assisting daughters in obtaining information that would help them prepare for college, there became a point where most mothers became ineffective mentors, thus highlighting the need for positive role models and mentors, for both mothers and daughters. Additionally, several unarticulated contradictions emerged between the messages and with regard to the participants' desire for success. The paper concludes with a discussion about implications for future research and practice.

Subject Area

Social studies education|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Fay, Mary Jayne, "The intergenerational transmission of educational values from working -class mothers to their adolescent daughters in two western Massachusetts mill towns" (2005). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3179872.