Defining What College Success Mean to You Through Generational Lens

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Method
  • Procedures
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • References


Generations have differing opinions on how important a good education when it comes to success. Efforts to promote education has consistently tied to measuring success and has been crucial to our society. Despite this, there have been many success stories that have proven that education is not a requirement to me successful. In 2018, Business Insider did a story on a seven year old who made $22M pretax. Ryan of RyanToyReviews (a prominent YouTuber) is among the big names such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg who became successful without completing a college education. Perhaps education is no longer a requirement to measure success but instead has been replaced with determination and pursuit. If this is the case, maybe there should be shift in the education realm and possibly improve the content of education. Is there a need to educate parents and teachers on what type of curriculum are relevant to determine to success. Intergenerational opinions might be vary when it comes to opinions of the importance of education. This study examines age as an influence on opinions about the importance of education.

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RQ: What are the characteristics of those who believe that education is needed to get ahead?

HA: There is a relationship between age with the level of importance placed that education was needed to get ahead.

HD: There is a difference in frequency between responding that it was “very important” and “not important at all” in the idea that education is needed to get ahead.



A secondary was used to conduct the analysis of the relationship between age and the levels of importance placed from people who think good education is needed to get ahead using The General Social Survey (GSS). This database gathers information to explain trends in attitudes and behaviors of society. Respondents are selected randomly throughout the United States to represent a cross-section of the country. Surveys are conducted biannually through a face-to-face 90-minute interview process (Smith, Davern, Freese, & Hout, 1972-2018).


From 1972-2018 the target population for the survey were adults 18+ living in households throughout the United States. Each year the GSS has a particular focus in areas of government, social inequality, national identity, or religion. In 1988, Social Inequality was conducted (Smith et al., 1972-2018). For the variable AGE (age of respondent) and SEX (respondent’s sex) there were 64,486 valid cases and for the variable OPEDUC (need education to get ahead) there were 1,542 cases reported.


The data retrieved from GSS consisted of a scale question, binary question and a Likert-type question. Participants were asked to report their age through a multiple choice question. Possible answers were, “10-19”, “20-29”, “30-39”, “40-49”, “50-59”, “60-69”, “70-79”, “80 or over” and “No answer, don’t know”. Participants were asked to report their sex. Possible answers were “Male” or “Female”. Participants were asked to rate their beliefs on education based on having a good education themselves on a Likert-type scale. The question was: Please show for each of these how important you think it is for getting ahead in life, having a good education yourself. Possible Reponses included “Essential”, “Very Important”, “Fairly Important”, “Not very important”, “Not important at all”, “Can’t Choose, “No answer” and “Not applicable”.


The software Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) was used to analyze the research question and hypothesis in this survey, RQ: What are the characteristics of those who believe that education is needed to get ahead?

In order to answer the RQ a frequency distribution was used to determine the average age (AGE), sex (SEX) and the level of importance placed that education was needed to get ahead (OPEDUC).. After running an analysis, it was found that the mean age of participants was 46.10 out of the 64,486 participants. The mean of respondent’s sex was 1.56 with 1 being made and 2 being female. 55.9 percent of respondents and 44.1% were male out of 64,486 participants were female. Of the 1,542 responses when asked if education was need to get ahead, 35.5% chose that it was essential, 49.6% chose that it was very important, 13.6% chose that it was fairly important, 1.3% thought that it was not very important and .1% thought that it was not important at (See Graph 1) (Smith et al., 1972-2018).

HA: There is a relationship between age and the level of importance placed that education was needed to get ahead.

A bivariate correlation was used to assess the relationship between the respondent’s age and the level of importance placed that education was needed to get ahead. Results showed that there was a positive correlation between the two variables, r=.110, n=1537 (see GRAPH 2) (Smith et al., 1972-2018). It was found that the older the respondent was, the level of importance was greater.

HD: There is a difference in frequency between responding that it was “very important” and “not important at all” in the idea that education is needed to get ahead.

In order to test HD, a chi-square was used to evaluate the frequencies of responses when asked if education was needed to get ahead. Results show there was a statistically significant difference x2(4) = 1468.752, p < .05 (Smith et al., 1972-2018). The results show that 765 out of the 1542 respondents valued education as “very important” to get ahead and only 1 valued education as “not important at all” (see GRAPH 3).


For this study it was determined that there was a correlation between age and different values in education as a factor in getting ahead. Reiterating that this question was asked in 1987, different factors such a time period might have influenced the participant’s answers. Considering the average age of respondents who participated in this survey was 46.10, we have to look at current events that was happening during this time to understand why. In 1965 The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was passed. This law was passed to provide equal access to quality education through funding for professional development, instructional materials, resources to support educational programs, and the promotion of parental involvement (Paul, 2016). The promotion of quality education during this time period might have affected adults coming from this generation and have placed a greater value on good education.

Getting ahead and success have different meanings if you ask different people across difference generations. If one were to measure “getting ahead” and “success” through socioeconomic status then we might have an agreement. A study that examined interactive effects of age and socioeconomic status on social networks found that higher levels of education have a linkage to larger personal networks between both men and women. They attributed this to greater cognitive resources and skills needed to develop and sustain social relationships (Ajrouch, Blandon, & Antonucci, 2005). Sometimes being successful has to do with the social networks and can at times be a factor in success.

Another factor such as contributions to economic growth and progress can also be a measurement of “getting ahead” and or “success”. Our society is changing from 1987 and is becoming more culturally diverse and each person can contribute in some way to economic development. In a study that examines the different dimensions of cultural values to promote economic growth, it was found that both formal and informal education as a factor in an individual’s cultural values. Formal education comes from mediums such as schools but informal education through different channels such as media can also shape cultural values. (Bangwayo-Skeete, Rahimb, & Zikhalic, 2011). Considering these findings and our changing societal norms, perhaps education should be valued at a greater level but through different channels. Mainstream social media should start to make a greater effort in producing content that can contribute to positive cultural values for informal education. There are communities that have easier access to informal education and content creators can behind to push the idea that education is a great investment then the results can not only benefit cultural values but also formal educational success.


This study examined the characteristics of the different values participants placed on education as a factor in getting ahead. While this question was asked during a time period where there was a great emphasis on quality education, we found that more people valued education that those who did not value it at all. There are many different factors when it comes to determining success and while there are success stories that required anything but, we have to see those stories as outliers. This questions should be asked each decade to see different trends and if social norms and technological advances contribute to the values placed on education.


  1. Ajrouch, K. J., Blandon, A. Y., & Antonucci, T. C. (2005, November). Social Networks Among Men and Women: The Effects of Age and Socioeconomic Status. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 60(6), S311-S317. From
  2. Bangwayo-Skeete, P. F., Rahimb, A. H., & Zikhalic, P. (2011, April). Does education engender cultural values that matter for economic growth? The Journal of Socio-Economics, 40(2), 163-171. From
  3. Lynch, J., & Clark, T. (2018, December 13). A 7-year-old boy is making $22 million a year on YouTube reviewing toys. From Business Insder :
  4. Paul, C. A. (2016). Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. From Social Welfare History Project:
  5. Smith, Tom W., Davern, Michael, Freese, Jeremy, and Morgan, Stephen L., General Social Surveys, 1972-2018 [machine-readable data file] /Principal Investigator, Smith, Tom W.; Co-Principal Investigators, Michael Davern, Jeremy Freese and Stephen L. Morgan; Sponsored by National Science Foundation. –NORC ed.– Chicago: NORC, 2019.
  6. 1 data file (64,814 logical records) + 1 codebook (3,758 pp.). — (National Data Program for the Social Sciences, no. 25).

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