Fathers' expectations key trigger for graduate competitiveness at work

What makes young people competitive? A study by Macquarie Business School has found personal discipline comes out on top, but expectations at home and school also have a role to play.

Fathers' expectations key trigger for graduate competitiveness at work

First published by Macquarie University

A student’s self-discipline and their father’s expectations of them have the greatest impact on how competitive they are likely to be at university and in the workplace, according to new research by the Macquarie Business School.

In a study of 537 recent graduates and current university students from the United States, South Korea and China, students were asked about childhood factors that nurtured their competitiveness at university.

“Our research shows that it is up to parents, particularly fathers,” says Professor Chris Baumann, who co-supervised the study with Professor Yvonne Breyer as part of Dr Hana Krskova’s PhD.

“They have a significant role preparing the next generation to enter the workforce and be competitive, perform and achieve.”

Competitiveness is a valuable attribute, if not the key ingredient, for successful businesses, says Professor Baumann.

“For individuals, competitiveness propels people to aim for success, motivates them to achieve and become more competent while incentivising them to tackle more difficult tasks and projects.”

Parent power

The team also simulated single-parent families in their study where children are raised primarily by their mother (which in the US accounts for more than 30 per cent of families). They found mothers play a significant role in a child’s competitiveness when the father’s role is excluded.

Although research has previously examined factors driving performance such as school or parental expectations as well as involvement in extracurricular activities such as sport or music, the new study shifts the focus to explain competitiveness based on the experiences in the family and at school.

A foundation for the research was the so-called Pygmalion theory - also known as the Rosenthal effect - in which the performance of a child improves when a parent, teacher or professor expresses their high expectations.

“The opposite is also true, if you don't believe in somebody and always talk them down and have low expectations of them, this will likely negatively impact their performance," Professor Baumann says.

“But, of course, we wouldn’t encourage parents to put unrealistic expectations and unnecessary pressure on their children to succeed.”

The study also showed that parents play a pivotal role in encouraging their children to develop personal discipline at home, which in turn aids competitiveness, says Dr Krskova.

“We are very excited that this study indicates that the factors that impact a child’s competitiveness are linked,” Dr Krskova says.

“Parents can help their children build life skills, by helping them focus and be clear about their goals. When they’re actually doing a task or homework, they can assist them to eliminate distractions and allocate enough time, ensuring the child is personally accountable for getting the work done.”

Measures that primary schools enforce, such as making sure children wear their uniform correctly, arrive at school promptly and also do their homework are all important.

Possessing personal discipline sets the child up for success, the researchers found. They compared personal and external discipline in primary and secondary school and found personal discipline was most important, primary school discipline had some effect while secondary school discipline did not.

“This means measures that primary schools enforce, such as making sure that children wear their uniform correctly, arrive at school promptly and also do their homework are all important to enforce,” says Professor Baumann.

There was little difference in the results between the countries of origin of the students, except that the more years of sport that American and Korean students played between the ages of five and 18, the more competitive they became. For Chinese students, the level of competitiveness was high throughout. Sport ranked behind personal discipline and fathers’ expectations as areas that affected a student’s competitiveness.

Music did not have a significant effect on a child becoming competitive, although long periods of regular practice developed self- discipline.

“I think the message is that parents matter to their children’s development of competitiveness. Fathers, in particular, need to be aware of the important role they play for the future of their children’s lives because it impacts their future success. It can be as simple as just asking: do you have homework? How did you go in your test? Can I help you with your school work?"

Professor of Marketing Chris Baumann,  Deputy Dean Education and Employability Professor Yvonne Breyer, and Dr Hana Krskova are from the Macquarie Business School.