Research on youth in disadvantaged neighborhoods suggests that community contexts can affect adolescents’ beliefs about what it takes to get ahead in society. Nevertheless, a systematic analysis of such beliefs across a wide range of communities remains rare, especially in developing countries. China has experienced a rapid increase in income inequality at both the individual and community levels, which makes it interesting to learn how youth perceive and explain social stratification in China. Using data from the China Family Panel Study (2010-2014), we examine how individual social positions, community socioeconomic status (SES), and their interplay are linked to Chinese adolescents’ views on the importance of meritocratic, structural, and fatalistic contributors to future success. Our analyses show that more education, higher social positions, and higher community SES generally lead youth to place more importance on meritocratic elements and less emphasis on structural and fatalistic elements for future success. The positive association between parental education and meritocratic beliefs among youth is weaker in more disadvantaged communities. For the interplay between family income and community SES in determining adolescents’ stratification beliefs, we found evidence for both the “compound disadvantage” theory and the “relative deprivation” theory. Moreover, we found that meritocratic beliefs are conducive to adolescents’ later academic performance.
Lei Lei is an Assistant Professor of Sociology. She earned her Ph.D. degree in sociology at the SUNY-Albany. Before joining Rutgers, she worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Population Research Center at the University of Maryland. She studies social determinants of health, family dynamics, and social inequality in different societies, including China, India, and the U.S. One line of her research seeks to understand how social factors, such as residential context, working conditions, family dynamics, and gender roles, get under the skin to produce and perpetuate health inequalities. Another strand of her research investigates family behaviors in different societies undergoing social, economic, and demographic transitions. She has examined the gender differences in providing support to older parents in China, the phenomenon of “boomerang kids” in the U.S., and spatial separation of spouses due to migration in India.