Cultural differences in mothers' developmental goals and ethnotheories

Miriam K. Rosenthal*, Dorit Roer-Strier

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


The influence of ecocultural context on parents' image of the adaptive adult is explored via a comparison between the child-rearing goals and ethnotheories of 20 immigrant mothers from the former Soviet Union and 20 Israeli-born mothers. It is assumed that parents' socializing practices are premised on developmental ethnotheories reflecting societal child rearing models and expectations for children's development. The image of the "adaptive adult" in parents' country of origin is so fundamentally ingrained in their beliefs about child rearing that it is retained after immigration, and is integrated with aspects of the image of adaptive adulthood which prevails in the host culture. The current study explored (through semistructured interviews) mothers' developmental ethnotheories concerning the nature of development, how it can be influenced, and why it should be influenced, with regard to cognitive competence, autonomy, emotional regulation, and social understanding and behaviour of their 3-year-old children. It also explored their goals and expectations for their children as adults. Analysis of the interviews with Israeli-born and immigrant mothers lends support to the main thesis of this study. Mothers of both groups would like their children to grow into intelligent, joyful, and independent adults, to be well educated and to hold prestigious occupations. All of the mothers assume, moreover, that much of child development should be promoted through the active involvement of parents. Israeli-born mothers, however, place a greater emphasis on social competence, autonomy, and leadership, whereas the emphasis of the Soviet-born mothers is on achievement, emotional control, efficiency, and organization. The differences and similarities between the two groups of mothers are discussed in the context of their respective ecocultural backgrounds. It is proposed that each group's ethnotheories, developmental goals, and aspirations for their children reflect their respective values, perceptions, and understanding of the reality in which they raise their children. These values and perceptions seem, in turn, related to the respective ecocultures in which they were raised, as well as the one in which they rear their own children.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)20-31
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2001


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