The effects of mother-daughter cohesion, parental marital status, living with parents, and English as a second language on reading achievement of Hispanic freshman females were investigated.  Forty-two first semester Hispanic freshman females enrolled in introductory, first-semester freshman courses at a predominately Hispanic southwestern university completed the Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scale IV (FACES IV) and the Wide Range Achievement Test – 3rd Edition (WRAT – 3) Reading test during the Fall, 2006 semester.  Results indicated that mother-daughter cohesion, parental marital status and living with parents were significant factors associated with reading achievement scores (p < .033).  English as a second language was not a significant factor in reading achievement (p = .088).  Implications for utilizing familial influences on reading were suggested.

Factors Associated with the Quality of the Mother-Daughter Relationship and Level of Reading Achievement of Hispanic Freshman Women

Reading achievement is a primary benchmark of academic success and will impact the student throughout life.  The level of parental educational achievement and views regarding their child’s academic success play important roles in a child’s academic achievement.  The bonding between mother and daughter, particularly among Mexican-Americans, may have a profound influence upon the daughter’s academic success.  Latina students have the highest high school dropout rate compared to any other ethnic or racial group (Zambrana & Zoppi, 2002).  Those Latinas who have had academic success reported that their success was due to having a mother who was an influential role model (Gandara, 1982).  Because reading is a cornerstone of academic success and since Mexican-American mothers may have considerable influence upon their daughters’ academic success, further evidence is needed to understand the profound impact of cohesion between Mexican-American mothers and their daughters and the daughters’ eventual academic success.

The purpose of this study was to identify the strength of cohesion within Mexican-American mother-daughter dyads and the daughter’s level of undergraduate reading achievement.  It was hypothesized that higher levels of cohesion within Mexican-American mother-daughter dyads would be identified with higher levels of the daughters’ undergraduate reading achievement.  Olson et al. (1983) defined cohesion as “the emotional bonding that a family has towards another,” (p. 48). Reading achievement was identified by measuring proficiency of the “codes needed to learn the basic skills of reading” (Wilkinson, 1993, p.10)

Mother-Daughter Relationship, Family Support, and Academic Achievement

According to Rastogi (2004), the mother-daughter relationship is the most important of all intergenerational relationships and seems to play a significant role in the daughter’s academic success.  Hernandez, Vargas-Lew, and Martinez (1994) found that Mexican-American daughters’ academic aspirations lie in: 1) how much their mothers encourage them; 2) how important their mothers deem education to be for their daughters; and 3) how much education their mothers want them to achieve.  As Moulton (1985) discovered, a mother’s lack of encouragement towards her daughter’s academic performance can lead to extreme anxiety and, in many cases, eventual failure.  For instance, Baker and Entwisle (1986) found that daughters are more pessimistic about their academic abilities when their mothers believe their sons are better students.  Cohesion within the mother-daughter relationship defines the daughter in many ways, particularly in academia, and can affect whether the daughter will finish high school, go to college, and be successful thereafter.

To continue, Cornelius-White, Garza, and Hoey (2004) found, in a study of 122 academically successful Mexican-American high school seniors, that the students’ academic success was correlated to the degree of the family’s support.  Fleming (1982) found that 49% of Hispanics said their mothers influenced them a great deal, compared to 40% of Anglo respondents.  The actual home environment and bonding within the family unit links itself directly with a person’s academic success (Marjoribanks, 1972; Hein & Lewko, 1994).  Students who excel in academia have closer and more supportive families than those students who do not do as well academically (Cornell & Grossberg, 1987).  In fact, King (1998) found that students who have low high school GPAs are much more likely to have low cohesion and high levels of conflict in their family home environment.  The relationship between academic success and home environment extends beyond the secondary grades, however.  Walker and Satterwhite (2002) found that college students consistently do better in the classroom when they come from emotionally close families.

Part of the family cohesion factor relating to academic success is parental belief in their child’s academic ability.  Children whose parents believe in their academic abilities do better in school (Aunola, Nurmi, & Lerkkanen, 2003).  Also, although parental marital status has been shown not to be directly related to a college student’s perception of his/her self worth or the student’s relationship with his/her parents (Stralka, 1995), Chang (2004) found that children’s parents who are married have higher levels of reading achievement than those with unmarried parents. 

Families of Latino descent come very close to mirroring majority group findings when it comes to family cohesion and the academic success of children.  Qian and Blair (1999) found that Hispanic parents who are involved in their children’s school activities have children who have higher educational aspirations.  In terms of Mexican-American daughters, Plunkett and Bamaca-Gomez (2003) found that Mexican-American female students had higher educational motivation and aspirations when their parents had higher education levels and high educational aspirations for their daughters.  In fact, Latino parents play a crucial role in their daughters’ entire academic career from pre-school all the way through completion of graduate school.  Kypuros (2005) found that Mexican-American women who achieved doctoral degrees based their success on support of family and expectations of their family that they would go to college.

Mother-Daughter Relationship and Reading Ability

Girls’ self-assessment of their reading skills is heavily contingent upon their mother’s perception of their cognitive abilities (Stevenson & Newman, 1986).  Additionally, Jones (1996) found that students’ perception of their relationship with their mother is directly related to the students’ achievement in reading.  Because a daughter’s reading ability is dependent upon the mother-daughter relationship (Jones, 1996), the daughter’s academic career can be harmed if this relationship is strained. 

Academic Success and Reading Ability

For decades a positive relationship has existed between college achievement and how well a student reads (Anderson & Dearborn, 1941).  People who read well before entering college have greater vocabularies, reasoning abilities, and reading comprehension than readers who have difficulties related to reading (Farley & Elmore, 1992; Cunningham & Stanovich, 1997). 

A study by the National Center for Education Statistics (1996) found that in 1995, 29% of college freshmen were enrolled in at least one remedial reading, writing, or mathematics course; this number jumps to 43% at institutions with high minority enrollment.  Martino & Hoffman, (2002) have shown that phonological awareness is the most important aspect in the reading ability of college students.  A recent study (Geva & Zadeh, 2006) established that English as second language (ESL) students are similar to their English language counterparts in their ability to decode written language, while Duran and Weffer (1992) found that giving special attention to reading helps minority students be more successful in school. Students who read poorly spend more time decoding words and tend to lose the overall meaning of what they are reading (Perfetti, 1985).  In a study of 28 skilled and 31 less skilled college readers, Petros, Bentz, Hammes, and Zehr (1990) found that the differences in the amount of time a student spent reading  was due, in large part, to the student’s word-decoding skills.  Thus the ESL student may experience more difficulties in achieving academic success in American colleges and universities without special attention to English language decoding skills.

Implications of the Literature for the Study

Because college success hinges on reading ability (Anderson & Dearborn, 1941), and as demonstrated above,  a young woman’s reading ability which influences academic success, is influenced by her relationship with her mother (Jones, 1996), it is important or essential rather than integral to determine 1) the level of cohesion in Mexican-American mother-daughter dyads and 2) if the level of cohesion interplays with the daughters’ reading ability at the college level.  Also of importance is if English as a Second Language impacts reading ability in this population group.

There is a paucity of more current research regarding the motherdaughter relationship and reading achievement.  This study attempts to extend the research base, making it timely and more accessible to current practicioners



Participants consisted of 42 Mexican-American females attending a state university in a southwestern city of the United States for the first time during the fall semester of 2006.  The university is a minority enriched school where nearly 72 % of the student body is Hispanic. 

Source of Data

Data concerning cohesion within mother-daughter dyads were obtained from the Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scale IV (FACES IV).  FACES IV validity for the Cohesion domain was .725 with test-retest reliability ranging from .83 to .93(Gorall, Tiesel, & Olson, 2006).

The Wide Range Achievement Test-3 (WRAT-3) was designed “to measure the codes which are needed to learn the basic skills of reading, spelling, and arithmetic,” (Wilkinson, 1993, p. 10).  For the purpose of this study, only the reading portion of the WRAT-3 was used.

Mishra (1981) found that the WRAT is a valid and reliable measure for use on Mexican-Americans.  The test took into account peculiarities in pronunciation (i.e., foreign accents), and items were counted correct if the unusual pronunciation was consistently made throughout the test.


Participants were  given a demographic form and the FACES IV to complete and return.  Each participant was then individually administered the WRAT-3 Reading test (Blue or Tan form).  

Treatment of the Data

Because the data were nominal, inferential and derived from one group, a Chi Square test of independence was used to determine the difference between cohesion in mother-daughter relationships and reading achievement of the daughters.  For the purposes of this study the level of significance was set at p ≤ 0.05.



Of the 47 participants, 32 (68.%) were between 17-18 years of age,  eight (17.2%) were between the ages of 21-23, and 7 (14.8%) were 24 years or older.  Regarding parental marital status, 20 (42.6%) reported having parents who were still married.  Nineteen (40.4%) had parents who were divorced.  Four participants (9%) reported their parents were separated, and 4 (9%) reported their parent’s marital status as being other (i.e., death, incarceration, etc.).

Of the 22 participants, 13 (27.66%) reported they did not live with their parents while 34 (72.34%) reported they still lived with at least one parent.  Finally, 32 (68.1%) of the participants reported that English was their first language, and the remaining 15 (31.9%) reported English as being their second language.

Levels of Mother-Daughter Cohesion, Level of Reading Ability, and English as a Second Language

Significant differences were found when comparing cohesion (χ² = 15.636, df = 2, p = .001), parental marital status (χ² = 8.909, df = 3, p = .031), and living with parents (χ²= 4.545, df = 1, p = .033) with level of reading ability.  These findings indicate that mother-daughter dyads experiencing higher levels of cohesion tended to have higher reading achievement scores.  Also, daughters whose parents were either married or divorced and daughters still living with their parents scored higher in reading achievement.  English as a second language was not a significant factor in reading achievement (χ² = 2.909, df = 1, p = .088).

A Pearson r test correlated participants’ raw scores for the WRAT-3 and the FACES IV.  Results (r = -.168, p = .468) between reading levels and cohesion indicated the WRAT 3 and the FACES IV were running independent of each other.    Also, a partial correlation of the WRAT-3 and the FACES IV scores was conducted controlling for the variables of parental marital status and living with parents (r = -.1545, p = .528).  These indicated that the factors identified in the present study produced no identifiable confounding effects, which further supported the chi square results.


Cohesion was found to be a significant factor regarding levels of reading achievement.  Of the 20 participants with higher levels of reading achievement, 20 (89.9%) tended to be in the moderate or high range of cohesion.  This demonstrated that those participants with higher levels of mother-daughter cohesion had a characteristically more appropriate level of reading achievement for their classification as students.  This supports the study’s hypothesis that higher levels of cohesion within Mexican-American mother-daughter dyads demonstrated significantly higher levels of the daughters’ undergraduate reading achievement.  These results are consistent with Cornell and Grossberg’s (1987) study which found that students who excel in academia have close and supportive families.

Students’ parental marital status was a significant factor in determining levels of reading achievement.  The present study found that students whose parents were married or divorced tended to have higher levels of reading achievement.  Conversely, students whose parents were separated or whose parent had died, been incarcerated, etc. tended to have lower reading levels.  This finding suggested that those Mexican-American females whose parents were either married or divorced, reported a more stable mother-daughter relationship than those whose parents were either separated or where the parent had died or was incarcerated which may have had an impact on their lower reading achievement because of a potentially greater level of instability in the family environment.

Additionally, Hispanic daughters still living with their parents was a third factor in the daughter’s levels of reading achievement.  Daughters living with either or both parents tended to score higher in reading achievement than daughters living away from home during their first semester in college.

As noted, ESL was not a significant factor in determining levels of reading achievement.  While the reasons for this lack of significance are unclear, it appears that ESL does not  discriminate between lower or higher levels of either reading achievement or mother-daughter cohesion.

Further Research

There is a need for further research utilizing a larger sample which would permit a more discriminant means of examining the data.  Studies utilizing more diverse samples (i.e Caucasians, African-Americans, etc.) are needed to study intergroup characteristics.  Finally, due to the paucity of research regarding variables used in this study, such as ESL, parental marital status, and college students still living with parents, additional research is needed to provide more consistent evidence about how college students’ academic performance is affected by the mother-daughter relationship.


This study explored the influence of Mexican-American mother-daughter cohesion and its effect upon the daughters’ ability to read as an incoming college freshman.  The data indicated that mother-daughter cohesion in Mexican-American families does play an important role in the daughters’ reading achievement levels.  Other factors impacting reading achievement levels are the daughters’ parental marital status and whether or not the daughter still lives with her parents.


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