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Education is one of the top expenditures for families, especially in Asia. For example, the average expenditure on a child’s education from primary school to undergraduate level in Hong Kong is more than any other regions/countries in the world. When examined closer, some educational purchases are made to develop a child’s strengths (i.e., strength-focused purchases), while others are made to remedy a child’s weaknesses (i.e., weakness-focused purchases). How do parents choose between the two, given their time and budget constraints?

We examine how parents’ perceptions of current society, namely, perceived social mobility can play a vital role. Perceived social mobility describes the extent to which individuals believe that society allows them to achieve higher social status through their own efforts. We find that high perceived social mobility leads parents to prioritize a status advancement goal and makes them adopt a more proactive strategy in education and concentrate on a child’s strengths, whereas low perceived social mobility leads parents to prioritize a status maintenance goal and makes them adopt a more cautious strategy in education and focus on a child’s weaknesses. Furthermore, we find that such process would result in variation of parents’ preferences between strength-focused purchases and weakness-focused purchases accordingly.

Therefore, our research findings provide critical implications for different stakeholders. First, for parents, understanding how status motivation influences their educational purchases can help them make better decisions for their children’s education. Second, marketers should consider clear positioning strategies for educational products and design advertisements that align with consumers’ desire for status pursuit. Finally, policymakers should aim to coordinate school education with family education, finding a balance between maximizing strengths and addressing weaknesses for optimal educational outcomes.