Asian-American Students Outperform White Peers Due to Working Harder

Wednesday, May 07, 2014
(photo: Robert F. Bukaty, AP)

Asian students are not smarter than white students, according to a new study. They just work harder.


Sociologists from New York and Michigan found after reviewing standardized test scores, teacher evaluations, demographics and other factors that Asian-American students do better in school than white classmates. By the time they reach the fifth grade, or are in the 10-11 age range, Asian-Americans “significantly outperform whites,” with that difference hitting its peak by the 10th grade, or age 15-16.


The reason for this, said the researchers, is because Asian-American students tend to have a stronger work ethic.


Cultural attitudes played a role as well, they found.


“Asian and Asian-American youth are harder working because of cultural beliefs that emphasize the strong connection between effort and achievement,” study authors Amy Hsin of Queens College in New York and Yu Xie of the University of Michigan wrote in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).


“Studies show that Asian and Asian-American students tend to view cognitive abilities as qualities that can be developed through effort, whereas white Americans tend to view cognitive abilities as qualities that are inborn,” they added. “Qualities such as attentiveness, self-control, motivation and persistence may be as important as cognitive abilities in positively affecting academic performance. Asian-American parents may engage in parenting practices that better cultivate these qualities that, in turn, enable their children's academic success.”


Hsin and Xie also ruled out wealth as a factor.


“The poverty rates of Chinese and Vietnamese are higher than they are for whites. However the disadvantaged children of Chinese and Vietnamese immigrant families routinely surpass the educational attainment of their native-born, middle-class white peers,” they wrote.


But being the best in school comes at a price, according to the researchers.


Asian-American students “are less psychologically adjusted and socially engaged in school than their white peers. They may experience more conflict in relationships with parents because of the high educational expectations their parents place on them,” the authors found, based on other research studies.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Study Examines Achievement Gap between Asian American, White Students (by Monte Morin, Los Angeles Times)

Researchers: Asian-American Students Work Harder than White Counterparts (Agence France-Presse)

Explaining Asian Americans’ Academic Advantage over Whites (by Amy Hsina and Yu Xie, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) (abstract)

Rich Chinese Flee to United States…and Bring Their Money with Them (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

U.S. Elementary Students Trail in Math and Science on World Academic Stage (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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