Explaining Asian Americans’ academic advantage over whites (PNAS)
The superior academic achievement of Asian Americans is a well-documented phenomenon that lacks a widely accepted explanation. Asian Americans’ advantage in this respect has been attributed to three groups of factors: (i) socio-demographic characteristics, (ii) cognitive ability, and (iii) academic effort as measured by characteristics such as attentiveness and work ethic. We combine data from two nationally representative cohort longitudinal surveys to compare Asian-American and white students in their educational trajectories from kindergarten through high school. We find that the Asian-American educational advantage is attributable mainly to Asian students exerting greater academic effort and not to advantages in tested cognitive abilities or socio-demographics. We test explanations for the Asian–white gap in academic effort and find that the gap can be further attributed to (i) cultural differences in beliefs regarding the connection between effort and achievement and (ii) immigration status. Finally, we highlight the potential psychological and social costs associated with Asian-American achievement success.
While all four AA subpopulations showed positive differences relative to white students in academic achievement and effort, only the E. Asian subgroup had a cognitive advantage.
From the Supplement: for E. Asians, the academic achievement gap appears to be ~ 1/3 due to cognitive ability and ~ 2/3 due to academic effort, with large uncertainties. For the other subpopulations the results are quite different (and actually rather strange). Click for larger version.