Researchers set out to determine why Asian-American students so often perform better than their counterparts.
The answer: Because they work harder.
The study, published May 5 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is comprised of two separate surveys that tracked several thousand white and Asian students in the United States from kindergarten through high school, and is the most thorough to examine this particular achievement gap.
Scientists from Queens College of New York and the University of Michigan teamed up with researchers from Peking University in Beijing to examine grades, test scores, teacher ratings, family income and education level, immigrations status, and a variety of other factors.
By fifth grade, Asian-Americans "significantly outperform whites.” By 10th grade, that difference peaks.
"Overall, these results suggest that the growing achievement gap can be attributed to a widening gap in academic effort rather than to differences in cognitive ability,” the study notes.
And interestingly, poverty was not a factor of disadvantaging Asian students — quite the opposite.
"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,” the study reads.
Instead, the study found that the advantage comes from Asian-Americans being brought up with a culture that emphasizes effort over ability, as well as "greater parental pressures to succeed than in the case of comparable white peers."
The study also argued that the stereotype of the “smart Asian” is actually a beneficial one.
"These positive stereotypes may help bolster Asian-American achievement just as negative stereotypes have been shown to hinder the achievement of African-American youth," the researchers write.
But the study also notes that children of Asian descent spend less time with friends and have a less positive self-image than white students.
"They also have more conflict with both parents than comparable white peers," the authors write.
The authors also expressed worries that Asian-Americans still experience “outsider” status that may undercut their achievements and “prevent their full integration into American society."