August 18, 2014

Explaining Asian Americans’ academic advantage over whites

Published in

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America


Hsin A, Xie Y. Explaining Asian Americans’ academic advantage over whites. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2014 June 10;111(23): 8416-842. 


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.

View or download complete article at


  • Amy Hsin, Queens College, City University of New York
  • Yu Xie, Institute for Social Research and Department of Sociology, University of Michigan; Center for Social Research, Peking University