Asian American educational attainment revisited: An evaluation of status attainment models


Fishman, Samuel H. (2018). Asian American educational attainment revisited: An evaluation of status attainment models. Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association. Philadelphia, PA.


While Asian Americans’ high levels of educational attainment have been widely discussed in social stratification literature, there has been limited effort to formally test these patterns against classical social mobility models. This paper answers this question: do Asian Americans’ educational attainment patterns fit the classical status attainment model in regards to intergenerational socioeconomic status reproduction? Models are estimated using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health) to examine race/ethnic-nativity variations in educational attainment. First, this study finds substantially higher levels of educational attainment among 1.5-2.0 generation Asian Americans than for 2.5+ generation whites. This pattern is observed for most, but not all, Asian American ethnic groups. Moreover, results demonstrate that distal social mobility processes for 1.5-2.0 generation Asian Americans, but not for other race/ethnic-nativity groups, substantially deviate from that of the classical status attainment model. For example, 1.5-2.0 generation Asian Americans whose parents have less than a high school degree receive less penalty in educational attainment relative to 2.5+ generation whites with parents of the same education level, but Asian Americans whose parents have high status jobs receive greater education returns than whites whose parents hold similar jobs. However, mediation processes are consistent with those from classical models, with high school academic performance accounting for the vast majority of their high levels of education. In short, this paper demonstrates the general validity of classical status attainment models, but also shows the exceptional case of the children of Asian American immigrants, whose high levels of social mobility do not follow established social mobility patterns.



educational attainment Asian Americans social mobility research methods

Reference Type

Conference proceeding

Book Title

Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association

Series Title

2484. Section on Sociology of Education Refereed Roundtable Session


Fishman, Samuel H.

Year Published


City of Publication

Philadelphia, PA

Reference ID