Social mobility and the educational choices of Asian Americans

Yu Xie, Kimberly Goyette

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

157 Scopus citations


In this paper, we propose a synthetic framework, "strategic adaptation," for understanding the social mobility process of Asian Americans. We argue that Asian Americans consciously choose occupations where they can effectively cope with potential discrimination and other disadvantages by achieving marketable credentials. Our empirical analyses are primarily based on data from the 1988-1994 National Educational Longitudinal Survey. There are four main findings from our study. First, Asian American youth tend to choose occupations with a high representation of Asian workers and high average earnings/education, relative to whites, even after controlling for socioeconomic background and academic performance. Second, Asians are more likely than whites to expect to enter college and to major in fields that have high financial payoffs. Third, a large fraction of this racial gap is attributable to occupational expectation. Finally, Asians are more likely than are whites to actually enroll in college and to pursue high-earning majors, and these racial differences are attributable to both educational expectation and occupational expectation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)467-498
Number of pages32
JournalSocial Science Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2003
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science


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