Why do Asian Americans academically outperform Whites? - The cultural explanation revisited

Airan Liu, Yu Xie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


We advocate an interactive approach to examining the role of culture and SES in explaining Asian Americans' achievement. We use Education Longitudinal Study (ELS) 2002 baseline data to test our proposition that the cultural orientation of Asian American families is different from that of white American families in ways that mediate the effects of family SES on children's academic achievement. The results support our hypothesis, indicating that: (1) SES's positive effects on achievement are stronger among white students than among Asian-Americans; (2) the association between a family's SES and behaviors and attitudes is weaker among Asian-Americans than among Whites; (3) a fraction of the Asian-White achievement gap can be accounted for by ethnic differences in behaviors and attitudes, particularly ethnic differences in family SES's effects on behaviors and attitudes. We find that Asian Americans' behaviors and attitudes are less influenced by family SES than those of Whites are and that this difference helps generate Asians' premium in achievement. This is especially evident at lower levels of family SES.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)210-226
Number of pages17
JournalSocial Science Research
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Achievement differences
  • Asian Americans
  • Culture
  • Family SES
  • Interactive approach


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