The Volokh Conspiracy

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A Ridiculous Study on Asian American "Advantage"


Sociologist Jennifer Lee writes in the New York Times:

In "The Asian American Achievement Paradox," which I wrote with Min Zhou and is based on 162 interviews of Asian, Hispanic, Black and white adults in Los Angeles, we found that Asian American precollege students benefit from "stereotype promise": Teachers assume they are smart, hard-working, high-achieving and morally deserving, which can boost the grades of academically mediocre Asian American students.

Let's stop right there. The coauthors attempt to explain the average educational success of "Asian Americans," a classification that includes dozens of ethnic/national subgroups that have varying average degrees of educational success (including some that are below average), who live all over the United States, based on *162 interviews* with adults of various "racial" groups in one city, Los Angeles.

The book won various awards. Go figure.

UPDATE: Perhaps the book is much more nuanced? But in any event, to give you some idea about the extent to which Asian American subgroups vary in educational success, let's take a look at undergraduate matriculants to UC Berkeley, which breaks the classification down by subgroup.

California is about 1.5% Indian American. 12.7% of Berkeley's class is "South Asian," primarily Indian.

California is about 3.5% Chinese American. 15.3% of Berkeley's class is Chinese.

California is about 2.5% Vietnamese American. 3.9% of Berkeley's class is Vietnamese.

California is about 3.2% Filipino American. 3.8% of Berkeley's class is Filipino.

California is about 1.2% Korean American. 4.6% of Berkeley's class is Korean.

California is about .7% Japanese American. 1.4% of Berkeley's class is Japanese.

California is about .8% Pacific Islander. Pacific Islanders are often lumped together into an AAPI category, and assumedly would benefit from at least some of the positive stereotypes that Asian Americans get. Berkeley's class is 1/10 of 1% Pacific Islander.

As you can see, while the larger Asian American subgroups in California almost all do better than average, the stereotype of remarkable Asian American educational success, at least in California, is driven primarily by Indians, Chinese, and Koreans who are "overrepresented" by approximately 8, 4.5, and 4 times their populations, respectively.