Bryan Caplan  

Asian Parenting Bleg

PRINT
Let the Debate Begin... The Attitude...
Are there any genetically informed studies of the effects of Asian parenting?  Google Scholar has zero hits for the union of "Asian parenting" and "shared environment."  And in all my years of reading this literature, I can't recall a single twin or adoption study of any behavioral trait conducted in an Asian country. 

Bruce Sacerdote's famous Korean adoption study doesn't count, of course, because it studies the effect of American parenting on Asians.

American and Australian twin and adoption studies no doubt contain some Asian parents, but total number of families with Asian parents must be very small.  Even now, Asians are under 5% of the U.S. population, and under 10% of the Australian population.


Comments and Sharing





COMMENTS (11 to date)
Steve Sailer writes:

Good question. I don't know of any data.

Billare writes:

Jason Malloy posted some interesting stuff in the comments of one of the blogs I read, Marginal Revolution or the Inductivist -- comments which I can't precisely locate at the moment -- about studies comparing different parenting styles within and between ethnic groups. The results he reported stuck with me though: Apparently, against common stereotype, authoritarian parenting is correlated with less academic achievement than permissive, "let's-explain-it-to-Junior" type parenting, WITHIN ethnic groups. So, despite the fact that Asian parents more commonly adopt authoritarian parenting styles, permissive parenting is associated with better outcomes. Parental involvement was also found to be a good predictor of academic achievement within ethnic groups, even though apparently Asian parents are less involved than their White counterparts, again contrary (I think) to stereotype.

A post recapitulating the abstract of the study I think he used can be found here: http://s6.zetaboards.com/man/topic/527948/1/. The Pub-Med citation can be found here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2221563. I would search for the original comments though, I remember them being more analytical...

Billare writes:

Jason Malloy posted some interesting stuff in the comments of one of the blogs I read, Marginal Revolution or the Inductivist -- comments which I can't precisely locate at the moment -- about studies comparing different parenting styles within and between ethnic groups. The results he reported stuck with me though: Apparently, against common stereotype, authoritarian parenting is correlated with less academic achievement than permissive, "let's-explain-it-to-Junior" type parenting, WITHIN ethnic groups. So, despite the fact that Asian parents more commonly adopt authoritarian parenting styles, permissive parenting is associated with better outcomes. Parental involvement was also found to be a good predictor of academic achievement within ethnic groups, even though apparently Asian parents are less involved than their White counterparts, again contrary (I think) to stereotype.

A post recapitulating the abstract of the study I think he used can be found here: http://s6.zetaboards.com/man/topic/527948/1/. The Pub-Med citation can be found here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2221563. I would search for the original comments though, I remember them being more analytical...

Skinner Layne writes:

You might try getting in touch with Amy Chua at Yale Law School. She had a rather interesting piece in the WSJ about Chinese mothers:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111504576059713528698754.html

hanmeng writes:

Here's a dissertation suggesting

that Asian parents tend to be less involved in children's education compared to their White counterparts. Furthermore, Asian students' higher school achievement in early grades is not maintained in later grades.

http://gradworks.umi.com/32/77/3277781.html

It even compares three Asian subgroups. After all, Asian cultures like Indian & Chinese & Philippine are quite distinct from each other.

david writes:

Prof. Caplan does have highly-placed supporters in Singapore (e.g.
http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2009/11/whats_really_ro.html) and
its stance on genetics is well known (as in,
http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2009/01/behavioral_genetics_in_singapore.html,
or any other of numerous public statements). My intention was to
suggest that Prof. Caplan contact whoever he met during his 2008 visit
to Singapore; he did say he talked to many bureaucrats and civil
servants. The Ministry of Education would presumably have the relevant
data Prof. Caplan desires.

Singapore is a city-state, small enough for civil servants in
different ministries to know each other personally - and it is a
culturally Chinese one at that; contacts matter.

Michael Keenan writes:

I'm guessing this is in reference to the recent Amy Chua WSJ piece? I read that and thought it sounded like a recipe for teen suicide. In researching the notion that Asian-style parenting leads to suicide, I came across the research of Stanley Sue, a psychologist who has studied the mental health of Asian Americans. He's been cited in multiple news articles on the suicide rates of Asian Americans. If that's an angle you're interested in, you might want to talk to him.

Also, for what it's worth, this 1991 WSJ article notes that a "1989 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that the suicide rate among Chinese-Americans 15 to 24 years old was 36% higher than the national average among that age group. The rate for Japanese-Americans was 54% higher."

That sounds pretty bad to me, but there's plenty of room for my bias: it was the kind of conclusion I was looking for, and if it was really such a huge problem I'd expect to have found plenty of recent articles citing multiple recent studies. So maybe the difference isn't huge, or maybe there was something weird going on in 1989.

Sean writes:

Bryan,

The closest thing i'm aware of is the research of Dornbusch et al. Sue & Okazaki (1990) describe it as suggesting "that although parenting styles may account for within-group achievement levels for Asian Americans, they fail to explain between-group differences (i.e., between Asian Americans and the other groups)."

Sue, S. and S. Okazaki. 1990. "Asian-American Educational Achievements: A Phenomenon in Search of an Explanation." American Psychologist 45: 913-920.

Jason Malloy writes:

And in all my years of reading this literature, I can't recall a single twin or adoption study of any behavioral trait conducted in an Asian country.

There are a decent number of behavior genetic studies from Japan. For an example of a Japanese twin study of cognitive abilities that does not find a significant role for shared environment see here.

The comment referenced by Billaire above was actually a post I made on Gene Expression almost 6 years ago. The key points were that:

1. Adoption studies show that parenting is not a significant source of individual differences in achievement or ability within ethnic groups.

2. Correlational studies within and between ethnic groups do not show an advantage for "Asian parenting" over "white parenting". Asians that parent in a more "white manner" have better performing children, and whites that parent in a more "Asian manner" have worse performing kids.

3. Asian children who are raised by white parents are just as successful as Asian children raised by Asian parents.

4. The academic gap between white and Asian adoptees raised by white parents appears to be even larger than the gap for whites and Asians raised in the two different cultures in the general American population.

Points 2 and 4, in particular, are consistent with the idea that "white parenting" is more advantageous for Asian children than "Asian parenting". Asian children do better in school because of their Asian ancestry, not because of repressive parenting.

Jason Malloy writes:

By the way, I'd have to dig a little to find the shared environment numbers, but there is one large behavior genetics study that includes data for Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese, as well as white Americans: the Hawaii Family Study of Cognition.

bill greene writes:

My understanding of such studies is that they are very inconsistent. Not only do "Asians" differ widely from Northern to Southern regions of that continent, but many of the studies of American-Asians were flawed by being non-representational. It is not even conclusive whether Asians are better at arithmetic than whites since studies have shown contradictory results.

It has often been observed that Asian parents expect more and demand more from their children which makes the children work harder and get better grades than their white American counterparts. In Allston, Mass., some years back, Vietnamese children attained a very disproportional number of spots on the Honor Roll, not because they were smarter, it was held, but because they worked harder.

Daniel Goleman cites the Asian parents' attitude about "a strong cultural work ethic translates into higher motivation, zeal, and persistence--an emotional edge." However, although such parental prodding may garner better grades, that could in turn be offset by reduced spontaneity and imagination. After all, most entrepreneurs, who have admittedly created every non-government job in America, were only average or slightly better than average students in school.

An underlying failing of all these studies is that they start with no clear definition of the results looked for when we say "success" or "better results." Usually, they are measured by school grades. However, school grades are not a good measure of ultimate success for a child whether measured in terms of money, fame, or happiness, so working toward a parenting style that leads to high grades may be a mistake.

As far as native IQ is concerned, Colin Renfrew quite correctly argues that all humans everywhere on earth are roughly equal in cognitive ability at birth. There are the expected variations within groups but on average, all are equal. Jared Diamond seems to agree and writes that Yali, the Papuan New Guinea young man, even with a bone through his nostrils, may be superior in ability to the average American.

My take on all this is that when we measure the total capability of any individual we must consider many attributes in addition to IQ and EQ. If all peoples are equally "smart," with comparable capabilities, why did the West win by creating the most affluent nations in the history of the world? Why did China, with a notably high IQ population, never succeed on the world stage until their recent adoption of Western financial systems?

The answer lies in the personal attitudes and cultural atmosphere that shapes the conduct of all people. Somehow, after the Protestant Reformation, the lead some Western European nations already had was accelerated and the resulting progress was accomplished by the individuals in those nations who desired to achieve, found a way to innovate, took advantage of the relative freedom allowed them, and used the uniquely Western legal and financial mechanisms available in a few countries to invent, invest, and produce more affluence than any other people on earth.

As for parenting styles, the common denominator for most of the engineers and scientists that powered the Industrial Revolution in England and America was that they came from middle or lower economic classes, were taught to work hard on family chores before they were ten, and were then sent out to work as apprentices at the age of 12 to 15. Even today, most of the dot-com and internet innovators are making their mark at young ages, in fields where they were largely self-taught, and where imagination, persistence, and innovative skills seem to play a bigger role than school grades, personality, mannerisms, or social gloss.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top