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Chinese American post-secondary achievement and attainment: a cultural and structural analysis


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Lin, Zeng -

Pearce, Richard R.


Educational Review








p. 19-36






In this article, the authors compare Chinese American post-secondary educational attainment with that of White Americans and, in identifying those factors that most strongly account for success, argue that commonalities exist among social structural factors, while distinct differences are evident among cultural capital factors. The article rejects the notion of minority assimilation as the source of success and suggests that Chinese and White cultures, in promoting education, are harmonistic but different. Among the most commonly touted elements of the Model Minority analogy is high academic achievement among Asian Americans. The assertion of high achievement among Asian Americans is not without severe critics, particularly when asserted across the board for all subgroups among Asian Americans. However, when we isolate groups, such as Chinese Americans, or even further isolate immigrant generations, we find clear evidence of academic achievement at least on par with, and in some cases surpassing, achievement among White Americans. In looking specifically at Chinese Americans, several types of explanations can be found in the literature. The two broadest types focus either on structural or cultural factors thought to contribute to achievement. By its very nature, the cultural explanation must identify beneficial elements of one culture as compared to less-beneficial or even detrimental elements of another culture. The structural explanation places its focus on conditions seen to constrain behavior and limit opportunity. This study is a first step in trying to draft a methodology that will allow for further quantitative analysis of cultural factors and will eventually lead to a comprehensive analysis of the strength and direction of the relationships between structural and cultural variables and academic achievement and attainment among Asian Americans. Using secondary analysis of the National Educational Longitudinal Survey: 1988-2000 data set, the authors identify variables and groups of variables that operationalize cultural factors allowing for analysis through quantitative methods. The study first demonstrates academic success among Chinese Americans when compared with White Americans and then explores the links between social structural positions and cultural components in explaining the apparent academic success of Chinese Americans when compared to White Americans.