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Achievement Gaps
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What are the Achievement Gaps?

  1. Achievement Gap in Race

    1. Asian Students

Why Are Asian-American Students Motivated to Achieve?

Sociologists Kimberly Goyette and Yu Xie examine how high expectations affect different Asian groups in their academic performance.

This reports some of the ideas and findings from the following source:

Goyette, K., & Xie, Y. (1999). Educational expectations of Asian American youths: Determinants and ethnic differences.Sociology of Education, 72,22-36. Retrieved April 1, 2002 from ProQuest database.

To see other reports that originated from this same citation, go to the bibliography.

Many studies have demonstrated that Asian-American students typically achieve significant academic success. For example, Asian-Americans tend to score higher than whites on tests of math ability, they often have higher GPAs, and they are more likely to go on to four-year colleges than whites.

Yet this broad picture simultaneously lacks detail and offers few explanations, argue Kimberly Goyette and Yu Xie. In seeking to better understand the reasons for Asian-Americans’ high educational achievement, Goyette and Xie make two important proposals:

  1. Research must examine the role of educational expectations on achievement. Specifically, Goyette and Xie ask what role three factors play in producing higher educational expectations: socioeconomic and family background characteristics, demonstrated academic ability, and parents’ high expectations.
  2. Asian-Americans are not a homogeneous bloc. Differences of educational attitudes and achievement exist among groups such as Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Southeast Asian, and South Asians. In their analysis, Goyette and Xie took these group differences into account.

Socioeconomic and Family Background Characteristics

Scholars have long known that parents with higher levels of socioeconomic status and educational attainment tend to produce children who also achieve at a high level. How does this dynamic play into expectations for whites and different groups of Asian-Americans? Goyette and Xie considered factors such as the father’s and mother’s educational level, the generation of immigrant (whether first, second, or third generation), and the family structure (intact or non-intact).

  • All Asian groups have higher educational expectations than did whites. For instance, 58.3% of white students expected to graduate from college, while all Asian groups reported higher percentages, ranging from 67.9% of Southeast Asians, to 84.8% for Japanese and Koreans, up to 95.7% of South Asian students who expected to graduate from college.
  • Asian parents tend to have higher educational achievement than whites, although not across the board. 28% of white fathers had graduated from college, compared with 26.9% of Southeast Asian fathers, 38.4% of Chinese, and 64% of South Asian fathers.
  • Socioeconomic status is not the only explanation for Asian-American students’ academic achievement. Goyette and Xie point out that some groups (such as Chinese and Southeast Asians) have on average lower income levels than whites yet still outperform white students academically. This translates to expectations as well: although Southeast Asians are poorer than whites, they still reported higher educational expectations than whites. Differences also exist within Asian groups: although the South Asian, Korean, and Japanese families enjoyed the highest socioeconomic and educational levels, it was the Chinese-American students who actually scored the highest on the standardized math test.

Academic Ability

Previous research has found that "children who score high on proficiency tests develop high levels of educational expectations based on positive reinforcements from others and their own perceptions of the feasibility of continuing in school" (Tested Academic Ability section, ¶ 3).

  • Goyette and Xie offer further support for that general finding. Students who scored high on reading, math, and science proficiency tests all had high educational expectations.
  • However, here, too, findings vary according to the ethnic group. For example, tested academic ability helps explain the high expectations of Chinese, Koreans, and Southeast Asians, but not of Filipino and Japanese students.
  • Goyette and Xie’s results also suggest that first-generation Asian-American students tend to maintain higher educational expectations than do third-generation students.

Parents’ Expectations

Scholars have theorized that cultural emphasis on education plays a major role in explaining Asian-American students’ achievement. Asian parents often view education as the main vehicle for upward social mobility, such that academic success can even overcome some of the structural obstacles of being a marginalized minority in American society. John Ogbu has also proposed that as "voluntary immigrants" who actively wanted to come to the United States, Asians tend to have positive attitudes toward their chances for economic and academic success.

  • Goyette and Xie’s research confirms that parental expectations play a major role in explaining Asian-American students’ success. For instance, the parents of all the Asian groups they measured have higher educational expectations for their children than do white parents. At the highest end of the spectrum, South Asian parents on average expect their children to attain a professional or master’s degree, with Chinese parents not far behind on that measure. The data show that white parents, in contrast, expect their children to attend some college but not necessarily to finish with a four-year degree.
  • In particular, parental expectations play the largest role for Chinese, Korean, Southeast Asian, and South Asian students. Goyette and Xie’s findings also suggest that parental expectations are highest among first-generation immigrants.


The key conclusions of this research are that expectations indeed play a positive role in encouraging academic achievement for Asian-Americans. Additionally, it is clear that notable variations do exist among different Asian groups on the explanatory factors.

On the broadest level, the research also suggests how Asian-Americans view education as an important means of achieving socioeconomic success. It is in this sense of “social mobility through the educational channel,” Goyette and Xie write, “that Asian-Americans of diverse groups are similar and can be treated as such” (Conclusion section, ¶ 2).

Research Design: The authors analyzed data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988–1990 using methods of descriptive statistics and linear and logistic multivariate regression models. The research was funded by a grant from the William T. Grant Foundation and a Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation for Yu Xie and an NICHD traineeship for Kimberly Goyette.


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