The “Asian Effect” Of APAs Outperforming Others Is Not Gene Based

There’s no doubt that Asians Americans out perform other races in elementary, middle and high school. We have plenty of test results that show Asian Americans score higher on standardized tests. In 2008, a study found that even as young as age four, Asian Americans are outperforming their peers in math and literacy. This ability to outperform is sometimes referred to as the “Asian Effect”, and sometimes attributed to Asian genes. The question remained about whether Asian Americans have that edge over other children of different races at an even younger age and whether it’s truly gene based.

That question led, Ohio State University sociologist, Yongmin Sun to study the results of cognitive tests of children of various racial and ethnic groups at ages nine months, two years, and four years. He used data from a sample of 7,800 children born in 2001. His study is published in the fall issue of Sociological Perspectives.

Sun’s study confirmed that Asian Americans at age two and four are on par or better cognitively than children from other racial groups. But the surprise finding was that at nine months of age, East Asian American children scored the lowest among all the racial and ethnic groups studied. This was based on tests where the children were tested with tasks such as putting blocks into a cup, ringing a bell, and playing peek-a-boo.

The results of the nine month old group casts doubt on the gene theory of Asian effect, and Sun instead suggests that Asian American children’s success is due to the generally better financial position of Asian American families and the emphasis they place on education. In addition, Sun also points out that compared with other children; Asian American children are born prematurely less often, are generally healthier at birth, are less likely to be born into single-parent households, and have fewer siblings. All of these factors are linked to better cognitive development.

Sun especially blames poor health as the reason behind African American and Hispanic children doing worse on these tests. Also of note in his tests was that the gap faced by African American and Hispanic children is as large at the age of four as it is at the age of eight, indicating there’s a need to address the under achievement problem well before these kids even get to school.

As Sun says “This finding sends a strong message to parents, educators, and policy makers alike: The effort to equalize racial inequality in educational outcomes needs to start earlier, probably in infancy.”

All this just confirms my own suspicions, which is that Asian American parents work harder to get their kids to perform better. My own experience with my daughter aligns relatively similarly with Sun’s test results. I can’t say my daughter was any more gifted at 9 months than other kids, but by two and easily by four, we could tell she was doing better than other kids in her pre-school. Part of it may be the way we conversed with her, and part of it just the amount of time we spent with her on educational activities. But now at age six, it’s quite obvious she’s already ahead of most of her peers in her class. So I guess our attention to her education has made a difference (or maybe she’s just intelligent to begin with). Either way, we’re just happy she’s doing well in school.

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About Tim

I'm a Chinese/Taiwanese-American, born in Taiwan, raised on Long Island, went to college in Philadelphia, tried Wall Street and then moved to the California Bay Area to work in high tech in 1990. I'm a recent dad and husband. Other adjectives that describe me include: son, brother, geek, DIYer, manager, teacher, tinkerer, amateur horologist, gay, and occasional couch potato. I write for about 5 different blogs including 8Asians. When not doing anything else, I like to challenge people's preconceived notions of who I should be.
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