The Catholic University of America
Feb 1 2011

Tiger Moms: Evidence from Sociological Research on Asian American Families and Success in Science

Posted by Sandra Hanson at 3:00 PM
- Categories: Education | Religion & Culture & Society

In recent weeks, the media and public have been giving attention to the issue of "Tiger Moms."  The discussion is a response to Amy Chua's new book BATTLE HYMN OF THE TIGER MOTHER.  I have been doing research on the role of Asian families in understanding the "model minority" success of many Asian Americans in science.  The National Science Foundation provided funding for me to collect information from a nationally representative sample of Asian American youth.  The survey included quantiative measures of family and science experiences but also opportunities for the youth to talk about these family experiences in their own words.

Results show that many of the family resources that are thought to be important in science (family involvement, parent degrees in science, how good parents think you are in science) are associated with success in science for both Asian Americans and Whites. But the analyses which look at differences in level of these resources show that Asian Americans have the advantage (over Whites) on most of these family resources.  The research also considers these processes from the point of view of the Asian American youth. The youths' discussions of family experiences suggest that the "Tiger Mom" phenomenon is real.

The Asian American respondents talk about support and resources in the family.  But they also talk about pressures and these come from both parents. Respondents talk about parents being "obsessed" with grades and "forcing" as well as "pushing" and "pressuring" them to do well adacemically, especially in science.  One young person whose parents wanted them to go into medicine notes "they said 'Health or die'."  Another young person reported that the pressures from parents in areas of academics and science and the resulting stress were so considerable that the respondent had decided to not have children.  Thus the findings from the paper show an advantage for success in science among Asian American youth but also a disadvantage in the stress and anxiety that some of these family experiences involve.


Stephen Schneck

Stephen Schneck wrote on 02/01/11 4:29 PM

Professor Hanson's terrific piece raises for me a question central to the philosophy of the social sciences. I'm curious what others think--both those of us more empirical as well as those of us more theoretical.

Ethnic ethos is an intriguing angle on parenting--and on a host of other cultural phenomena. But, it is also one that could devolve to profiling and caricature. Jewish mothers, for example, have been alternately lampooned and celebrated in popular accounts as another version of Tiger Moms. Indeed, many ethnic groups are popularly imagined to have an ethos that--as for example in regard to education--is advantageous or disadvantageous.

This raises a fascinating question for social scientists. We regularly treat ethnicity (and similarly gender, race, and religion) as independent variables in our research. Should we? And, if so--since it's hard to imagine doing away with such categories--with what guidelines?

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