RSF author Jennifer Lee’s article “It Takes More Than Grit: Reframing Asian American Academic Achievement” was one of the most-read articles on the Social Science Research Council’s website during 2018. The article is based on research from the 2015 RSF book The Asian American Achievement Paradox, which Lee co-authored with Min Zhou. In the book, the authors offer a compelling account of the academic achievement of the children of Asian immigrants—which pundits have long attributed to unique cultural values. Drawing on in-depth interviews with the adult children of Chinese immigrants and Vietnamese refugees and survey data, Lee and Zhou bridge sociology and social psychology to correct this myth and explain how immigration laws, institutions, and culture interact to foster high achievement among certain Asian American groups.
Lee contributed to a special SSRC forum on the report “A Portrait of LA County,” which examines socioeconomic outcomes and disparities among residents of Los Angeles County. The report found that Asians in Los Angeles had the highest educational attainment of any racial group. Yet, as Lee notes, data disaggregation uncovers significant disparities between different ethnic groups that are grouped together under the “Asian” category. “For example, while 72 percent of Indians, 53 percent of Koreans, and 49 percent of Chinese in LA have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, the corresponding figures for Vietnamese and Cambodians is 30 percent and 18 percent, respectively,” she writes. As she and Zhou note in The Asian American Achievement Paradox, the educational success of many Asian groups in the U.S. is furthermore the result of hyperselectivity, or immigration policies that favor the highly-skilled and highly-educated. In other words, Lee argues, “there is nothing essential about Asian culture or values that promote exceptional academic outcomes.”