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Is This the Tiger Mom's Vindication?

A new report highlights Asian Americans' economic success. What does this tell us about the "tiger mom" style of parenting?
(Photo: centinel/Flickr)

(Photo: centinel/Flickr)

Asian Americans are vastly outperforming other races during the economic recession, according to a new economic report from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank. As a result, the median net worth of Asian Americans ($94,440) is steadily gaining on white families ($134,008).

In fact, Asian-American median wealth will soon surpass that of their white counterparts, "most likely because of the remarkable increase in educational attainment by younger Asians [sic] in recent decades," the researchers write.

The St. Louis Fed were able to tease apart several variables to understand why Asian Americans are performing so well. The major reason is education: A whopping 65 percent of Asian Americans (a category that can be misleading) between ages 35 and 39 had a four-year college degree, compared to just 42 percent of whites. The Pew Research Center finds that Asian immigrants are twice as likely to hold a bachelor's degree as compared to non-Asian immigrant groups (61 percent vs. 30 percent).

To some, this lends credence to the claim that the so-called "tiger mom" effect—the hard-driving parenting typical of Asian-American families—is paying off. Last year, one large-scale dataset published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the differences in grades between Asians and other races were mostly accounted for by a stronger work ethic. Entire communities form around after-school tutoring and extra-curricular activities that benefit Asian-American students well into adulthood.

Asians spend roughly 50 percent more time studying in college (16 hours vs. 11) and more than twice as much time in high school (13 hours vs. six).

Delving deeper into the behavioral patterns of Asians vs. whites, University of California-San Diego economics professor Valerie A. Ramey found that Asians spend roughly 50 percent more time studying in college (16 hours vs. 11) and more than twice as much time in high school (13 hours vs. six). Asian-American mothers also spent about 25 percent more time on educational activities with their children.

"A century ago, most Asian Americans were low-skilled, low-wage laborers crowded into ethnic enclaves and targets of official discrimination," the Pew report explains. "Today they are the most likely of any major racial or ethnic group in America to live in mixed neighborhoods and to marry across racial lines."

Since Amy Chua's blockbuster book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother sparked a national debate, research has found a more nuanced reality of Asian-American parenting styles and their effects. One study of 444 Chinese-American families found that the most successful parents weren't the ones that applied unforgiving pressure, but a nurturing environment. Homes with the most extreme forms of the tiger mom stereotype were actually associated with a lower GPA.

Further research from Stanford found that Asian-American children tend to experience less negativity from supportive pressure, and are more motivated after failure, when compared to children of European descent.

On the current trajectory, these advantages may leave Asian Americans as the top (economically) performing ethnic group in the country.