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Is There a ‘Tiger Mother’ Effect?

Early this year Yale law professor Amy Chua published a critique of the coddling in Western parenting. After reading her article I was curious enough to purchase and read her book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.”

The book details how she raised her two daughters in the “traditional Chinese” way, with strick discipline and relentless focus on hard work and academic success. (Hard work, it turns out, leads to motivation). Her book and article generated enough controversy to be mentioned at the Davos summit by former harvard president Larry Summers because of the stereotype of Asian academic success. Four out of the top five countries Program for International Student Assessment were Asian.

Valerie Ramey, professor of economics at the University of California, was intrigued enough to ask what the data had to say. To answer that question she focused her analysis on the time use of high school students, college students, and parents.

How much time for homework?

Asian students spend about 13 hours per week doing homework (averaged out over the entire year, including summer). The average, caucasian student spends 5.5 hours per week. She also found that the education level of parents didn’t explain the differences.


The biggest difference in how students spent their time was working at a job. Caucasian students spend 5.8 hours per week working whereas their Asian counterparts spent only 2.8 hours.

Do Asians coast when they get to College?

Once they left the grips of their Tiger Mothers, did Asians still, academically, out-work their caucasian counterparts? She concluded the gap wasn’t as extreme but it still existed with Asian students spending about 15-plus hours per week in comparison to a little over 10 hours for caucasians. Black and Hispanic students spent even less time.

Do Asian mothers spend more time grooming their progeny then caucasian counterparts?

Yes, but not much. Asian mothers spend about 30m more per week reading to their children and helping with homework over caucasian mothers. There was no difference in time spent on all child care activities – so Asian mothers spend their time with children slightly differently than caucasians. Both Asians and caucasians devote more time than black and Hispanic mothers.

Are Tiger Mothers more efficient?

Ramey concludes that Tiger mothers seem to be able to make their children spend more time on their studies without putting in much more effort than their counterparts. “That’s a lot of bank for the parenting buck. And perhaps this is what Chua’s ‘Chinese discipline’ is all about.”

“More seriously, though,” Ramey, said, “it is clear from the data that Asian teenagers and college students spend more time studying than their counterparts in any other ethnic group. This is consistent with the claims made by Chua. But whether it’s the case that Asian-style parenting is the cause of the difference remains for further research to ferret out.

Perhaps the most telling fact of all, when it came to raising her children, Ramey was Tiger Mom all the way.

If you’re interested in reading more check out Mindset: the new psychology of success and Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

References: here and here