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Asian-American students don't develop gender gap until adolescence, study finds

The study found no gender gap in achievement among Asian American students during early-to-middle childhood.
Image: Asian-American students
Children coming home from school cross an intersection in Chinatown in San Francisco, California on Sept. 14, 2018.Robert Alexander / Getty Images file

Asian Americans don’t exhibit a gender gap in education until adolescence unlike non-Latino white students, a new study has found.

The research, published online in December by the journal Sociological Science, found that unlike non-Latino white students, there is no educational gap between male and female students until adolescence begins. It isn't until high school when Asian-American female students begin to outperform male students (roughly about one-third of a grade point, similar to the gap found among other students).

Amy Hsin, an associate professor of sociology at Queens College of the City University of New York and the author of the paper, said the research provides evidence that the gender gap is not innate and is possibly based on perceptions of masculinity.

“I think what this is suggesting is that the gender gap is — in the sense of boy’s underperformance — is not necessarily a fact of biology,” Hsin told NBC News. “School environments and how we teach boys to think about what masculinity means — all of those things matter and can shape how boys think about themselves and how they can think about themselves in schools and the workplace.”

Hsin's study also suggests that a “combination of factors related to the immigrant experience” — including “immigrant optimism,” parental expectations, and a different understanding of masculinity in Asian countries — may be responsible for the differences between younger Asian-American and white male students. Hsin’s analysis found no gender gap in achievement among Asian Americans during early-to-middle childhood.

But those factors may matter less as students reach adolescence as boys "turn away from families and communities to establish autonomy,” Hsin wrote in the study.

“This is a time when peer groups — your friends, peers, schools ... culture in general — play a much more important role in defining concepts of self,” Hsin said.

A particular reason for the gender gap, Hsin's study also noted, could be because model minority stereotypes more adversely affect boys than girls, “making them more likely to shed their racial identities and resist model-minority stereotypes by becoming more academically disengaged.”

Hsin’s research analyzed data from two national studies that each interviewed thousands of students. One study interviewed more than 20,000 randomly selected private and public school students who started kindergarten in 1998, interviewing them again in grades one, three, five, and eight. The other interviewed more than 15,000 10th graders from about 750 schools in 2002, following up in 2004 and 2006. Both surveys oversampled Asian Americans.

Hsin's study also found that while East Asian and Filipino boys outperformed white boys in high school, the same was not true for Southeast and South Asians. Data about how specific Asian ethnicities in the U.S. view masculinity is limited, Hsin wrote, leaving room for possible future research.

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