Immigrants’ Children Study More: Was Tiger Mom Right?
Data from the Labor Department’s American Time Use Survey from 2003 to 2010 reveal that the children of immigrants study more. Teenagers with immigrant parents spent a total of 26 more minutes per day on education-related activities than their native-born counterparts in the US. That nearly-an-extra-half-hour adds up: Over the course of one week, immigrants’ children spend a total of 27.7 hours in educational activities, while children of native-born Americans spend about 24.6 hours.
“Educational activities” refers not only to time spent studying, but to time spent in school. Immigrants’ children spent 181 minutes in school versus 167 minutes for children whose parents were born in the US, as well as more time studying (50 minutes versus 38 minutes).
There are also differences between immigrant groups, with the children of Asian immigrants spending the most time per day (51 more minutes) on educational activities than the children of native-born whites, regardless of their income, their parents’ education and number of siblings.
Labor Department researchers found that, when they controlled for differences in family composition such as income level, the children of Latino immigrants spent 35 minutes more per day in education activities than the children of non-Hispanic native-born whites.
Do These Data Prove the “Tiger Mother” Theory?
As Catherine Rappell writes on the New York Times’ Economix blog, keeping the “economic mobility benefits of education” in mind, the differences in time spent on educational activities indeed seems to “fit the stereotype of immigrants’ working long hours to help their children rise to a higher socioeconomic class in adulthood” and of immigrant children pushing themselves for longer hours in school.
Other factors, such as learning to use a new language in school and in academic work, might also play a part in the longer hours devoted, and needed for, academic activities.
A significant percentage of students at the small, urban college where I teach are the children of immigrants, if not immigrants themselves, and from working class or lower middle class families. Some other data from the survey particularly stood out to me: Children of native-born parents were found to spend more time in paid work activities and playing sports, while children from immigrant families spent more time shopping and watching television as well as more hours doing housework and caregiving, both in their own households and outside of them.
Among my students, those who parents were born in the US tend to be the most likely to participate in extracurricular activities from sports to theatrical productions.
The statistics about the amount of time immigrants’ children spend on housework and caregiving along with studying, and not on activities such as sports, argue against the ideas suggested in the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Yale Law School professor Amy Chua. Chua claimed that she practiced “extreme parenting,” Chinese-style, on her two daughters — not allowing them to have sleepovers with friends and insisting they study piano and violin for hours — so they wouldn’t degenerate into typical American teenagers. The Labor Department’s statistics suggest a different reality for immigrants’ children.
Family Ties and Obligations Among the Children of Immigrants
I’ve routinely had students miss class or even miss several days of class to take care of young siblings or cousins and older relatives. Often there is simply no one else to help out and families cannot afford to hire caregivers or prefer not to, due to language and cultural issues. The latter definitely seem to play a part: Students have made it clear to me, it is not an option for them not to watch younger relatives or grandparents. Such caregiving responsibilities are something that Chua’s daughters never have to do.
While not every assignment is submitted on time, my students from immigrant backgrounds have (generally) made a point of completing their schoolwork, no matter how long it takes. They’re driven, not because their goal is admission to Ivy League schools or performing at Carnegie Hall, the goals of a “Tiger Mother,” but because they need to be, to make it in the US and to help their families too.
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Photo by D.B. Blas