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


Pushpraj Singh
Pushpraj Singh5 years ago

The picture could hardly be more politically correct. Well done!

Christine C.
Chandra C5 years ago


Ian Fletcher
Ian Fletcher5 years ago

More teachers / student please!
Now that everyone accepts that education is the key to secure long term peace and sustainable prosperity of any society, let's improve schools for pupils and teachers by incrementing the number of teachers. A goal of 10 students per classroom is an ambicious one as in many countries the ratio is above 25.

Jennifer C.
Past Member 5 years ago


Richard B.
Richard B5 years ago

Check out the "dumbing down of america".

Richard B.
Richard B5 years ago

For once, I would agree with the immigrant-haters: stay away from the US.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L5 years ago

It al goes back to the parents and the culture.The educational system leaves a lot to be desire, but you can get a good education if you apply yourself...many American children do it goes back to the parents an the culture.

Lia R.
l r5 years ago

Maureen H.: Your comment is so true. I was born in America but visited my family's native country in South America frequently while growing up. The attitudes towards education are very different than in America. Children who are good students are almost revered as saintly creatures, being a poor student is like being an ugly child that causes shame to their family.

Lia R.
l r5 years ago

My sister and I are first generation Hispanics and academic performance was highly emphasized for us since we were very young. My mother had only reached a 4th grade education and my father never finished high school in their native countries because they had to work from a young age to help raise their younger siblings. Once in America, both my parents, while working minimum wage factory jobs and raising two toddlers, attended night classes for remedial English and eventually earned their GED. My father went on to community college taking night classes and then UIC until he earned a B.A. when I was 6 years old. Outside our normal schoolwork, my parents encouraged us to read and visit museums instead of watching TV. This was back in the early eighties, so discrimination was more apparent. I remember our family getting weird looks from white people at cultural events, especially since my parents are dark-skinned working class people. Today, my sister has an M.B.A and is a corporate managing director. I have an established career in media. Immigrants DO study more.

Maureen Hawkins
Maureen Hawkins5 years ago

Actually, I'd like to modify my comment: America is a highly anti-intellectual country--look at everything from grammar and high-school kids accusing hard workers of "brown-nosing" to right-wing propaganda demonizing "eggheads" & the "intellectual elite." Most of the immigrants come from countries where the educated are respected and haven't learned to be "American" yet.