Questioning the model minority: Studies of Asian American academic performance

Nellie Tran, Dina Birman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


The current paper reviews literature on the academic performance of Asian Americans with a critical eye toward understanding the influence of discrimination on this process. Specifically, this study seeks to understand the extent to which researchers have gathered sufficient knowledge to dispel conventional knowledge of Asian Americans as model minorities. We questioned the extent to which studies explicitly measured student performance as a product of individual effort and Asian cultural influences, while simultaneously measuring the impact of exposure to discrimination. We resent a review of studies on Asian American academic performance published 19902008. Our analysis suggests that social science research has continued to perpetuate the stereotype of Asian Americans as a model minority. The majority of the reviewed studies did not differentiate among Asian American ethnic and generational groups. These studies also tended to infer culture as an explanation for the high achievement of Asian Americans without examining the impact of sociopolitical factors, such as racial discrimination. In fact, many of the reviewed studies reported that Asian Americans were deficient relative to Whites on attributes thought to be related to culture (e.g., personality characteristics, parenting behaviors) while finding that they achieved academically at levels similar to or higher than Whites. Finally, the majority of these studies have not used culturally appropriate methods to test their hypotheses and research questions. Thus, we recommend that studies embrace emic/population-specific and sociopolitical (Sasao & Sue, 1993) approaches to understand and explore factors that contribute to academic achievement in this group.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)106-118
Number of pages13
JournalAsian American Journal of Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Academic performance
  • Asian American
  • Literature review
  • Model minority

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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