Motivation and Mathematics Achievement: A Comparative Study of Asian-American, Caucasian-American, and East Asian High School Students


  • Data reported in this paper were collected as part of a larger study funded by the National Science Foundation (Grant No. MDR 89564683) to Harold Stevenson. Collection of Taiwan data was supported by grants from the National Science Council of R.O.C. to Chen-Chin Hsu and Huei-Jen Ko (Grant No. NSC 79-0301). We appreciate the help of our colleagues, Shinying Lee and Andrew Fuligni of the University of Michigan, S. Kitamura and S. Kimura of Tohoku Fukushi University in Sendai, Japan, and C.-C. Hsu and H.-J. Ko of National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan. Parts of the paper were presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, March 1993, New Orleans.

can be addressed to either Chuansheng Chen, School of Social Ecology, University of California, Irvine, CA 92717, or Harold Stevenson, Center for Human Growth and Development, 300 N. Ingalls, Ann Arbor, MI 48109.


This study examined the motivation and mathematics achievement of Asian-American, Caucasian-American, and East Asian students. Subjects were 304 Asian-American, 1,958 Caucasian-American, 1,475 Chinese (Taiwan), and 1,120 Japanese eleventh graders (mean age = 17.6 years). Students were given a curriculum-based mathematics test and a questionnaire. Mathematics scores of the Asian-American students were higher than those of Caucasian-American students but lower than those of Chinese and Japanese students. Factors associated with the achievement of Asian-American and East Asian students included having parents and peers who hold high standards, believing that the road to success is through effort, having positive attitudes about achievement, studying diligently, and facing less interference with their schoolwork from jobs and informal peer interactions. Contrary to the popular belief that Asian-American students' high achievement necessarily takes a psychological toll, they were found not to report a greater frequency of maladjustive symptoms than Caucasian-American students.