The popular stereotype of Asian Pacific Island (API) teenagers that portrays them as high achievers who are also prone to bad behavior, is false, new research at the University of Chicago shows.
The examination of a major survey of more than 13,000 teenagers showed that a student’s grade point average is a strong predictor of behavior for Asian-American youth as well as for other youth. The study is the first to examine the relationship between behavior and grade point averages across ethnic groups, although there have been other studies that have shown in general that students with good grades also are more likely to stay out of trouble.
“This study is a first step in debunking the stereotype of Asian Pacific Island youth, especially that which depicts them as having polarized behavior,” said study author Yoonsun Choi, Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration.
Among Hispanics, African-American and white young people as well as API youth, students with high grade point averages report many fewer problems with crime, pregnancy and alcohol abuse, according to the paper “Academic Achievement and Problem Behaviors among Asian Pacific Islander American Adolescents” published in the current issue of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.
In some cases, grade point average (GPA) was a particularly strong predictor of behavior for Asian American students. For instance, 22 percent of API girls with a “D” average GPA reported having been pregnant, while five percent of white youth whose GPA was “D” average reported having been pregnant, Choi found. Among API youth with an “A” grade point average, two percent reported having been pregnant while four percent of the white girls with that grade point average reported having been pregnant.
The stereotype of API young people which characterizes them as being simultaneously high achieving and prone to delinquent behavior comes from academic studies that look at group behavior rather than individual behavior, Choi said. Asian-American young people are the highest academically achieving ethnic group in the country. At the same time, some API young people exhibit criminal behavior.
“For example, Vietnamese youth earned the highest grades among student samples in a San Diego study published in 1997. At the same time, they were the fourth-largest group on probation, following Hispanic, white, and black youth in California and their probation rates increased 67 percent between 1990 and 1995, according to another study” she said.
The polarized image gets further support from highly publicized crime among Asian Americans, including a brutal murder by high achieving Asian American teens in California in 1993. That crime was the basis for a 2003 film, “Better Luck Tomorrow.”
Because previous studies on API youth have not followed individual students to determine if the students who were high achievers also exhibited troubled behavior, the sterotypes persisted. In order to determine if there was a link, Choi examined interviews with individual students who were part of a long-term study, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which surveyed 13,377 teenagers who were in the seventh through twelfth grades in 1994-1995 and followed up with them in interviews one year and six years later.
Choi studied data from the first and second set of interviews, in which students reported their grade point averages, their parents level of education, and their experiences with crime, sexual behavior, drug and tobacco use.
Although there similarities in the way GPA is correlated with behavior, social workers and others working with young people need to be alert to cultural differences.
“It is critical that interventions be designed to appropriately respond to the needs of diverse racial and ethnic groups, and not be driven by stereotypes or assumed needs,” Choi said.