Observations about Chinese (Chinese-American?) mothers

I agree with many of Bryan Caplan's views on parenting, and Yana can attest that I have never attempted a "dragon mother" style.  Yet I think that Bryan is overreaching a bit in rejecting virtually all of Amy Chua's claims.  The simpler view — which most Americans intuitively grasp — is that some Asian parenting styles do make kids more productive, and better at school, although it is less clear they make the kids happier.  It remains the case that most people overrate how much parenting matters in a broader variety of contexts, and in that regard Bryan's work is hardly refuted.  Still, I see real evidence for a parenting effect from many (not all) Asian-American and Asian families.

1. James Flynn argues, using evidence from tests, that Chinese families boosted their children's IQs by intensive parental techniques.  Based on some very specific research, he claims the parenting was causal and the IQ boost followed.  I hardly consider this the final word, but it's more to the point that the adoption studies and the like, which don't try to measure this effect directly and don't have measures of strict Asian parenting.

2. It is obvious that some Asian parenting techniques make the children much more likely to succeed as classical musicians.  It's a big marginal effect upon whatever genetic influence there might be (and in this case the genetic influence might well be zero or very small; Chinese hardly seem genetically superior in music.)  The only question is how much longer this list can become.  What else can the parents make their kids better at, even relative to IQ?  Future engineering success?  If violin is a slam dunk, I don't see why engineering is a big stretch.

3. I suspect that Bryan and his wife do, correctly, apply the notion of "high expectations" to their children and to the benefit of those kids. 

4. Bryan, like Judith Harris, argues that the influence of parents is typically mediated through peers and peer effects.  But we should not confuse the partial and general equilibrium mechanisms here.  For any single parent, the peers may well carry the chain of influence to their child and a lot of the parenting style applied to that individual kid will appear irrelevant.  But for the culture as a whole, the peers can serve this function only because of the general influence of culture and parenting on all of the peers as a whole.  In other words, peer quality is endogenous and a single family is free-riding upon the parenting efforts of others.  That's a better model than just looking at the partial equilibrium coefficient on the parent effect and concluding that parenting doesn't matter.  This is a mistake commonly made by Harris fans.

5. As an aside, I wonder how much there is a common Chinese parenting or mothering style.  Chua, of course, is from the Philippines.  It is estimated that about 20 percent of the children are China are "abandoned" by their parents — mothers too – typically as the parents move to the cities to take better jobs.  When Chua writes, to what extent is she referring to Chinese immigrant parenting styles, uniquely suited to new situations, and derived from Chinese culture but distinct nonetheless.

6. There is a significant literature on Chinese immigrant parenting styles, based on lots of empirical evidence, but I don't see anyone giving it much of a close look.  Here is a simple and well-known piece, not about Asians per se, arguing that "authoritative parenting" leads to superior performance in school.  There is also evidence that the effects accumulate rather than disappear over time.  There is a lot of research here, often quite disaggregated in its questions, and it goes well beyond the twin studies and it does not by any means always yield the same answers.

7. I expect great things from Scott Sumner's children.


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