Family Structure and Academic Achievement

Several recommendations for action are made.
In 1993, Harold Stevenson followed up his 1993 study of achievement among U.S., Japanese, and Taiwanese children (Stevenson et al., 1996). He found that U.S. fifth- and eleventh-graders (first- and fifth-graders in the original study) ranked below Japanese and Chinese students in both math and reading. When the top 10 percent of students were compared in terms of math, U.S. students were still a full standard deviation below the Asian mean.
Data also were gathered in 1993 to judge such things as parental and child satisfaction with achievement levels, and beliefs about the importance of effort versus ability. American parents were the most satisfied with their children’s achievement, and with their children’s schools. Moreover, American mothers and teachers emphasized innate ability versus effort more than did their Asian counterparts. (Ninety-three percent of the Japanese teachers said that studying hard was the main influence on achievement outcomes, compared to only 26 percent of American teachers.) As for psychological adjustment, American eleventh-graders reported the highest levels of stress, pinpointing school as its source. Japanese students reported the lowest levels.
When students’ psychological stress was explored further (Crystal et al., 1994. Fuligni amp. Stevenson, 1995), the highest-achieving Japanese and Chinese students reported the least stress, while the highest-achieving American students reported the most. The researchers suggested that American adolescents must cope with an abundance of competing demands. For example, compared with Asian adolescents, American students work (80 percent versus 27 percent and 26 percent of the out-of-school time) and socialize more. Moreover, when with friends, American adolescents go on dates or to the movies. Chinese and Japanese students devote more time to studying when with friends.