By Alice Park
May 8, 2014

Amy Chua didn’t invent the stereotype of the overbooked, high-achieving Asian-American child, but her 2011 best seller, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, made a case for the virtues of hard-driving parenting. But just why Asian-American kids have performed so well was a matter of debate–until this month.

A study published May 5 in the journal PNAS tracked more than 5,200 Asian-American and white students from kindergarten through high school from 1998 to 2006 and found that Asian Americans performed best–but not solely for the reasons Chua gave. The grade gap was the result of a combination of a stronger work ethic, community support and emphasis on academics, which Asian parents tended to prioritize.

Asian communities provide rich resources for the achievement-minded, the study found, from advice about the best schools to extra tutoring. Immigrant status also plays a role: new transplants to the U.S. are more likely to believe that hard work will lead to success.

“The Tiger Mom argument neglects these social resources” to focus on parenting style, says study co-author Amy Hsin of Queens College.

But success comes at a price. The Asian-American students struggled more with self-esteem and had more-strained relationships with their parents than the white students did. That’s something for Tiger Moms–of all races–to think about.


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This appears in the May 19, 2014 issue of TIME.

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