Columbia University’s commencement in 2005. Asian-Americans have higher educational attainment than any other group in the United States, including whites.Credit Peter Turnley/Corbis
It’s no secret that Asian-Americans are disproportionately stars in American schools, and even in American society as a whole. Census data show that Americans of Asian heritage earn more than other groups, including whites. Asian-Americans also have higher educational attainment than any other group.
I wrote a series of columns last year, “When Whites Just Don’t Get It,” about racial inequity, and one of the most common responses from angry whites was along these lines：This stuff about white privilege is nonsense, and if blacks lag, the reason lies in the black community itself. Just look at Asian-Americans. Those Koreans and Chinese make it in America because they work hard. All people can succeed here if they just stop whining and start working.
Let’s confront the argument head-on. Does the success of Asian-Americans suggest that the age of discrimination is behind us?
A new scholarly book, “The Asian American Achievement Paradox,” by Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou, notes that Asian-American immigrants in recent decades have started with one advantage：They are highly educated, more so even than the average American. These immigrants are disproportionately doctors, research scientists and other highly educated professionals.
It’s not surprising that the children of Asian-American doctors would flourish in the United States. But Lee and Zhou note that kids of working-class Asian-Americans often also thrive, showing remarkable upward mobility.
And let’s just get one notion out of the way：The difference does not seem to be driven by differences in intelligence.
Richard Nisbett, a professor of psychology who has written an excellent book about intelligence, cites a study that followed a pool of Chinese-American children and a pool of white children into adulthood. The two groups started out with the same scores on I.Q. tests, but in the end 55 percent of the Asian-Americans entered high-status occupations, compared with one-third of the whites. To succeed as a manager, whites needed an I.Q. of 100, while Chinese-Americans needed an I.Q. of only 93.