Published: December 19, 2019


In most multi-cultural Anglo-Saxon countries, children of Asian immigrants have higher academic achievement than their peers. However, little is known about their relative non-cognitive performance.

A Life Course Centre Working Paper aims to fill this knowledge gap by examining, for the first time, the non-cognitive skills development differences of children of Asian immigrants and those of non-Asian children. The study uses longitudinal data of Australian-born children over 12 years, along with responses to behavioral and socio-emotional measures across five scales: prosocial, hyperactivity, emotional, conduct, and peer.

The paper, a collaboration between researchers from The University of Western Australia and The University of Queensland, finds significant differences in non-cognitive skill development between children of Asian immigrants and those of their non-Asian peers. It also finds that these ethnic gaps vary by who provides the measures of children’s non-cognitive skills, the types of non-cognitive skills being evaluated, and children’s ages.

For example, according to parent reports, children of Asian immigrants score lower on the prosocial, emotional, peer and overall non-cognitive skill scales. These ethnicity gaps are more pronounced when mothers’ evaluations are used and for younger children. By contrast, from teachers’ ratings, children of Asian immigrants score higher than their peers in almost all non-cognitive attributes. Also using child reports, Asian immigrant children score higher on the hyperactivity and conduct scales but equally on other scales and the overall non-cognitive scale. There are no discernable ethnic differences in non-cognitive skills in third generation immigrants, suggesting differences diminish across generations and are more cultural, rather than biological or temperamental.

The study highlights parenting styles and children’s time allocations as the most important factors in ethnicity-based non-cognitive skill gaps. It concludes that policies aimed at promoting warmer or more effective parenting styles or increasing children’s time on physical activities can help foster non-cognitive skill development for all children.

Sources of Ethnicity Differences in Non-Cognitive Development in Children and Adolescents, is authored by Ha Trong Nguyen of Telethon Kids Institute and The University of Western Australia; Luke Connelly of the Centre for the Business and Economics of Health at The University of Queensland; Huong Thu Le of the School of Population and Global Health at The University of Western Australia; and Francis Mitrou, Catherine Taylor and Stephen Zubrick of Telethon Kids Institute and The University of Western Australia.

You can read the full Working Paper here.