Published: January 17, 2019

Download: Life Course Centre Working Paper: 2019-01


Ha Trong Nguyen, Luke B. Connelly, Huong Thu Le, Francis Mitrou, Catherine L. Taylor, and Stephen R. Zubrick.

Non-Technical Summary:

It has been shown that, in most countries where English is the main language spoken, children of Asian immigrants do better at school than both children of native-born parents (non-immigrants) and children of immigrant parents who are not from Asia. This paper is the first to explore whether differences in time use by children of Asian-born parents may help to explain the observed differentials in school achievements compared with children of native-born and non-Asian immigrant parents.

To do so, we employ rich time-use diary information by two cohorts of children observed over a decade to show that children of native-born Australian parents and children of Asian immigrant parents spend their time very differently. Furthermore, we provide novel evidence that children of Asian immigrants begin spending more time than their peers on educational activities from around 6-7 years of age; and, that the nativity gap in the time allocated to educational activities increases as students advance through their school years. We also use the results from numerous tests observed over an extended and important period of child development, of 4-5 to 14-15 years of age, showing that such the growing differential pattern in respect of educational time mirrors the growing academic advantages experienced by children of Asian immigrants over time. However, we do not observe significant nativity differences in academic performance or time allocation between third-generation Asian immigrant children and their non-Asian peers, indicating that ethnic or cultural attachments tend to fade across generations.

Our decomposition results indicate that ethnicity disparities in initial cognitive abilities and time allocations explain a large part of the differences in academic performance. In contrast, ethnicity differences in other socioeconomic factors such as parental marital status, education, income and parenting styles explain very little of the nativity test score gap conditional on initial cognitive abilities and time investments.

Our decomposition results also show marked differences in the contributions of initial cognitive abilities and time allocations to the aggregate nativity test score gaps by test subjects, test ages and across points of the test score distribution. For instance, between the ages of 6-7 and 8-9 years, Asian immigrant children spend more time on educational activities and their time investment compensates for their significant initial disadvantage in language skills: consequently, they catch up with children of Australian-born parents in language skills by the ages of 8-9 years. From ages of 10-11 years onwards, the Asian immigrant children’s greater educational time investment, coupled with their apparent advantages in initial cognitive ability are the prime factors contributing to their superior academic achievements in language skills. Similarly, the Asian immigrant children’s favourable initial cognitive abilities and greater educational time investments all contribute to their academic advantages in all other non-language related subjects such as spelling and mathematics from ages of 8-9 years.


January 22, 2019