Published: November 7, 2019

Download: Life Course Centre Working Paper: 2019-21


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

Non-Technical Summary:

In most multi-cultural Anglo-Saxon countries, children of Asian immigrants have higher academic achievement than children of native-born parents. Yet, little is known about their relative non-cognitive performance. This study employs rich and nationally representative longitudinal data on two cohorts of Australian-born children observed over 12 years and children’s behavioral and socio-emotional skills as measured by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire to report significant differences in non-cognitive skill development between children of Asian immigrants and children from other selective ethnic groups. Furthermore, the ethnic gaps vary significantly by who provides the measures of children’s non-cognitive skills, the types of non-cognitive skills and children’s ages. Specifically, using teachers’ reports, relative to non-Asian children, children of Asian immigrants are found to excel in almost all non-cognitive attributes, particularly after school entry ages. By contrast, Asian immigrant parents rated their children lower in some non-cognitive attributes such as Pro-sociality, Emotional, Peer and overall non-cognitive skill scales and at early ages. However, we do not observe significant ethnic differences in non-cognitive skills between third-generation Asian immigrant children and their non-Asian peers.

We also find that differences in initial child non-cognitive abilities, parenting styles and children’s time allocations are the most important factors contributing to ethnicity-based non-cognitive skill gaps. Moreover, both ethnic differences in parenting styles and children’s time allocations contribute to reducing the non-cognitive skill advantage observed for Asian immigrant children. In particular, the contribution of parenting styles is consistent with two observations: (i) as compared to Australian-born parents, Asian immigrant parents are less warm and less disciplined when interacting with their children and (ii) the positive returns to warm and effective discipline parenting styles. Similarly, the patterns that (i) children of Asian immigrants are much less physically active and (ii) the positive returns to time spent on physically active activities both explain the contribution of children’s time allocations to reducing the ethnicity-based non-cognitive skill gaps in favour of Asian immigrant children.

The results from this paper highlight that studies using non-cognitive skills reported by various informants could result in very different conclusions about ethnic differences in non-cognitive skills. The results also suggest that policies aiming at promoting warmer or more effective parenting styles or increasing children’s time spent on physically active activities could foster non-cognitive skill development for all children.


November 7, 2019