Three Essays on Asian Americans' Educational Outcomes

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This dissertation explores patterns and sources of Asian American students’ educational success, focusing on their greater likelihood of selecting and completing a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) major in college, their lower self-assessed math ability, and their differential patterns of residential segregation by race, income, and household structure. First, using the Educational Longitudinal Survey of 2002 (“ELS”), I show that Asian-white differences in STEM outcomes in college are strongly predicted by Asian students’ stronger academic preparation and greater likelihood of planning to enter STEM occupations in high school, but partially offset by Asian students’ lower self-assessed math ability than whites with similar academic preparation. Moreover, Asian students’ initial choice of STEM majors is more elastic than whites’ with respect to academic achievement in STEM, and they are more likely to initiate STEM majors in college even if they don’t articulate an occupational plan or take advanced STEM courses in high school. Second, I show that the Asian disadvantage in mathematics self-assessment is only pronounced among students who take advanced mathematics courses. Among students who take advanced mathematics courses, Asian students’ lower mathematics self-assessment relative to whites’ is largely driven by the higher level of Asian concentration in the schools in which Asian students are enrolled. However, among students who take nonadvanced mathematics courses, there is a psychological premium in assessing one’s mathematics ability for Asian students relative to whites, especially among the lowest achieving ones. Finally, using census tract-level data from the American Community Survey linked to school district boundaries, I find that the residential segregation of poor Asian households from nonpoor White households is less driven by sorting across school district boundaries than it is for poor Black or Hispanic Households, but that within-race segregation of poor from nonpoor households is greater among Asian households than for other racial and ethnic groups. These findings are consistent with the hypotheses that nonpoor White parents have lower level of resistance toward poor Asian than toward poor Black and poor Hispanic households but are not consistent with the notion that poor Asian parents are able to draw on their unique resources from their ethnic communities for their children to access similar school options as nonpoor Asian parents.

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145 pages


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Asian American; Educational Attainment; Residential Segregation; Self-assessed Math Ability; STEM; Upward Mobility


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Weeden, Kim

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Maralani, Vida
Sassler, Sharon

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Ph. D., Sociology

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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