3-4 pages journal assignment pdf file

Model Minority of a Different Kind? Academic Competence and
Behavioral Health of Chinese Children Adopted Into White
American Families
Tony Xing Tan
University of South Florida
Asian American students’ favorable academic achievement has mainly and frequently been attributed to
their family cultural values. Children who immigrated to the United States as infants or toddlers through
international adoption and are subsequently growing up in White families are a unique group of
American children of Chinese heritage. In this article, 4 studies were used to determine how the lack of
exposure to Asian family cultural values might affect adopted Chinese children’s academic outcomes and
behavioral health. Study 1 compared 180 adopted Chinese youth with 153 U.S.-born peers on selfreported school adjustment and behavioral health. Study 2 examined 224 adopted Chinese youth’s
self-reported academic competence and global self-esteem. Study 3 reported teachers’ judgment on 71
adopted Chinese youth’s academic competence and parents’ ratings on the same 71 youth’s behavioral
problems. Study 4 compared 40 mothers’ reports of behavioral problems in their biological children and
adoptive Chinese children. All adopted children were girls, as the vast majority of children adopted from
China are girls. Results from the 4 studies showed that despite lacking the Asian family cultural
background, the adopted Chinese children had favorable academic and behavioral health status, which
resembled what has been demonstrated by Asian American students.
What is the public significance of this article?
Favorable academic achievement of Asian American children has mainly and frequently been
attributed to parenting practices shaped by Asian family cultural values. Chinese children adopted
into White American families represent a unique case of separation between race and family culture.
Reports from adoptees, adoptive parents, and teachers converged on the finding that Chinese
adoptees had similarly favorable academic outcomes and behavioral health status, despite lacking the
Asian family cultural background.
Keywords: model minority, adoption, Chinese American children, academic performance, behavioral
health
Asian American students have been documented to academically outperform their White counterparts, as well as their peers
from other minority groups (Hsin & Xie, 2014; Kao & Thompson,
2003; Peng & Wright, 1994; Wing, 2007; Wong, 1990). Their
favorable academic profile has been reflected in test scores,
grades, achievement motivation, educational attitudes, and educational beliefs and aspirations (Eaton & Dembo, 1997; Huang &
Waxman, 1995; Linnehan, 2001).
The most common and frequent explanation for good academic
outcomes of Asian American children is Asian family cultural
values. Family cultural values have been shown to drive parenting
behaviors and practices (Darling & Steinberg, 1993). One key
dimension of the Asian American family cultural values is the top
priority of children’s educational achievement (Kim, Atkinson, &
Umemoto, 2001). Asian American family’s emphasis on educational achievement is linked to various types of parenting practices
aimed to help their children succeed academically. These practices
frequently include strict parenting style, high parental educational
expectations, and heavy educational investment. In terms of parenting style, Asian American parents exercise more authoritarian
parenting and parental control than White American parents
(Chao, 1996; Lin & Fu, 1990). In terms of parental expectations,
Asian American parents place higher expectations on educational
achievement than White American families and other minority
families (Aldous, 2006; Chao, 2001; Kao, 1995; Okagaki &
Frensch, 1998; Pearce, 2006; Schneider, & Lee, 1990; Tran &
Birman, 2010; Wong & Halgin, 2006; Yamamoto & Holloway,
2010). According to Goyette and Xie (1999) and Kao (1995),
Asian American family cultural and behavioral practices contribute to Asian American students’ higher academic performance
more so than higher parental education. Schneider and Lee (1990)
This article was published Online First March 8, 2018.
I would like to acknowledge Campbell Hardy, a doctoral-level student at
my institution, for his assistance in editing and proofreading the article.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Tony
Xing Tan, Department of Educational and Psychological Studies, College
of Education, University of South Florida, EDU105, 4202 East, Fowler
Avenue, Tampa, FL 33620. E-mail: tan@usf.edu
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
Asian American Journal of Psychology © 2018 American Psychological Association
2018, Vol. 9, No. 3, 169 –178 1948-1985/18/$12.00 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/aap0000106
169
argued that although high expectations from parents, teachers, and
peers all contribute to Asian American students’ higher academic
performance, parental expectations were “extremely powerful” (p.
374). High educational expectations often drive Asian American
families to invest more heavily in their children’s education than
White families and other minority American families do (Goyette
& Xie, 1999; Kao, 1995; Sun, 1998; Zhou & Lee, 2017).
Implicit in this explanation is the overall notion that these
practices lead Asian American children to internalize their family
cultural values and translate them into educational aspirations,
academic behaviors, and academic attitudes and beliefs that are
conducive to higher performance (Asakawa, 2001; Lee & Ying,
2000). Although the family cultural value explanation has been
supported by many studies and makes intuitive sense, another body
of literature has recently emerged, calling for a closer investigation
of and possible alternative narrative to the critical significance of
parenting practices shaped by Asian American family cultural
values in Asian American students’ favorable academic achievement. Specifically, in America today, there is a large number of
China-born children growing up in families where both parents are
White. They are a unique group of first-generation Americans,
most of whom are girls born in impoverished Chinese families that
could not take care of them and subsequently relinquished them to
institutional care (Johnson, Banghan, & Wang, 1998). They immigrated to the United States through international adoption when
most of them were infants or toddlers and are growing up exposed
to parenting practices shaped by White American family cultural
values.
Comparing with Asian American families, White American
families that have adopted Chinese children differ fundamentally
in family cultural values. Typically speaking, because White adoptive parents are outsiders to the Chinese culture and hold individualistic cultural beliefs, the adoptive families likely resemble typical middle-class White American families in parenting,
educational expectations, and educational investment. Indeed,
White adoptive parents of Chinese children have been shown to be
highly authoritative in parenting (Tan, Camras, Deng, Zhang, &
Lu, 2012). They were primarily concerned about ensuring that
their adopted children recover from orphanage deprivation and
catch-up developmentally (rather than academic achievement),
especially in early childhood (Tan, 2010). Inevitably, the adopted
Chinese children are socialized to some cultural norms and beliefs
that are incongruent with Asian family cultural values that many
Asian American children adhere to (e.g., filial piety and family
obligations).
As such, the Asian family cultural value explanation that has
been proposed as the main reason for Asian American students’
favorable academic outcomes does not really apply to the adopted
Chinese children. Consequently, it would be reasonable to hypothesize that adopted Chinese children would not outperform their
White or minority counterparts academically, which nonadopted
Chinese American students have demonstrated.
However, a competing hypothesis has actually been supported
by research on adopted Chinese children’s academic performance
and behavioral health. Specifically, converging evidence has
shown that adopted Chinese children are a “positive outlier” in
comparison with nonadopted children in terms of academic performance (Dalen & Rygvold, 2006; Tan & Camras, 2011) and in
comparison with children adopted from other backgrounds in
terms of behavioral health (Hawk & McCall, 2010). Studies from
the United States and Norway have demonstrated that unlike other
adoptees, Chinese adoptees resemble nonadopted students in academic performance and behavioral health. For instance, in a large
study on teachers’ ratings of 610 K-grade to 12th-grade adopted
Chinese children’s academic performance and social competence
in school, Tan and Camras (2011) found that the adopted Chinese
children scored higher than their classmates on academic performance and were on par or better than the U.S. norms on social
competence. In Norway, Dalen and Rygvold (2006) compared the
academic achievement of 77 adopted Chinese children with 77
Norwegian-born classmates who were matched on gender, age,
and geographic location. The children were between 7 and 13
years of age (M 8.65, SD 1.55) and had spent 2 to 53 months
in orphanages in China before adoption (M 6.88 months, SD
9.23). There was no group difference in teachers’ ratings on
academic performance, daily language ability, academic language
ability, behavioral health, school behaviors, or prosocial behaviors.
However, it should be noted that the literature is generally lacking
on self-reported academic competence and behavioral health
among children adopted from China. The adopted Chinese children’s favorable outcomes are even more remarkable when considering the overwhelming evidence that poor academic competence and poor behavioral health outcomes have been frequently
reported for children adopted domestically and from most other
countries (Juffer & van IJzendoorn, 2005; van IJzendoorn, Juffer,
& Poelhuis, 2005).
Purpose of the Current Article
To comprehensively evaluate adopted Chinese children’s outcomes in the absence of Chinese cultural upbringing, results from
four studies guided by different questions and that used different
designs were reported in this article. All studies were approved by
the author’s university’s institutional review board (IRB). Study 1
(IRB: PRO0026088) compared self-reported school adjustment
and behavioral health between 180 adopted Chinese youth and 153
nonadopted America-born peers. Study 2 (IRB: PRO0000207)
investigated 224 adopted Chinese youth’s self-reported academic
performance and global self-esteem. Study 3 (IRB: PRO0000207)
focused on 71 adopted Chinese youth’s behavioral health as reported by adoptive parents and academic competence as reported
by teachers. Study 4 (IRB: PRO0000207) compared mothers’
ratings on the behavioral health of 40 adopted Chinese children
and 40 of their biological children.
To reduce possible social desirability bias from relying solely on
self-reports, additional data sources that complemented one another (nonadopted peers, parents, and teachers) were included. To
obtain a clearer profile of the adopted Chinese children’s academic
and behavioral status, they were compared with nonadopted peers,
nonadopted siblings, and classmates. Finally, related but somewhat
different constructs of academic outcomes (school adjustment and
academic competence) and behavioral health (mental disorders,
global self-esteem, and behavioral adjustment) were investigated
across the four studies. Because the vast majority of children who
were adopted from China are girls, this article is focused on girls.
Note that the decision to go beyond academic outcome to include
behavioral health was informed by some studies showing that the
pressure for excellence and to meet parents’ high educational
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170 TAN
expectations increased the mental health risk for Asian American
youth (Qin, Way, & Mukherjee, 2008; Sue, Sue, Sue, & Takeuchi,
1995), whereas other studies showing that Asian students’ good
academic performance served as a protective factor for behavioral
health (Thompson & Kiang, 2010; Whaley & Noel, 2013).
Study 1: Adopted and Nonadopted Youth’s School
Adjustment and Behavioral Health
Method
Participants. Study 1 included a group of 180 adopted Chinese youth and a comparison group of 153 nonadopted American
youth (N 333). The adopted youth were from a longitudinal
study on their development. To meet the selection criterion for the
current study, the youth needed to be 12 to 21 years old (as the key
measure was designed for this age-group). The parents of the
eligible children (about 600) were contacted via e-mail first to
inquire if they would be interested in having their children participate in the study. Upon receiving a positive response, a personalized survey link hosted by Qualtrics was e-mailed to the parent
if the eligible participant was 18 years of age. The parent was
then asked to forward the link to the child. If the participant was
18 years or older, the personalized link was e-mailed to the parent,
or if the parent had responded with the child’s e-mail, the link was
sent to the adoptee directly. In total, 400 surveys were requested
and 264 adoptees completed or partially completed the survey,
yielding a response rate of 66%. For the current analysis, eight
adoptees who graduated from high school (but not attending college) and 68 who entered colleges and universities were excluded.
In addition, eight adoptees were excluded from data analysis for
missing key data. This resulted in a sample of 180 adopted Chinese
girls in Grades 6 to 12. These youths lived in 38 states and
Washington DC and attended 169 different schools.
The nonadopted comparison group included 153 girls in Grades
6 to 12, including 67 (43.8%) Whites, 38 (24.6%) Hispanics, 30
(19.6%) Blacks, two (1.3%) Asians, and 16 (10.5%) self-identified
as Native American, mixed, multiracial/biracial and other. They
were recruited from 34 public and private schools in a southeastern
state of the United States that is ranked among the top five states
that had adopted the largest number of children from China.
During participant recruitment, close attention was paid to ensure
that targeted schools were located in communities that varied
widely in socioeconomic status (SES) and racial diversity. Information about the study was distributed to the students with the
cooperation of the teachers. Students were given information about
the study, along with the informed consent form for their parents
to sign if they were interested in participating in the study. Upon
receiving parental consent and student assent (for those 18 years)
or students’ consent (for those who were 18 years), data were
collected individually at the participant’s school. Similar to the
adopted youth, a survey link hosted by Qualtrics was used to
gather data. Note that in some incidences, a backup paper-andpencil survey had to be used instead due to Internet connection
issues on the participants’ campus.
Measures. The participant first responded to demographic
questions on date of birth (which was used together with the date
of data collection to calculate her age) and ethnicity (only for
nonadopted participants. They filled out how they ethnically identified themselves). Then, they provided data in the areas mentioned
next.
Self-report of personality. The adolescent form of the SelfReport of Personality (SRP) of the third edition of the Behavior
Assessment System for Children (Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2016)
was used to gather data on self-reported behavioral health. It was
designed for those aged 12 to 21 years. It has 189 items that are
either true/false or measured on a 4-point Likert scale (never,
sometimes, often, and almost always). Based on the third edition of
the Behavior Assessment System for Children manual, depending
on the wording (i.e., negative or positive), a 0 or 2 point is assigned
to true/false items, whereas a 0, 1, 2, or 3 point is assigned to
Likert scale items. The SRP gathers data in four broad domains,
which are described next.
School adjustment problems. This scale is the sum of three
subscales: Negative Attitude Toward School, Negative Attitude
Toward Teachers, and Sensation-Seeking. The Negative Attitude
Toward School subscale has eight items (e.g., I hate school).
Positively worded items are reverse-scored so that a higher sum
indicates more negative attitude. The Negative Attitude Toward
Teachers subscale includes nine items (e.g., Teachers are unfair).
Positively worded items are reverse-scored so that a higher sum
indicates more negative attitude. Finally, the Sensation-Seeking
subscale has nine items (e.g., I like to take risks). A higher sum
indicates more problems with sensation-seeking. In the current
study, the internal consistency coefficients for the three subscales
were .84, .85, and .84 for Negative Attitude Toward School,
Negative Attitude Toward Teachers, and Sensation-Seeking, respectively. In data analysis, the sum of each subscale was used,
with higher scores indicating more problematic behaviors. A
higher score for the total of the summary scale of School Adjustment Problems indicates more problems at school.
Internalizing problems. This scale is the sum of seven subscales: Atypicality, Locus of Control, Social Stress, Anxiety, Depression, Sense of Inadequacy, and Somatization. The Atypicality
subscale includes 10 items (e.g., I feel like people are out to get
me). The Locus of Control subscale includes eight items (e.g., My
parents expect too much from me). The Social Stress subscale
includes 11 items (e.g., People say bad things to me). The Anxiety
subscale consists of 13 items (e.g., Little things bother me). The
Depression subscale consists of 12 items (e.g., I used to be
happier). The Sense of Inadequacy subscale includes 12 items
(e.g., I never seem to get anything right). Finally, the Somatization
subscale includes seven items (e.g., Often I feel sick in my stomach). In the current sample, the internal consistency for the seven
subscales ranged from .78 (Somatization) to .91 (Atypicality). In
data analysis, the sum of each scale was used, with higher scores
indicating more problematic behaviors. A higher total score for the
summary scale Internalizing Problems indicates more problems.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. This scale is the sum
of two subscales: Inattention and Hyperactivity. The Inattention
subscale comprised eight items (e.g., I have trouble paying attention to the teachers). The Hyperactivity subscale comprised eight
items (e.g., I have trouble standing still in line). The internal
consistency for the two subscales was .87 and .82, respectively. In
data analysis, the sum of the items was used, with a higher total
score indicating more attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
symptoms.
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OUTCOMES OF ADOPTED CHINESE CHILDREN 171
Prosocial adjustment. The scale is the sum of four subscales:
Relations With Parents, Interpersonal Relations, Self-Esteem, and
Self-Reliance. The Relations With Parents subscale has 11 items
(e.g., My parents listen to what I say). The Interpersonal Relations
subscale describes peer relations. It has 15 items (e.g., I am liked
by others). Negatively worded items are reverse-scored so that a
higher sum indicated more positive peer relations. The Self-Esteem
subscale has seven items (e.g., I am happy with who I am). Finally,
the Self-Reliance subscale includes nine items (e.g., I am someone
you can rely on). In the current sample, the internal consistency
coefficients for the four subscales were .92, .84, .88, and .80,
respectively. Different from the other three scales, a higher total
score in Prosocial Adjustment indicates better behavioral health.
Mental disorder diagnosis and health service. The participants were asked if they have been diagnosed by a professional
(e.g., psychiatrist) to have a list of 13 different mental disorders
or problems (No 0 and Yes 1). These disorders included
mood disorder (i.e., depression), anxiety disorder (i.e., panic
disorder, phobia, generalized anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, attachment disorder, and eating disorder), and developmental/behavioral disorders (i.e., attention-deficit disorder/
attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant
disorder, obsessive– compulsive disorder, conduct disorder, and
self-injury), and drug/alcohol addiction, plus three open-ended
questions for the participants to list other disorders. Because
treatment might have an impact on the functioning of children
with mental health problems, the participants were asked if they
were (No 0 and Yes 1) currently taking medication for
physical illness, if they were currently taking medication for
mental health problems, and if they were receiving counseling
or psychotherapy for mental health problems.
Results
The 180 adopted Chinese youth were 10.6 to 23.8 years old
(M 14.9, SD 2.1); the 153 nonadopted youth were 11.9 to 21.2
years old (M 15.5, SD 2.2). The adopted Chinese youth were
somewhat younger than the nonadopted youth (df 330, t 2.45,
p .05). The adopted Chinese youth were adopted at 18.8 months,
on average (SD 20.9). In other words, on average, the adoptees
lived in China for about 1.5 years before arriving in the United
States.
School adjustment and behavioral health. Table 1 summarizes the means (SDs) of the SRP measures for the adopted and
nonadopted youth. Overall, the adopted youth scored more favorably (i.e., either lower scores on problem scales or higher scores on
adaptation scales) than nonadopted youth on all four summary
scales and 14 of the 16 subscales. This finding remained after age
of the youth was controlled for. Subsequent separate comparisons
of the adopted Chinese youth against White youth, Black youth,
and Hispanic youth from the nonadopted youth group yielded
similar results.
Mental disorders and treatments. As shown in Table 2, the
two groups were not different in the rates of mental disorder
diagnoses and treatments for physical and mental health problems.
Among the adopted youth, 9.3% were receiving counseling/psychotherapy, 6.4% were taking medication for mental disorders, and
8.7% were taking medication for physical illness. The corresponding rates for the nonadopted youth were 8.5%, 5.3%, and 12.4%,
respectively. The group differences were not statistically significant. Subsequent separate comparison of the adopted Chinese
youth with White youth, Black youth, and Hispanic youth in the
nonadopted youth group similarly revealed no group difference.
Table 1
Study 1: Summary of T Test Results of Self-Report of Personality Measures for Adopted and
Nonadopted Youth (N 333)
BASC
Adopted
youth
Nonadopted
youth T test Cohen’s d
N 180 153
School Adjustment Problems 17.5 (8.4) 25.4 (11.6) 7.2 0.79
Negative attitude to school 5.8 (4.3) 8.2 (4.8) 4.7 0.52
Negative attitude to teachers 3.8 (3.4) 7.3 (5.1) 7.4 0.82
Sensation-seeking 7.9 (4.3) 10.0 (5.8) 3.7 0.41
Internalizing Problems 34.7 (23.0) 51.0 (28.6) 5.7 0.63
Atypical behaviors 3.6 (3.4) 5.8 (4.9) 4.7 0.52
Poor locus of control 3.2 (3.1) 6.0 (4.7) 6.4 0.70
Social stress 6.4 (4.7) 8.2 (5.6) 3.1 0.34
Depression 5.3 (5.4) 8.1 (7.1) 4.1 0.45
Anxiety 12.5 (6.7) 16.2 (8.2) 4.4 0.49
Inadequacy 7.1 (5.0) 9.6 (5.9) 4.0 0.46
Somatization 1.7 (2.2) 3.7 (3.6) 6.3 0.69
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder 12.7 (7.5) 16.0 (9.1) 3.6 0.39
Attention problems 5.2 (4.3) 9.0 (5.3) 5.3 0.58
Hyperactivity 6.5 (4.0) 7.0 (4.9) .87 0.10
Personal Adjustment 76.0 (14.5) 68.5 (15.9) 4.5 0.50
Relationship quality with parents 24.8 (5.0) 20.3 (7.3) 6.6 0.73
Interpersonal relations 19.4 (4.2) 18.2 (4.6) 2.5 0.28
Self-esteem 13.2 (4.5) 12.1 (4.7) 2.3 0.25
Self-reliance 18.7 (4.4) 17.9 (4.5) 1.7 0.19
Note. BASC Behavior Assessment System for Children. For School Problems, Internalizing Problems, and
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and their subscales, higher scores indicate poorer behavioral health; for
Personal Adjustment scale and its subscales, higher scores indicate better behavioral health.
p .05. p .01. p .001.
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172 TAN
Attachment disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder appeared to
be more common in the adopted youth, whereas obsessive–
compulsive disorder seemed more common in the nonadopted
youth. The occurrence was too few for any meaningful discussion,
however. Subsequent comparisons between the adopted youth and
nonadopted White youth, Black youth, and Hispanic youth yielded
similar results.
Study 2: Adopted Chinese Youth’s Academic
Performance and Global Self-Esteem
Method
Participants. The participants were recruited from families
that had adopted children from China. In recruiting adopted youth
for the study, an e-mail was first sent to parents who had previously participated in a longitudinal study on the development of
the adopted children. The parents were instructed to respond to the
e-mail with basic information about number of children they had
and each child’s age. For families with children who were 11 years
or older, the parents were asked if they would give consent for a
child survey prepared for their children. The survey was requested
for 385 adopted children in total. A personalized survey link was
then sent to the parent, along with a request for the parent to pass
the link along to the child. Overall, 234 of the 385 adoptees
completed the surveys (about 61% response rate), including 224
girls and 10 boys. In data analysis, the 10 boys were excluded
because most of them had special needs.
Measures.
Academic performance. A five-item Academic Competence
Scale adapted from the Social Skills Rating System teacher report
(SSRS; Gresham & Elliott, 1990) was used to gather the adoptees’
self-report on their overall academic performance, performance in
math, performance in English/reading, achievement motivation,
and intellectual ability on a 5-point Likert scale (1 lower 10% of
the class and 5 highest 10% of the class). To corroborate the
adoptees’ self-report, adoptive parents were asked to independently rate their children’s performance in the same five areas and
to explain the basis for their ratings. Overall, report cards and
parent–teacher conferences were the major bases for parental ratings. Ratings from the adoptees and the parents were strongly
correlated, r .74, p .001, suggesting good validity in the
adoptees’ self-report. The internal consistency for the adoptees’
self-ratings was .86.
Global self-esteem. The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965) was used to gather data on the adoptees’ global selfesteem. The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale is a widely used self-report
measure on global self-esteem among youths. It has 10 items on a
4-point Likert scale (0 strongly disagree and 3 strongly agree).
An example is “I am a person of worth.” It yields a unidimensional
score. Internal consistency for the current sample was .91. In data
analysis, the sum score was used. Higher scores indicate higher
self-esteem.
Results
The 224 adopted youth were 11 to 21 years old (M 13.6 years,
SD 2.1) and from 185 adoptive families (65.4% were headed by
two parents). The adoptive mothers’ average age was 54 years
(SD 5.5). Nearly 60% of the adoptive mothers had at least a
master’s degree, and nearly 50% of the families reported an annual
income of $90,000 to $150,000 or more. At the time of adoption,
most adoptees (88%) were 24 months old (M 17.4, SD
18.2). They were adopted from 109 different orphanages in 19
Chinese provinces and municipalities. All but six girls (97.4%)
lived in families where one or both parents were White.
Academic performance. The adopted youth’s average academic competence was 4.0 (SD .80; 1 lowest 10% of the class
and 5 highest 10% of the class). Overall, over 60% to 70% of
the adopted Chinese youth self-reported that their academic perTable 2
Study 1: Mental Disorder Diagnoses in Adopted Chinese Youth and Nonadopted Youth
(N 325)
Mental disorder diagnosis
Adopted
youth
Nonadopted
youth 2
N 172 153
Any mood and anxiety disorder 27 (15.7%) 32 (20.9%) 1.48
Generalized anxiety disorder 17 (9.9%) 22 (14.4%)
Depression 15 (8.7%) 23 (15.0%)
Attachment disorder 8 (4.7%) 2 (1.3%)
Eating disorder 1 (0.6%) 3 (2.0%)
Panic disorder 4 (2.3%) 2 (1.3%)
Posttraumatic stress disorder 8 (4.7%) 1 (0.7%)
Any behavioral disorder 18 (10.5%) 27 (17.7%) 3.50
Attention-deficit disorder/attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder 16 (9.3%) 19 (12.4%)
Obsessive–compulsive disorder 4 (2.3%) 14 (9.2%)
Self-injury 3 (1.7%) 7 (4.6%)
Oppositional defiant disorder 2 (1.2%) 1 (0.7%)
Drug/Alcohol addiction 0 0
Medical and psychological treatment 32 (18.6%) 33 (21.5%) 0.44
Counseling/psychotherapy 16 (9.3%) 13 (8.5%)
Medication for mental illness 11 (6.4%) 8 (5.3%)
Medication for physical illness 15 (8.7%) 19 (12.4%)
p .10.
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OUTCOMES OF ADOPTED CHINESE CHILDREN 173
formance was about the top 20% of their classes, and about 30%
to 40% of the adopted Chinese youth reported that they were
among the highest 10% of their classes (Table 3). Their academic
performance was not correlated with their age, r .10, p .12,
adoptive mothers’ education, r .01, p .92, or household
income, r .01, p .91.
Global self-esteem. The adopted Chinese youth’s global selfesteem scores ranged from 0 to 30 (N 216; M 22.5, SD
5.6), and 9.3% of them scored within the range considered low
global self-esteem (i.e., scores at 15 or lower), and 14.8% of them
scored at the highest level (i.e., 30). Their global self-esteem was
negatively correlated with their age, r .26, p .001, but was
not correlated with the adoptive mothers’ education level,
r .05, p .51, or household income, r .03, p .67. The
adopted youth’s global self-esteem scores were positively correlated with their academic performance scores, r .34, p .001.
Study 3: Adopted Chinese Youth’s Behavioral Health
and Academic Competence
Method
Participants. The third study focused on parents’ and teachers’ ratings of 71 adopted Chinese youth’s academic performance
and behavioral health. The adoptive mothers and teachers were a
subsample from a larger longitudinal study on adopted Chinese
children’s postadoption development. The parents were identified
based on the fact that they had children who were in Grades 6 to
12, and the teachers were identified because they provided ratings
on these children’s academic competence.
Measures.
Academic competence. The Academic Competence Scale
from the Social Skills Rating System (Gresham & Elliott, 1990)
was used to obtain teacher’s judgment on the adopted youth’s
academic competence. Almost all of the teachers were non-Asian.
The Academic Competence Scale includes nine items on the
teacher’s judgment of the child’s academic or learning behaviors
(e.g., performance in reading) as compared with other students in
the same classroom using a 1 to 5 scale (1 lowest 10% and 5
highest 10%). For the current sample, the internal consistency was
.93. For each of the adopted youth, the English and math teachers
were asked to participate. For 34 of the 71 adopted youth, both
teachers provided data and the remaining 37 adoptees only had
data from one of the teachers. Because the ratings from two
teachers were strongly correlated at .70 (p .001), the average of
the two teachers’ ratings was used to reflect the adopted youth’s
academic competence. In data analysis, the average of the nine
items was used, with a higher score indicating higher academic
competence.
Child Behavior Checklist. The adoptive mothers first provided data on their age, ethnicity, educational levels, marital status,
profession, and household income, as well as the adopted children’s background (e.g., age at adoption). Then they filled out the
118-item Child Behavior Checklist for 6- to 18-year-olds (CBCL/
6 –18; Achenbach & Rescorla, 2001). The CBCL is a standardized
parental rating of the youth’s behavioral health. It asks parents to
report the extent to which each of the behaviors (e.g., arguing a lot)
applies to their child (0 not true, 1 somewhat/sometimes true,
and 2 very true or often true).
A Total Problems score for the child is obtained by adding the
1s and 2s. Two scale scores—Internalizing Problems (e.g., anxiety) and Externalizing Problems (e.g., rule breaking)—are obtained by adding scores of different syndromes. Each syndrome
comprises a set of problems that tend to co-occur. The Internalizing Problems scale comprises three syndromes: anxiety/depression
(13 items), withdrawal (eight items), and somatic complaints (11
items). The Externalizing Problems scale comprises two syndromes: rule-breaking behavior (17 items) and aggression (18
items). The internal consistency for this sample was .94 for Total
Problems, .85 for Internalizing Problems, and .91 for Externalizing
Problems. In data analysis, the recommendation by Achenbach and
Rescorla (2001) was followed to use the standardized scores (t
scores). T scores at 60 or higher are considered to be in the
borderline clinical/clinical range.
Results
The 71 adopted Chinese youth were 11.2 to 18.0 years old (M
13.0, SD 1.4), with an average age of 23.5 months (SD 29.4)
at the time of adoption. They lived in 64 families, 45 (90.3%) of
which had two parents. The adoptive mothers were, on average, 53
years old (SD 5.0), and the adoptive fathers were, on average, 55
years old (SD 6.5). The adoptive mothers’ educational levels
ranged from some college (9, 14.1%) to 4-year college (26, 40.6%)
to master’s (19, 29.7%) to doctorate (10, 15.6%). The 45 adoptive
fathers’ education levels ranged from high school (1, 2.2%) to
some college (5, 10.9%) to 4-year college (21, 45.7%) to master’s
(9, 19.6%) to doctorate (10, 21.7%). In terms of annual household
income, 26.6% of the families made $150,000 or more and no
families made less than $40,000. Not surprisingly, most parents
held professional jobs (e.g., accountants, actuaries, bankers, busiTable 3
Study 2: Adopted Chinese Youth’s Self-Rating of Academic Competence Within Their Classes
(N 221–222)
Academic competence
Self-ratings
Lowest 10% Next lowest 20% Middle 40% Next highest 20% Highest 10%
Overall academic performance 4 (1.8%) 2 (0.9%) 49 (22.2%) 72 (32.6%) 94 (42.5%)
Performance in reading 4 (1.8%) 13 (5.9%) 43 (19.4%) 69 (31.1%) 93 (41.9%)
Performance in math 7 (3.2%) 22 (9.9%) 56 (25.2%) 69 (31.1%) 68 (30.6%)
Overall motivation to succeed 4 (1.8%) 6 (2.7%) 50 (22.5%) 69 (31.1%) 93 (41.9%)
Intellectual functioning 4 (1.8%) 3 (1.4%) 66 (29.7%) 65 (29.3%) 84 (37.8%)
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174 TAN
ness owners, computer analysists, computer programmers, engineers, financial analysists, lawyers, professors, and physicians).
Academic competence. Based on the teachers’ judgment, the
adopted Chinese youth’s average academic performance score was
4.28 (SD .63; range 2.0 –5), which would place them among
the top 15% in their classes (an average of 4 corresponds to top
20% and an average of 5 corresponds to the highest 10%). Table
4 summarizes teachers’ ratings of the adopted Chinese youth in
comparison with their classmates in different aspects of their
academic competence. It is particularly noteworthy that over 40%
of the adopted Chinese youth were rated by their teachers to be
among the highest 10% in their classes in overall academic performance, nearly 70% were rated to be among the highest 10% in
overall motivation to succeed, about 75% were rated to be among
the highest 10% in terms of parental encouragement to succeed,
and nearly 80% were rated to be among the highest 10% in overall
classroom behavior.
Behavioral health. Based on parent ratings, the adopted Chinese youth’s average of CBCL Internalizing Problems, Externalizing Problems, and Total Problems was 50.8 (SD 9.8), 47.7
(SD 10.1), and 49.1 (SD 10.6), respectively. These averages
were very similar to the U.S. norm (M 50, SD 10). Based on
the CBCL scoring manual, the rate of borderline clinical/clinical
adjustment was 23.6% for Internalizing Problems, 13.9% for Externalizing Problems, and 20.8% for Total CBCL Problems. These
rates were similar or lower than the U.S. norm. The correlation
between teacher-rated academic competence and parent-rated behavioral health was rather modest: Academic performance’s correlation coefficient was .18 (p .11) with CBCL Internalizing
Problems, .25 (p .05) with CBCL Externalizing Problems,
and .28 (p .05) with CBCL Total Problems.
Study 4: Adoptive Mothers’ Ratings of Adopted
Chinese Children and Biological Children’s
Behavioral Health
Method
Participants. The fourth study focused on 40 adoptive families where the adoptive parents had biological children and then
adopted children from China. All 40 families were headed by two
White parents. They were selected because their biological children were living in the same household as the adopted children and
were within the age range of the key measure (i.e., the CBCL). For
families that have more than one biological or adopted child, the
children who were closest in age were identified. Therefore, one
biological child and one adopted child from each family were
included in the analysis.
Measures. For each sibling pair, the adoptive mother completed the CBCL for both children. Depending on the age of the
child, the mother either completed the CBCL for preschool children or CBCL for school-age children. As described earlier, the
CBCL yields an Internalizing Problems scale, an Externalizing
Problems scale, and a Total Problems scale. To minimize the
potential effect of age and gender difference between adopted
children and the biological children, standardized scores (t scores)
were used in data analysis.
Results
Of the 40 adopted– biological pairs, the biological children
included 23 boys and 17 girls, whereas the adopted children
included 37 girls and 3 boys. The average age of the biological
children was 7.7 years (SD 3.3), and the average age of the
adopted children was 3.7 years (SD 2.0). Their average age at
adoption was 1.1 years (SD .64). The adoptive families had high
SES, as demonstrated by high educational level (e.g., 50% of the
mothers and 47.5% of the fathers had a graduate-level education)
and an average household income of about $110,000.
T tests were performed to compare the perceptions of the mothers to their biological children and adopted children’s behavioral
health measured with the CBCL. The results showed that the two
groups did not differ on Internalizing Problems (biological children: M 47.1, SD 8.9; adopted children: M 44.1, SD 9.1),
t(df 78) 1.45, p .15. The two groups did not differ on either
Externalizing Problems (biological children: M 45.2, SD 9.3;
adopted children: M 44.6, SD 10.8), t(df 78) .30, p
.77, or Total Problems (biological children: M 45.9, SD 9.3;
adopted children: M 44.9, SD 9.5), t(df 78) .45, p .65.
These results suggest that the adoptive parents did not perceive the
adopted children differently from their biological children in behavioral health. Finally, the mothers’ ratings of their biological
children’s CBCL scores were not at all correlated with their ratings
of their adopted children’s CBCL scores.
Table 4
Study 3: Teachers’ Ratings of Adopted Chinese Youth’s Academic Competence in Comparison With Their Classmates (N 71)
Academic competence
Teachers’ ratings
Lowest 10% Next lowest 20% Middle 40% Next highest 20% Highest 10%
Overall academic performance 1 (1.4%) 3 (4.2%) 10 (14.1%) 28 (39.4%) 29 (40.9%)
Performance in reading 1 (1.4%) 3 (4.2%) 11 (15.5%) 34 (47.9%) 22 (31.0%)
Performance in math 1 (1.4%) 4 (5.6%) 15 (21.1%) 26 (36.6%) 25 (35.2%)
Grade-level expectations in reading 1 (1.4%) 5 (7.0%) 10 (14.1%) 27 (38.0%) 28 (39.4%)
Grade-level expectations in math 1 (1.4%) 6 (8.5%) 11 (15.5%) 23 (32.4%) 30 (42.3%)
Overall motivation to succeed 0 0 6 (8.5%) 16 (22.5%) 49 (69.0%)
Parental encouragement to succeed 0 0 0 18 (25.3%) 53 (74.7%)
Intellectual functioning 1 (1.4%) 0 10 (13.9%) 31 (43.7%) 29 (40.9%)
Overall classroom behavior 1 (1.4%) 0 3 (4.2%) 11 (15.5%) 56 (78.9%)
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OUTCOMES OF ADOPTED CHINESE CHILDREN 175
Conclusion
Collectively, findings from the four studies showed that based
on self-reports, the adopted Chinese youth had fewer school problems and more favorable behavioral health status than nonadopted
peers, as well as favorable academic performance and global
self-esteem. Similarly, teacher reports showed that adopted Chinese youth outperformed their classmates on academic competence. Finally, parent reports showed that the adopted Chinese
children did not differ from the norm or adoptive parents’ biological children in behavioral health. These results suggest that overall
the adopted Chinese children demonstrated favorable academic
outcomes and behavioral health status, despite lacking an Asian
American family cultural background.
Discussion
Due to the favorable academic achievement in comparison with
other ethnic minority American students, Asian American students
have been regarded as a “model minority.” The current article took
advantage of a unique situation involving Chinese children adopted and raised by White parents to disentangle the complexity of
a reported relationship between Asian family cultural values and
Chinese children’s good academic outcomes and behavioral
health. The adopted Chinese children in the four studies have been
raised by White American parents since infancy or toddlerhood
following their immigration to the United States via international
adoption. Specifically, data on academic outcomes and behavioral
health of adopted Chinese children were analyzed to further understand the role of Asian family cultural values in Asian American children’s good academic competence and behavioral health.
Findings from the four studies challenge the long-held belief
that Asian American family cultural values are the main cause of
Asian American students’ favorable academic outcomes. Specifically, despite the absence of the key ingredients that underlie the
“model minority” phenomenon, the adopted Chinese children
demonstrated an academic and behavioral profile akin to the
“model minority” stereotype. Results reported in this article also
showed that more favorable academic outcomes were correlated
with more favorable behavioral health outcomes. Findings reported in this article are not unique. Almost all existing studies on
adopted Chinese children’s development have in fact shown that
within the population of adopted children, Chinese children outperform domestic adoptees and other international adoptees in
behavioral health (see the review by Hawk & McCall, 2010) and
academic performance (Dalen & Rygvold, 2006). Phenotypically
speaking, there is an apparent overlap between the current studies
on adopted Chinese children and existing studies on Chinese
American children, and therefore, it may be tempting to conclude
that the reported good outcomes are due to the characteristics
inherent to children of Chinese ancestry. More meaningful and
plausible explanations may lie in the possibility that the model
minority stereotype might have impacted the educational experiences of the adopted Chinese children, as well as adoption-specific
mechanisms that might have ensured that the most promising
orphanage children be placed into highly motivated families.
First, as the notion of Asian Americans being “model minority”
becoming more entrenched in discussions on minority education
and academic achievement, this stereotype has been endorsed by
some teachers (Chang & Demyan, 2007; Wong, 1980) and internalized by some Asian American students themselves (Cherng &
Liu, 2017). Several recent studies have found that internalization
of the model minority–achievement orientation was positively
correlated with Asian American youth’s grade point average (Yoo,
Miller, & Yip, 2015), and a stronger endorsement of the model
minority stereotype was associated with higher academic competence and self-efficacy among Asian American students (Kiang,
Witkow, & Thompson, 2016; Schneider & Lee, 1990). Therefore,
it may be possible that internalization of the model minority myth
by the adopted Chinese children and stereotyped perceptions of
their teachers on Chinese American students (e.g., smart, hardworking, and complacent) might have played a role in the ratings
of their academic performance and behaviors. Although no research has investigated whether White adoptive parents apply the
model minority stereotype in perceiving their children, there is
research suggesting that White Americans perceive Asian Americans to be more prepared for college, to be more motivated, and
to have higher expectations for career success (Wong, Lai, Nagasawa, & Lin, 1998). It is therefore possible that the adoptive
parents might use the model minority stereotype as well. It was
beyond the scope of the design of the four studies included in this
article to directly test specific links between the internalized model
minority myth or the internalized model minority stereotype and
perceived or actual favorable academic performance. To do so,
direct assessment of the internalized model minority myth among
adopted youth and the internalized model minority stereotype
among their teachers would be needed.
Second, the adopted Chinese children’s favorable outcomes may
be related to their relatively young ages at adoption and adoptive
family’s high SES status (Tan & Marfo, 2006). Because most of
the Chinese children were infants or toddlers at the time of adoption, they had an adequate amount of time to catch up in language
development before starting school, as on average, the adopted
Chinese children’s English language skills become comparable
with their age peers at about 18 months after arrival (Tan & Yang,
2005). The high SES of adoptive families does not seem to explain
the favorable outcomes alone, as children adopted from other
countries and regions by similarly high-SES families usually have
more adjustment problems and perform more poorly in academic
performance than nonadopted children (Hawk & McCall, 2010;
van IJzendoorn et al., 2005). Nonetheless, the high-SES family
environment likely facilitated the rapid recovery of adopted Chinese children from early deprivation and postadoption developmental catch-up, making it possible for them to start school with
adequate language, cognitive, and social skills.
Third, two processes of “hyperselectivity” that occur within
China might offer some insights. The processes resemble the
hyperselectivity used by the United States to screen potential
incoming immigrants, as described by Zhou and Lee (2017).
Specifically, because only a selected group of children could be
placed for international adoption out of a much larger pool of
orphanage children, there likely was a screening process to determine who should be selected. It is likely that the selected ones
were those deemed by the authorities to best represent China. The
selection process might have succeeded in identifying and placing
children with stronger cognitive and social– emotional potentials
who subsequently thrived in an enriched environment. The other
process is that China is hyperselective about who are qualified to
adopt Chinese children. The qualifications go well beyond typical
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176 TAN
background clearance, education, and employment to include being at least 40 years older than the child, owning home and
property, proof of good physical and mental health, and being
married for at least 5 years (China Center for Children’s Welfare
& Adoption, 2017). The two selection mechanisms seemed to have
succeeded in identifying young children who would benefit maximally from adoption and finding parents who are highly prepared
to raise children with institutional experiences.
Future Directions
Overall, the current article represents a different approach to
study the model minority phenomenon. To gain a deeper understanding of Asian American students’ academic achievement, future research may need to use innovative methodologies to investigate how phenotype, family cultural values, parental educational
expectations, parenting practices, and societal expectations dynamically shape their development. For instance, studies (even
very small-scale case studies) on the academic outcomes of nonAsian children adopted by Asian parents would likely yield highly
valuable insights into the interplay between race and family culture
in children’s social and academic development in America. Insights might be also gained from studying Asian American students who struggle academically despite high parental expectations, heavy educational investment, and internalization of the
model minority stereotype.
Limitation
Although this article has the strength of using a novel design to
further examine the model minority phenomenon, there are three
limitations. First, because this article focused on girls, findings
may not apply to adopted Chinese boys. Second, the adopted
Chinese youth in Study 1 lived in many different states, whereas
the comparison group was from one state. In Study 4, the age and
gender difference between the adopted children and biological
children was a limitation and an inherent problem with this type of
design. Third and finally, even though different informants provided data and different measures were used to assess academic
and behavioral outcomes, the four studies relied on volunteers. As
such, the findings may not represent those who were not included
in the studies. These limitations should be kept in mind when
interpreting the results.
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Behavioral Health of Chinese Children Adopted Into White
American Families
Tony Xing Tan
University of South Florida
Asian American students’ favorable academic achievement has mainly and frequently been attributed to
their family cultural values. Children who immigrated to the United States as infants or toddlers through
international adoption and are subsequently growing up in White families are a unique group of
American children of Chinese heritage. In this article, 4 studies were used to determine how the lack of
exposure to Asian family cultural values might affect adopted Chinese children’s academic outcomes and
behavioral health. Study 1 compared 180 adopted Chinese youth with 153 U.S.-born peers on selfreported school adjustment and behavioral health. Study 2 examined 224 adopted Chinese youth’s
self-reported academic competence and global self-esteem. Study 3 reported teachers’ judgment on 71
adopted Chinese youth’s academic competence and parents’ ratings on the same 71 youth’s behavioral
problems. Study 4 compared 40 mothers’ reports of behavioral problems in their biological children and
adoptive Chinese children. All adopted children were girls, as the vast majority of children adopted from
China are girls. Results from the 4 studies showed that despite lacking the Asian family cultural
background, the adopted Chinese children had favorable academic and behavioral health status, which
resembled what has been demonstrated by Asian American students.
What is the public significance of this article?
Favorable academic achievement of Asian American children has mainly and frequently been
attributed to parenting practices shaped by Asian family cultural values. Chinese children adopted
into White American families represent a unique case of separation between race and family culture.
Reports from adoptees, adoptive parents, and teachers converged on the finding that Chinese
adoptees had similarly favorable academic outcomes and behavioral health status, despite lacking the
Asian family cultural background.
Keywords: model minority, adoption, Chinese American children, academic performance, behavioral
health
Asian American students have been documented to academically outperform their White counterparts, as well as their peers
from other minority groups (Hsin & Xie, 2014; Kao & Thompson,
2003; Peng & Wright, 1994; Wing, 2007; Wong, 1990). Their
favorable academic profile has been reflected in test scores,
grades, achievement motivation, educational attitudes, and educational beliefs and aspirations (Eaton & Dembo, 1997; Huang &
Waxman, 1995; Linnehan, 2001).
The most common and frequent explanation for good academic
outcomes of Asian American children is Asian family cultural
values. Family cultural values have been shown to drive parenting
behaviors and practices (Darling & Steinberg, 1993). One key
dimension of the Asian American family cultural values is the top
priority of children’s educational achievement (Kim, Atkinson, &
Umemoto, 2001). Asian American family’s emphasis on educational achievement is linked to various types of parenting practices
aimed to help their children succeed academically. These practices
frequently include strict parenting style, high parental educational
expectations, and heavy educational investment. In terms of parenting style, Asian American parents exercise more authoritarian
parenting and parental control than White American parents
(Chao, 1996; Lin & Fu, 1990). In terms of parental expectations,
Asian American parents place higher expectations on educational
achievement than White American families and other minority
families (Aldous, 2006; Chao, 2001; Kao, 1995; Okagaki &
Frensch, 1998; Pearce, 2006; Schneider, & Lee, 1990; Tran &
Birman, 2010; Wong & Halgin, 2006; Yamamoto & Holloway,
2010). According to Goyette and Xie (1999) and Kao (1995),
Asian American family cultural and behavioral practices contribute to Asian American students’ higher academic performance
more so than higher parental education. Schneider and Lee (1990)
This article was published Online First March 8, 2018.
I would like to acknowledge Campbell Hardy, a doctoral-level student at
my institution, for his assistance in editing and proofreading the article.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Tony
Xing Tan, Department of Educational and Psychological Studies, College
of Education, University of South Florida, EDU105, 4202 East, Fowler
Avenue, Tampa, FL 33620. E-mail: tan@usf.edu
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Asian American Journal of Psychology © 2018 American Psychological Association
2018, Vol. 9, No. 3, 169 –178 1948-1985/18/$12.00 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/aap0000106
169
argued that although high expectations from parents, teachers, and
peers all contribute to Asian American students’ higher academic
performance, parental expectations were “extremely powerful” (p.
374). High educational expectations often drive Asian American
families to invest more heavily in their children’s education than
White families and other minority American families do (Goyette
& Xie, 1999; Kao, 1995; Sun, 1998; Zhou & Lee, 2017).
Implicit in this explanation is the overall notion that these
practices lead Asian American children to internalize their family
cultural values and translate them into educational aspirations,
academic behaviors, and academic attitudes and beliefs that are
conducive to higher performance (Asakawa, 2001; Lee & Ying,
2000). Although the family cultural value explanation has been
supported by many studies and makes intuitive sense, another body
of literature has recently emerged, calling for a closer investigation
of and possible alternative narrative to the critical significance of
parenting practices shaped by Asian American family cultural
values in Asian American students’ favorable academic achievement. Specifically, in America today, there is a large number of
China-born children growing up in families where both parents are
White. They are a unique group of first-generation Americans,
most of whom are girls born in impoverished Chinese families that
could not take care of them and subsequently relinquished them to
institutional care (Johnson, Banghan, & Wang, 1998). They immigrated to the United States through international adoption when
most of them were infants or toddlers and are growing up exposed
to parenting practices shaped by White American family cultural
values.
Comparing with Asian American families, White American
families that have adopted Chinese children differ fundamentally
in family cultural values. Typically speaking, because White adoptive parents are outsiders to the Chinese culture and hold individualistic cultural beliefs, the adoptive families likely resemble typical middle-class White American families in parenting,
educational expectations, and educational investment. Indeed,
White adoptive parents of Chinese children have been shown to be
highly authoritative in parenting (Tan, Camras, Deng, Zhang, &
Lu, 2012). They were primarily concerned about ensuring that
their adopted children recover from orphanage deprivation and
catch-up developmentally (rather than academic achievement),
especially in early childhood (Tan, 2010). Inevitably, the adopted
Chinese children are socialized to some cultural norms and beliefs
that are incongruent with Asian family cultural values that many
Asian American children adhere to (e.g., filial piety and family
obligations).
As such, the Asian family cultural value explanation that has
been proposed as the main reason for Asian American students’
favorable academic outcomes does not really apply to the adopted
Chinese children. Consequently, it would be reasonable to hypothesize that adopted Chinese children would not outperform their
White or minority counterparts academically, which nonadopted
Chinese American students have demonstrated.
However, a competing hypothesis has actually been supported
by research on adopted Chinese children’s academic performance
and behavioral health. Specifically, converging evidence has
shown that adopted Chinese children are a “positive outlier” in
comparison with nonadopted children in terms of academic performance (Dalen & Rygvold, 2006; Tan & Camras, 2011) and in
comparison with children adopted from other backgrounds in
terms of behavioral health (Hawk & McCall, 2010). Studies from
the United States and Norway have demonstrated that unlike other
adoptees, Chinese adoptees resemble nonadopted students in academic performance and behavioral health. For instance, in a large
study on teachers’ ratings of 610 K-grade to 12th-grade adopted
Chinese children’s academic performance and social competence
in school, Tan and Camras (2011) found that the adopted Chinese
children scored higher than their classmates on academic performance and were on par or better than the U.S. norms on social
competence. In Norway, Dalen and Rygvold (2006) compared the
academic achievement of 77 adopted Chinese children with 77
Norwegian-born classmates who were matched on gender, age,
and geographic location. The children were between 7 and 13
years of age (M 8.65, SD 1.55) and had spent 2 to 53 months
in orphanages in China before adoption (M 6.88 months, SD
9.23). There was no group difference in teachers’ ratings on
academic performance, daily language ability, academic language
ability, behavioral health, school behaviors, or prosocial behaviors.
However, it should be noted that the literature is generally lacking
on self-reported academic competence and behavioral health
among children adopted from China. The adopted Chinese children’s favorable outcomes are even more remarkable when considering the overwhelming evidence that poor academic competence and poor behavioral health outcomes have been frequently
reported for children adopted domestically and from most other
countries (Juffer & van IJzendoorn, 2005; van IJzendoorn, Juffer,
& Poelhuis, 2005).
Purpose of the Current Article
To comprehensively evaluate adopted Chinese children’s outcomes in the absence of Chinese cultural upbringing, results from
four studies guided by different questions and that used different
designs were reported in this article. All studies were approved by
the author’s university’s institutional review board (IRB). Study 1
(IRB: PRO0026088) compared self-reported school adjustment
and behavioral health between 180 adopted Chinese youth and 153
nonadopted America-born peers. Study 2 (IRB: PRO0000207)
investigated 224 adopted Chinese youth’s self-reported academic
performance and global self-esteem. Study 3 (IRB: PRO0000207)
focused on 71 adopted Chinese youth’s behavioral health as reported by adoptive parents and academic competence as reported
by teachers. Study 4 (IRB: PRO0000207) compared mothers’
ratings on the behavioral health of 40 adopted Chinese children
and 40 of their biological children.
To reduce possible social desirability bias from relying solely on
self-reports, additional data sources that complemented one another (nonadopted peers, parents, and teachers) were included. To
obtain a clearer profile of the adopted Chinese children’s academic
and behavioral status, they were compared with nonadopted peers,
nonadopted siblings, and classmates. Finally, related but somewhat
different constructs of academic outcomes (school adjustment and
academic competence) and behavioral health (mental disorders,
global self-esteem, and behavioral adjustment) were investigated
across the four studies. Because the vast majority of children who
were adopted from China are girls, this article is focused on girls.
Note that the decision to go beyond academic outcome to include
behavioral health was informed by some studies showing that the
pressure for excellence and to meet parents’ high educational
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170 TAN
expectations increased the mental health risk for Asian American
youth (Qin, Way, & Mukherjee, 2008; Sue, Sue, Sue, & Takeuchi,
1995), whereas other studies showing that Asian students’ good
academic performance served as a protective factor for behavioral
health (Thompson & Kiang, 2010; Whaley & Noel, 2013).
Study 1: Adopted and Nonadopted Youth’s School
Adjustment and Behavioral Health
Method
Participants. Study 1 included a group of 180 adopted Chinese youth and a comparison group of 153 nonadopted American
youth (N 333). The adopted youth were from a longitudinal
study on their development. To meet the selection criterion for the
current study, the youth needed to be 12 to 21 years old (as the key
measure was designed for this age-group). The parents of the
eligible children (about 600) were contacted via e-mail first to
inquire if they would be interested in having their children participate in the study. Upon receiving a positive response, a personalized survey link hosted by Qualtrics was e-mailed to the parent
if the eligible participant was 18 years of age. The parent was
then asked to forward the link to the child. If the participant was
18 years or older, the personalized link was e-mailed to the parent,
or if the parent had responded with the child’s e-mail, the link was
sent to the adoptee directly. In total, 400 surveys were requested
and 264 adoptees completed or partially completed the survey,
yielding a response rate of 66%. For the current analysis, eight
adoptees who graduated from high school (but not attending college) and 68 who entered colleges and universities were excluded.
In addition, eight adoptees were excluded from data analysis for
missing key data. This resulted in a sample of 180 adopted Chinese
girls in Grades 6 to 12. These youths lived in 38 states and
Washington DC and attended 169 different schools.
The nonadopted comparison group included 153 girls in Grades
6 to 12, including 67 (43.8%) Whites, 38 (24.6%) Hispanics, 30
(19.6%) Blacks, two (1.3%) Asians, and 16 (10.5%) self-identified
as Native American, mixed, multiracial/biracial and other. They
were recruited from 34 public and private schools in a southeastern
state of the United States that is ranked among the top five states
that had adopted the largest number of children from China.
During participant recruitment, close attention was paid to ensure
that targeted schools were located in communities that varied
widely in socioeconomic status (SES) and racial diversity. Information about the study was distributed to the students with the
cooperation of the teachers. Students were given information about
the study, along with the informed consent form for their parents
to sign if they were interested in participating in the study. Upon
receiving parental consent and student assent (for those 18 years)
or students’ consent (for those who were 18 years), data were
collected individually at the participant’s school. Similar to the
adopted youth, a survey link hosted by Qualtrics was used to
gather data. Note that in some incidences, a backup paper-andpencil survey had to be used instead due to Internet connection
issues on the participants’ campus.
Measures. The participant first responded to demographic
questions on date of birth (which was used together with the date
of data collection to calculate her age) and ethnicity (only for
nonadopted participants. They filled out how they ethnically identified themselves). Then, they provided data in the areas mentioned
next.
Self-report of personality. The adolescent form of the SelfReport of Personality (SRP) of the third edition of the Behavior
Assessment System for Children (Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2016)
was used to gather data on self-reported behavioral health. It was
designed for those aged 12 to 21 years. It has 189 items that are
either true/false or measured on a 4-point Likert scale (never,
sometimes, often, and almost always). Based on the third edition of
the Behavior Assessment System for Children manual, depending
on the wording (i.e., negative or positive), a 0 or 2 point is assigned
to true/false items, whereas a 0, 1, 2, or 3 point is assigned to
Likert scale items. The SRP gathers data in four broad domains,
which are described next.
School adjustment problems. This scale is the sum of three
subscales: Negative Attitude Toward School, Negative Attitude
Toward Teachers, and Sensation-Seeking. The Negative Attitude
Toward School subscale has eight items (e.g., I hate school).
Positively worded items are reverse-scored so that a higher sum
indicates more negative attitude. The Negative Attitude Toward
Teachers subscale includes nine items (e.g., Teachers are unfair).
Positively worded items are reverse-scored so that a higher sum
indicates more negative attitude. Finally, the Sensation-Seeking
subscale has nine items (e.g., I like to take risks). A higher sum
indicates more problems with sensation-seeking. In the current
study, the internal consistency coefficients for the three subscales
were .84, .85, and .84 for Negative Attitude Toward School,
Negative Attitude Toward Teachers, and Sensation-Seeking, respectively. In data analysis, the sum of each subscale was used,
with higher scores indicating more problematic behaviors. A
higher score for the total of the summary scale of School Adjustment Problems indicates more problems at school.
Internalizing problems. This scale is the sum of seven subscales: Atypicality, Locus of Control, Social Stress, Anxiety, Depression, Sense of Inadequacy, and Somatization. The Atypicality
subscale includes 10 items (e.g., I feel like people are out to get
me). The Locus of Control subscale includes eight items (e.g., My
parents expect too much from me). The Social Stress subscale
includes 11 items (e.g., People say bad things to me). The Anxiety
subscale consists of 13 items (e.g., Little things bother me). The
Depression subscale consists of 12 items (e.g., I used to be
happier). The Sense of Inadequacy subscale includes 12 items
(e.g., I never seem to get anything right). Finally, the Somatization
subscale includes seven items (e.g., Often I feel sick in my stomach). In the current sample, the internal consistency for the seven
subscales ranged from .78 (Somatization) to .91 (Atypicality). In
data analysis, the sum of each scale was used, with higher scores
indicating more problematic behaviors. A higher total score for the
summary scale Internalizing Problems indicates more problems.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. This scale is the sum
of two subscales: Inattention and Hyperactivity. The Inattention
subscale comprised eight items (e.g., I have trouble paying attention to the teachers). The Hyperactivity subscale comprised eight
items (e.g., I have trouble standing still in line). The internal
consistency for the two subscales was .87 and .82, respectively. In
data analysis, the sum of the items was used, with a higher total
score indicating more attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
symptoms.
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OUTCOMES OF ADOPTED CHINESE CHILDREN 171
Prosocial adjustment. The scale is the sum of four subscales:
Relations With Parents, Interpersonal Relations, Self-Esteem, and
Self-Reliance. The Relations With Parents subscale has 11 items
(e.g., My parents listen to what I say). The Interpersonal Relations
subscale describes peer relations. It has 15 items (e.g., I am liked
by others). Negatively worded items are reverse-scored so that a
higher sum indicated more positive peer relations. The Self-Esteem
subscale has seven items (e.g., I am happy with who I am). Finally,
the Self-Reliance subscale includes nine items (e.g., I am someone
you can rely on). In the current sample, the internal consistency
coefficients for the four subscales were .92, .84, .88, and .80,
respectively. Different from the other three scales, a higher total
score in Prosocial Adjustment indicates better behavioral health.
Mental disorder diagnosis and health service. The participants were asked if they have been diagnosed by a professional
(e.g., psychiatrist) to have a list of 13 different mental disorders
or problems (No 0 and Yes 1). These disorders included
mood disorder (i.e., depression), anxiety disorder (i.e., panic
disorder, phobia, generalized anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, attachment disorder, and eating disorder), and developmental/behavioral disorders (i.e., attention-deficit disorder/
attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant
disorder, obsessive– compulsive disorder, conduct disorder, and
self-injury), and drug/alcohol addiction, plus three open-ended
questions for the participants to list other disorders. Because
treatment might have an impact on the functioning of children
with mental health problems, the participants were asked if they
were (No 0 and Yes 1) currently taking medication for
physical illness, if they were currently taking medication for
mental health problems, and if they were receiving counseling
or psychotherapy for mental health problems.
Results
The 180 adopted Chinese youth were 10.6 to 23.8 years old
(M 14.9, SD 2.1); the 153 nonadopted youth were 11.9 to 21.2
years old (M 15.5, SD 2.2). The adopted Chinese youth were
somewhat younger than the nonadopted youth (df 330, t 2.45,
p .05). The adopted Chinese youth were adopted at 18.8 months,
on average (SD 20.9). In other words, on average, the adoptees
lived in China for about 1.5 years before arriving in the United
States.
School adjustment and behavioral health. Table 1 summarizes the means (SDs) of the SRP measures for the adopted and
nonadopted youth. Overall, the adopted youth scored more favorably (i.e., either lower scores on problem scales or higher scores on
adaptation scales) than nonadopted youth on all four summary
scales and 14 of the 16 subscales. This finding remained after age
of the youth was controlled for. Subsequent separate comparisons
of the adopted Chinese youth against White youth, Black youth,
and Hispanic youth from the nonadopted youth group yielded
similar results.
Mental disorders and treatments. As shown in Table 2, the
two groups were not different in the rates of mental disorder
diagnoses and treatments for physical and mental health problems.
Among the adopted youth, 9.3% were receiving counseling/psychotherapy, 6.4% were taking medication for mental disorders, and
8.7% were taking medication for physical illness. The corresponding rates for the nonadopted youth were 8.5%, 5.3%, and 12.4%,
respectively. The group differences were not statistically significant. Subsequent separate comparison of the adopted Chinese
youth with White youth, Black youth, and Hispanic youth in the
nonadopted youth group similarly revealed no group difference.
Table 1
Study 1: Summary of T Test Results of Self-Report of Personality Measures for Adopted and
Nonadopted Youth (N 333)
BASC
Adopted
youth
Nonadopted
youth T test Cohen’s d
N 180 153
School Adjustment Problems 17.5 (8.4) 25.4 (11.6) 7.2 0.79
Negative attitude to school 5.8 (4.3) 8.2 (4.8) 4.7 0.52
Negative attitude to teachers 3.8 (3.4) 7.3 (5.1) 7.4 0.82
Sensation-seeking 7.9 (4.3) 10.0 (5.8) 3.7 0.41
Internalizing Problems 34.7 (23.0) 51.0 (28.6) 5.7 0.63
Atypical behaviors 3.6 (3.4) 5.8 (4.9) 4.7 0.52
Poor locus of control 3.2 (3.1) 6.0 (4.7) 6.4 0.70
Social stress 6.4 (4.7) 8.2 (5.6) 3.1 0.34
Depression 5.3 (5.4) 8.1 (7.1) 4.1 0.45
Anxiety 12.5 (6.7) 16.2 (8.2) 4.4 0.49
Inadequacy 7.1 (5.0) 9.6 (5.9) 4.0 0.46
Somatization 1.7 (2.2) 3.7 (3.6) 6.3 0.69
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder 12.7 (7.5) 16.0 (9.1) 3.6 0.39
Attention problems 5.2 (4.3) 9.0 (5.3) 5.3 0.58
Hyperactivity 6.5 (4.0) 7.0 (4.9) .87 0.10
Personal Adjustment 76.0 (14.5) 68.5 (15.9) 4.5 0.50
Relationship quality with parents 24.8 (5.0) 20.3 (7.3) 6.6 0.73
Interpersonal relations 19.4 (4.2) 18.2 (4.6) 2.5 0.28
Self-esteem 13.2 (4.5) 12.1 (4.7) 2.3 0.25
Self-reliance 18.7 (4.4) 17.9 (4.5) 1.7 0.19
Note. BASC Behavior Assessment System for Children. For School Problems, Internalizing Problems, and
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and their subscales, higher scores indicate poorer behavioral health; for
Personal Adjustment scale and its subscales, higher scores indicate better behavioral health.
p .05. p .01. p .001.
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172 TAN
Attachment disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder appeared to
be more common in the adopted youth, whereas obsessive–
compulsive disorder seemed more common in the nonadopted
youth. The occurrence was too few for any meaningful discussion,
however. Subsequent comparisons between the adopted youth and
nonadopted White youth, Black youth, and Hispanic youth yielded
similar results.
Study 2: Adopted Chinese Youth’s Academic
Performance and Global Self-Esteem
Method
Participants. The participants were recruited from families
that had adopted children from China. In recruiting adopted youth
for the study, an e-mail was first sent to parents who had previously participated in a longitudinal study on the development of
the adopted children. The parents were instructed to respond to the
e-mail with basic information about number of children they had
and each child’s age. For families with children who were 11 years
or older, the parents were asked if they would give consent for a
child survey prepared for their children. The survey was requested
for 385 adopted children in total. A personalized survey link was
then sent to the parent, along with a request for the parent to pass
the link along to the child. Overall, 234 of the 385 adoptees
completed the surveys (about 61% response rate), including 224
girls and 10 boys. In data analysis, the 10 boys were excluded
because most of them had special needs.
Measures.
Academic performance. A five-item Academic Competence
Scale adapted from the Social Skills Rating System teacher report
(SSRS; Gresham & Elliott, 1990) was used to gather the adoptees’
self-report on their overall academic performance, performance in
math, performance in English/reading, achievement motivation,
and intellectual ability on a 5-point Likert scale (1 lower 10% of
the class and 5 highest 10% of the class). To corroborate the
adoptees’ self-report, adoptive parents were asked to independently rate their children’s performance in the same five areas and
to explain the basis for their ratings. Overall, report cards and
parent–teacher conferences were the major bases for parental ratings. Ratings from the adoptees and the parents were strongly
correlated, r .74, p .001, suggesting good validity in the
adoptees’ self-report. The internal consistency for the adoptees’
self-ratings was .86.
Global self-esteem. The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965) was used to gather data on the adoptees’ global selfesteem. The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale is a widely used self-report
measure on global self-esteem among youths. It has 10 items on a
4-point Likert scale (0 strongly disagree and 3 strongly agree).
An example is “I am a person of worth.” It yields a unidimensional
score. Internal consistency for the current sample was .91. In data
analysis, the sum score was used. Higher scores indicate higher
self-esteem.
Results
The 224 adopted youth were 11 to 21 years old (M 13.6 years,
SD 2.1) and from 185 adoptive families (65.4% were headed by
two parents). The adoptive mothers’ average age was 54 years
(SD 5.5). Nearly 60% of the adoptive mothers had at least a
master’s degree, and nearly 50% of the families reported an annual
income of $90,000 to $150,000 or more. At the time of adoption,
most adoptees (88%) were 24 months old (M 17.4, SD
18.2). They were adopted from 109 different orphanages in 19
Chinese provinces and municipalities. All but six girls (97.4%)
lived in families where one or both parents were White.
Academic performance. The adopted youth’s average academic competence was 4.0 (SD .80; 1 lowest 10% of the class
and 5 highest 10% of the class). Overall, over 60% to 70% of
the adopted Chinese youth self-reported that their academic perTable 2
Study 1: Mental Disorder Diagnoses in Adopted Chinese Youth and Nonadopted Youth
(N 325)
Mental disorder diagnosis
Adopted
youth
Nonadopted
youth 2
N 172 153
Any mood and anxiety disorder 27 (15.7%) 32 (20.9%) 1.48
Generalized anxiety disorder 17 (9.9%) 22 (14.4%)
Depression 15 (8.7%) 23 (15.0%)
Attachment disorder 8 (4.7%) 2 (1.3%)
Eating disorder 1 (0.6%) 3 (2.0%)
Panic disorder 4 (2.3%) 2 (1.3%)
Posttraumatic stress disorder 8 (4.7%) 1 (0.7%)
Any behavioral disorder 18 (10.5%) 27 (17.7%) 3.50
Attention-deficit disorder/attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder 16 (9.3%) 19 (12.4%)
Obsessive–compulsive disorder 4 (2.3%) 14 (9.2%)
Self-injury 3 (1.7%) 7 (4.6%)
Oppositional defiant disorder 2 (1.2%) 1 (0.7%)
Drug/Alcohol addiction 0 0
Medical and psychological treatment 32 (18.6%) 33 (21.5%) 0.44
Counseling/psychotherapy 16 (9.3%) 13 (8.5%)
Medication for mental illness 11 (6.4%) 8 (5.3%)
Medication for physical illness 15 (8.7%) 19 (12.4%)
p .10.
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OUTCOMES OF ADOPTED CHINESE CHILDREN 173
formance was about the top 20% of their classes, and about 30%
to 40% of the adopted Chinese youth reported that they were
among the highest 10% of their classes (Table 3). Their academic
performance was not correlated with their age, r .10, p .12,
adoptive mothers’ education, r .01, p .92, or household
income, r .01, p .91.
Global self-esteem. The adopted Chinese youth’s global selfesteem scores ranged from 0 to 30 (N 216; M 22.5, SD
5.6), and 9.3% of them scored within the range considered low
global self-esteem (i.e., scores at 15 or lower), and 14.8% of them
scored at the highest level (i.e., 30). Their global self-esteem was
negatively correlated with their age, r .26, p .001, but was
not correlated with the adoptive mothers’ education level,
r .05, p .51, or household income, r .03, p .67. The
adopted youth’s global self-esteem scores were positively correlated with their academic performance scores, r .34, p .001.
Study 3: Adopted Chinese Youth’s Behavioral Health
and Academic Competence
Method
Participants. The third study focused on parents’ and teachers’ ratings of 71 adopted Chinese youth’s academic performance
and behavioral health. The adoptive mothers and teachers were a
subsample from a larger longitudinal study on adopted Chinese
children’s postadoption development. The parents were identified
based on the fact that they had children who were in Grades 6 to
12, and the teachers were identified because they provided ratings
on these children’s academic competence.
Measures.
Academic competence. The Academic Competence Scale
from the Social Skills Rating System (Gresham & Elliott, 1990)
was used to obtain teacher’s judgment on the adopted youth’s
academic competence. Almost all of the teachers were non-Asian.
The Academic Competence Scale includes nine items on the
teacher’s judgment of the child’s academic or learning behaviors
(e.g., performance in reading) as compared with other students in
the same classroom using a 1 to 5 scale (1 lowest 10% and 5
highest 10%). For the current sample, the internal consistency was
.93. For each of the adopted youth, the English and math teachers
were asked to participate. For 34 of the 71 adopted youth, both
teachers provided data and the remaining 37 adoptees only had
data from one of the teachers. Because the ratings from two
teachers were strongly correlated at .70 (p .001), the average of
the two teachers’ ratings was used to reflect the adopted youth’s
academic competence. In data analysis, the average of the nine
items was used, with a higher score indicating higher academic
competence.
Child Behavior Checklist. The adoptive mothers first provided data on their age, ethnicity, educational levels, marital status,
profession, and household income, as well as the adopted children’s background (e.g., age at adoption). Then they filled out the
118-item Child Behavior Checklist for 6- to 18-year-olds (CBCL/
6 –18; Achenbach & Rescorla, 2001). The CBCL is a standardized
parental rating of the youth’s behavioral health. It asks parents to
report the extent to which each of the behaviors (e.g., arguing a lot)
applies to their child (0 not true, 1 somewhat/sometimes true,
and 2 very true or often true).
A Total Problems score for the child is obtained by adding the
1s and 2s. Two scale scores—Internalizing Problems (e.g., anxiety) and Externalizing Problems (e.g., rule breaking)—are obtained by adding scores of different syndromes. Each syndrome
comprises a set of problems that tend to co-occur. The Internalizing Problems scale comprises three syndromes: anxiety/depression
(13 items), withdrawal (eight items), and somatic complaints (11
items). The Externalizing Problems scale comprises two syndromes: rule-breaking behavior (17 items) and aggression (18
items). The internal consistency for this sample was .94 for Total
Problems, .85 for Internalizing Problems, and .91 for Externalizing
Problems. In data analysis, the recommendation by Achenbach and
Rescorla (2001) was followed to use the standardized scores (t
scores). T scores at 60 or higher are considered to be in the
borderline clinical/clinical range.
Results
The 71 adopted Chinese youth were 11.2 to 18.0 years old (M
13.0, SD 1.4), with an average age of 23.5 months (SD 29.4)
at the time of adoption. They lived in 64 families, 45 (90.3%) of
which had two parents. The adoptive mothers were, on average, 53
years old (SD 5.0), and the adoptive fathers were, on average, 55
years old (SD 6.5). The adoptive mothers’ educational levels
ranged from some college (9, 14.1%) to 4-year college (26, 40.6%)
to master’s (19, 29.7%) to doctorate (10, 15.6%). The 45 adoptive
fathers’ education levels ranged from high school (1, 2.2%) to
some college (5, 10.9%) to 4-year college (21, 45.7%) to master’s
(9, 19.6%) to doctorate (10, 21.7%). In terms of annual household
income, 26.6% of the families made $150,000 or more and no
families made less than $40,000. Not surprisingly, most parents
held professional jobs (e.g., accountants, actuaries, bankers, busiTable 3
Study 2: Adopted Chinese Youth’s Self-Rating of Academic Competence Within Their Classes
(N 221–222)
Academic competence
Self-ratings
Lowest 10% Next lowest 20% Middle 40% Next highest 20% Highest 10%
Overall academic performance 4 (1.8%) 2 (0.9%) 49 (22.2%) 72 (32.6%) 94 (42.5%)
Performance in reading 4 (1.8%) 13 (5.9%) 43 (19.4%) 69 (31.1%) 93 (41.9%)
Performance in math 7 (3.2%) 22 (9.9%) 56 (25.2%) 69 (31.1%) 68 (30.6%)
Overall motivation to succeed 4 (1.8%) 6 (2.7%) 50 (22.5%) 69 (31.1%) 93 (41.9%)
Intellectual functioning 4 (1.8%) 3 (1.4%) 66 (29.7%) 65 (29.3%) 84 (37.8%)
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174 TAN
ness owners, computer analysists, computer programmers, engineers, financial analysists, lawyers, professors, and physicians).
Academic competence. Based on the teachers’ judgment, the
adopted Chinese youth’s average academic performance score was
4.28 (SD .63; range 2.0 –5), which would place them among
the top 15% in their classes (an average of 4 corresponds to top
20% and an average of 5 corresponds to the highest 10%). Table
4 summarizes teachers’ ratings of the adopted Chinese youth in
comparison with their classmates in different aspects of their
academic competence. It is particularly noteworthy that over 40%
of the adopted Chinese youth were rated by their teachers to be
among the highest 10% in their classes in overall academic performance, nearly 70% were rated to be among the highest 10% in
overall motivation to succeed, about 75% were rated to be among
the highest 10% in terms of parental encouragement to succeed,
and nearly 80% were rated to be among the highest 10% in overall
classroom behavior.
Behavioral health. Based on parent ratings, the adopted Chinese youth’s average of CBCL Internalizing Problems, Externalizing Problems, and Total Problems was 50.8 (SD 9.8), 47.7
(SD 10.1), and 49.1 (SD 10.6), respectively. These averages
were very similar to the U.S. norm (M 50, SD 10). Based on
the CBCL scoring manual, the rate of borderline clinical/clinical
adjustment was 23.6% for Internalizing Problems, 13.9% for Externalizing Problems, and 20.8% for Total CBCL Problems. These
rates were similar or lower than the U.S. norm. The correlation
between teacher-rated academic competence and parent-rated behavioral health was rather modest: Academic performance’s correlation coefficient was .18 (p .11) with CBCL Internalizing
Problems, .25 (p .05) with CBCL Externalizing Problems,
and .28 (p .05) with CBCL Total Problems.
Study 4: Adoptive Mothers’ Ratings of Adopted
Chinese Children and Biological Children’s
Behavioral Health
Method
Participants. The fourth study focused on 40 adoptive families where the adoptive parents had biological children and then
adopted children from China. All 40 families were headed by two
White parents. They were selected because their biological children were living in the same household as the adopted children and
were within the age range of the key measure (i.e., the CBCL). For
families that have more than one biological or adopted child, the
children who were closest in age were identified. Therefore, one
biological child and one adopted child from each family were
included in the analysis.
Measures. For each sibling pair, the adoptive mother completed the CBCL for both children. Depending on the age of the
child, the mother either completed the CBCL for preschool children or CBCL for school-age children. As described earlier, the
CBCL yields an Internalizing Problems scale, an Externalizing
Problems scale, and a Total Problems scale. To minimize the
potential effect of age and gender difference between adopted
children and the biological children, standardized scores (t scores)
were used in data analysis.
Results
Of the 40 adopted– biological pairs, the biological children
included 23 boys and 17 girls, whereas the adopted children
included 37 girls and 3 boys. The average age of the biological
children was 7.7 years (SD 3.3), and the average age of the
adopted children was 3.7 years (SD 2.0). Their average age at
adoption was 1.1 years (SD .64). The adoptive families had high
SES, as demonstrated by high educational level (e.g., 50% of the
mothers and 47.5% of the fathers had a graduate-level education)
and an average household income of about $110,000.
T tests were performed to compare the perceptions of the mothers to their biological children and adopted children’s behavioral
health measured with the CBCL. The results showed that the two
groups did not differ on Internalizing Problems (biological children: M 47.1, SD 8.9; adopted children: M 44.1, SD 9.1),
t(df 78) 1.45, p .15. The two groups did not differ on either
Externalizing Problems (biological children: M 45.2, SD 9.3;
adopted children: M 44.6, SD 10.8), t(df 78) .30, p
.77, or Total Problems (biological children: M 45.9, SD 9.3;
adopted children: M 44.9, SD 9.5), t(df 78) .45, p .65.
These results suggest that the adoptive parents did not perceive the
adopted children differently from their biological children in behavioral health. Finally, the mothers’ ratings of their biological
children’s CBCL scores were not at all correlated with their ratings
of their adopted children’s CBCL scores.
Table 4
Study 3: Teachers’ Ratings of Adopted Chinese Youth’s Academic Competence in Comparison With Their Classmates (N 71)
Academic competence
Teachers’ ratings
Lowest 10% Next lowest 20% Middle 40% Next highest 20% Highest 10%
Overall academic performance 1 (1.4%) 3 (4.2%) 10 (14.1%) 28 (39.4%) 29 (40.9%)
Performance in reading 1 (1.4%) 3 (4.2%) 11 (15.5%) 34 (47.9%) 22 (31.0%)
Performance in math 1 (1.4%) 4 (5.6%) 15 (21.1%) 26 (36.6%) 25 (35.2%)
Grade-level expectations in reading 1 (1.4%) 5 (7.0%) 10 (14.1%) 27 (38.0%) 28 (39.4%)
Grade-level expectations in math 1 (1.4%) 6 (8.5%) 11 (15.5%) 23 (32.4%) 30 (42.3%)
Overall motivation to succeed 0 0 6 (8.5%) 16 (22.5%) 49 (69.0%)
Parental encouragement to succeed 0 0 0 18 (25.3%) 53 (74.7%)
Intellectual functioning 1 (1.4%) 0 10 (13.9%) 31 (43.7%) 29 (40.9%)
Overall classroom behavior 1 (1.4%) 0 3 (4.2%) 11 (15.5%) 56 (78.9%)
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OUTCOMES OF ADOPTED CHINESE CHILDREN 175
Conclusion
Collectively, findings from the four studies showed that based
on self-reports, the adopted Chinese youth had fewer school problems and more favorable behavioral health status than nonadopted
peers, as well as favorable academic performance and global
self-esteem. Similarly, teacher reports showed that adopted Chinese youth outperformed their classmates on academic competence. Finally, parent reports showed that the adopted Chinese
children did not differ from the norm or adoptive parents’ biological children in behavioral health. These results suggest that overall
the adopted Chinese children demonstrated favorable academic
outcomes and behavioral health status, despite lacking an Asian
American family cultural background.
Discussion
Due to the favorable academic achievement in comparison with
other ethnic minority American students, Asian American students
have been regarded as a “model minority.” The current article took
advantage of a unique situation involving Chinese children adopted and raised by White parents to disentangle the complexity of
a reported relationship between Asian family cultural values and
Chinese children’s good academic outcomes and behavioral
health. The adopted Chinese children in the four studies have been
raised by White American parents since infancy or toddlerhood
following their immigration to the United States via international
adoption. Specifically, data on academic outcomes and behavioral
health of adopted Chinese children were analyzed to further understand the role of Asian family cultural values in Asian American children’s good academic competence and behavioral health.
Findings from the four studies challenge the long-held belief
that Asian American family cultural values are the main cause of
Asian American students’ favorable academic outcomes. Specifically, despite the absence of the key ingredients that underlie the
“model minority” phenomenon, the adopted Chinese children
demonstrated an academic and behavioral profile akin to the
“model minority” stereotype. Results reported in this article also
showed that more favorable academic outcomes were correlated
with more favorable behavioral health outcomes. Findings reported in this article are not unique. Almost all existing studies on
adopted Chinese children’s development have in fact shown that
within the population of adopted children, Chinese children outperform domestic adoptees and other international adoptees in
behavioral health (see the review by Hawk & McCall, 2010) and
academic performance (Dalen & Rygvold, 2006). Phenotypically
speaking, there is an apparent overlap between the current studies
on adopted Chinese children and existing studies on Chinese
American children, and therefore, it may be tempting to conclude
that the reported good outcomes are due to the characteristics
inherent to children of Chinese ancestry. More meaningful and
plausible explanations may lie in the possibility that the model
minority stereotype might have impacted the educational experiences of the adopted Chinese children, as well as adoption-specific
mechanisms that might have ensured that the most promising
orphanage children be placed into highly motivated families.
First, as the notion of Asian Americans being “model minority”
becoming more entrenched in discussions on minority education
and academic achievement, this stereotype has been endorsed by
some teachers (Chang & Demyan, 2007; Wong, 1980) and internalized by some Asian American students themselves (Cherng &
Liu, 2017). Several recent studies have found that internalization
of the model minority–achievement orientation was positively
correlated with Asian American youth’s grade point average (Yoo,
Miller, & Yip, 2015), and a stronger endorsement of the model
minority stereotype was associated with higher academic competence and self-efficacy among Asian American students (Kiang,
Witkow, & Thompson, 2016; Schneider & Lee, 1990). Therefore,
it may be possible that internalization of the model minority myth
by the adopted Chinese children and stereotyped perceptions of
their teachers on Chinese American students (e.g., smart, hardworking, and complacent) might have played a role in the ratings
of their academic performance and behaviors. Although no research has investigated whether White adoptive parents apply the
model minority stereotype in perceiving their children, there is
research suggesting that White Americans perceive Asian Americans to be more prepared for college, to be more motivated, and
to have higher expectations for career success (Wong, Lai, Nagasawa, & Lin, 1998). It is therefore possible that the adoptive
parents might use the model minority stereotype as well. It was
beyond the scope of the design of the four studies included in this
article to directly test specific links between the internalized model
minority myth or the internalized model minority stereotype and
perceived or actual favorable academic performance. To do so,
direct assessment of the internalized model minority myth among
adopted youth and the internalized model minority stereotype
among their teachers would be needed.
Second, the adopted Chinese children’s favorable outcomes may
be related to their relatively young ages at adoption and adoptive
family’s high SES status (Tan & Marfo, 2006). Because most of
the Chinese children were infants or toddlers at the time of adoption, they had an adequate amount of time to catch up in language
development before starting school, as on average, the adopted
Chinese children’s English language skills become comparable
with their age peers at about 18 months after arrival (Tan & Yang,
2005). The high SES of adoptive families does not seem to explain
the favorable outcomes alone, as children adopted from other
countries and regions by similarly high-SES families usually have
more adjustment problems and perform more poorly in academic
performance than nonadopted children (Hawk & McCall, 2010;
van IJzendoorn et al., 2005). Nonetheless, the high-SES family
environment likely facilitated the rapid recovery of adopted Chinese children from early deprivation and postadoption developmental catch-up, making it possible for them to start school with
adequate language, cognitive, and social skills.
Third, two processes of “hyperselectivity” that occur within
China might offer some insights. The processes resemble the
hyperselectivity used by the United States to screen potential
incoming immigrants, as described by Zhou and Lee (2017).
Specifically, because only a selected group of children could be
placed for international adoption out of a much larger pool of
orphanage children, there likely was a screening process to determine who should be selected. It is likely that the selected ones
were those deemed by the authorities to best represent China. The
selection process might have succeeded in identifying and placing
children with stronger cognitive and social– emotional potentials
who subsequently thrived in an enriched environment. The other
process is that China is hyperselective about who are qualified to
adopt Chinese children. The qualifications go well beyond typical
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176 TAN
background clearance, education, and employment to include being at least 40 years older than the child, owning home and
property, proof of good physical and mental health, and being
married for at least 5 years (China Center for Children’s Welfare
& Adoption, 2017). The two selection mechanisms seemed to have
succeeded in identifying young children who would benefit maximally from adoption and finding parents who are highly prepared
to raise children with institutional experiences.
Future Directions
Overall, the current article represents a different approach to
study the model minority phenomenon. To gain a deeper understanding of Asian American students’ academic achievement, future research may need to use innovative methodologies to investigate how phenotype, family cultural values, parental educational
expectations, parenting practices, and societal expectations dynamically shape their development. For instance, studies (even
very small-scale case studies) on the academic outcomes of nonAsian children adopted by Asian parents would likely yield highly
valuable insights into the interplay between race and family culture
in children’s social and academic development in America. Insights might be also gained from studying Asian American students who struggle academically despite high parental expectations, heavy educational investment, and internalization of the
model minority stereotype.
Limitation
Although this article has the strength of using a novel design to
further examine the model minority phenomenon, there are three
limitations. First, because this article focused on girls, findings
may not apply to adopted Chinese boys. Second, the adopted
Chinese youth in Study 1 lived in many different states, whereas
the comparison group was from one state. In Study 4, the age and
gender difference between the adopted children and biological
children was a limitation and an inherent problem with this type of
design. Third and finally, even though different informants provided data and different measures were used to assess academic
and behavioral outcomes, the four studies relied on volunteers. As
such, the findings may not represent those who were not included
in the studies. These limitations should be kept in mind when
interpreting the results.
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Zhou, M., & Lee, J. (2017). Hyper-selectivity and the remaking of culture:
Understanding the Asian American achievement paradox. Asian American Journal of Psychology, 8, 7–15. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/
aap0000069
Received August 18, 2017
Revision received December 20, 2017
Accepted December 20, 2017
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
178 TANrmance and psychological adjustment among Asian
American adolescents. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 21, 237–246. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0037648
Zhou, M., & Lee, J. (2017). Hyper-selectivity and the remaking of culture:
Understanding the Asian American achievement paradox. Asian American Journal of Psychology, 8, 7–15. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/
aap0000069
Received August 18, 2017
Revision received December 20, 2017
Accepted December 20, 2017
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
178 TAN