Academic Performance of American Children

In 1986, Harold Stevenson, Shin-Ying Lee and James Stigler published a study in Science magazine that compared Chinese, Japanese and American children. The study sampled children in Minneapolis, Taipei, Taiwan and Sendai, Japan. All of the children were chosen from upper-middle class neighborhoods in their respective cities. Minneapolis was chosen due to its high academic success relative to the rest of the United States.

The study found:

  • Classwork and Homework

  • Mathematics

  • Cognitive differences

    The authors measured perceptual speed, coding skills, spatial abilities, vocabulary, verbal memory and general information. They found:
  • Cultural Differences

    Thomas Edison's comment that his inventions were 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration has more Japanese and Chinese adherents than American adherents.


    Stevenson, et al., state that if American achievement in mathematics is to rise to world standards, parents will have to change their attitudes. They state: Impetus for change often comes from dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs. Most American mothers interviewed in this study did not appear to be dissatisfied with their children's schools, and seem unlikely, therefore, to become advocates for reform...American mothers have unrealistically favorable evaluations of their children and what they are accomplishing in school. Garrison Keilor, the American humorist, describes the mythical Lake Wobegon children as all above average. The authors contend that Keilor's joke about American parents is right on target.