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The Construction of the Success Frame by Second-Generation Chinese Parents; a Cross-National Comparison


The second-generation Chinese were raised by immigrant parents who had high academic expectations and socialized them with cultural values such as zeal, collectivism, and filial piety to achieve the goals they set for them. They lived in ethnic communities that supported these notions, and befriended peers whose notion of success was equally high, causing the second-generation to compare themselves to people with exceptionally high academic standards. These dynamics are the labeled the `success frame'(Lee and Zhou 2014) and form the core of this dissertation. As the second-generation got older and began to realize that there are other ways to be successful, some grew critical of their upbringing, no longer ascribing to their parents' parenting styles (Hao and Bonstead-Bruns 1998), and refuse to adhere to these ascribed notions of success (Lee and Zhou 2013, Lee 2013). It remains unknown if this results in them shifting the boundaries of the success frame when raising their own children or if they, as Tiger Mother Amy Chua suggest, continue to set the same standards for their offspring (Chua 2011b, a).

Analysis of 79 in-depth interviews with second-generation Chinese parents in the United States and the Netherlands shows that the prevalence of the success frame, and the flexibility of its boundaries, depends on more than parenting practices and Chinese culture; it interacts with the opportunities and constraints that the national context of the second-generation bestows on them. How parents' shape the success frame when raising their children depends on the country in which they do so.

Adding quantitative data from these same respondents as well as from large scale American Community Survey data (N= 26,040) shows that parents in the United States still want their children to succeed and continue to employ mechanisms that support the success frame. Parents in the Netherlands, on the other hand, let their children determine their own success and focus on their pursuit of happiness instead. Comparing intramarried and intermarried second-generation Chinese within each country adds that the intramarried second-generation uphold stiffer boundaries of the success frame than those with a native-born Caucasian spouse. In fact, the intramarried Chinese in the U.S.--where the liberal welfare state and ideologies of the American Creed are similar to the Chinese notions of success--set the standards for their children even higher and as such tighten the boundaries of the success frame even further. Conversely, in the Netherlands, where education is stratified and the social-democratic welfare state provides a financial safety net, parents barely reinforce of the success frame. Findings of this study imply that culture and the frameworks of success it creates can be flexible, and depend on national contexts. This suggests diverting consequences in socioeconomic outcomes of the third-generation.

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