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There are some things that both the parent and the child must believe, in order to pursue musical excellence...especially when you're discussing pursuing musical excellence to the point of a conservatory education and a possible career in music. (speaking of which, can you imagine pushing your child from elementary school to work for hours a day to get in to law or medical school, if law or medical degrees carried the same guarantee of a job or financial rewards that a music degree does?)

A) You must believe it is possible. This is one of the first things that those in urban and rural ghettos do not overcome. You must have some basis on which to be confident that you're not wasting your life and resources in pursuit of a ridiculous pipedream. And, if the piano teachers in your town/area consider John Thompson book 4 to be 'advanced piano repertoire' it is impossible to imagine that *your* kid might have the talent it takes to play the stuff needed to get into a conservatory.

B)You have to believe it's worth doing. There is still a perception that certain disciplines are only really viable for either people who are wealthy enough that they don't need the income, or people who love it enough that they are willing to live in a garret on bread and water to pursue their dream. People who don't fit into one of these 2 categories tend to see piano as a 'life enrichment' activity but would not want their children to focus on music to the detriment of what's going to pay their bills in the future.

My parents were horrified when I went to grad school for Anthropology. And all anthro grads joke (sometimes its not so funny) that an anthro degree is great for a job in which you ask, "You want fries with that?"

"Caucasian" Americans with the educational background, awareness of what it takes to excel in music, and financial means to provide an excellent teacher and high quality instrument(s), who live in the (almost universally) urban environment in which excellent teachers and other musical opportunities are found...will simply, very often, see other opportunities and have other goals for their children than being a professional musician.

I can't tell you why Asian families and Asian-American families see things differently, but apparently they do.

But I can also tell you that my graduate student friends who are Asian, and are here going to school, are from a much higher socio-economic background than most Americans I know.


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Pianoloverus,

All I am trying to argue is that much of what we are getting here is pop sociology devoid of any understanding of how one might try scientifically to disentangle all of the variables that affect success. The fact that many people here do not (or did not) even understand how different samples can bias the results suggests that most people have deep feelings, often motivated by personal experiences and even by simple bias, that they then rationalize as causal arguments.

I suspect there IS something to the cultural arguments, though as i have said I have not read the literature on the subject. But people are still not making the division between

1) Asians invest more in their children, or

2) Asians push their children in particular directions

It is quite possible that Asians have a taste for music and science, but not for business, history, literature and athletics. If so, then there may be no cultural differences pertaining to investment in children, but only a taste for certain avenues over others.

And much of the discussion is overly laden with value judgments.

There is also a huge endogeneity problem. Oh, geez, another term to define ...... laugh

Do Asians dominate in conservatory admissions because of something cultural, or do the families of highly trained and potentially conservatory-bound middle and high school students in China and Korea emigrate here so that they can then partake of the music training possibilities. The pool of applicants and the group we call immigrants are (endogenously) related. If there is something to this latter argument, then you can get huge differences in enrollment rates that have absolutely NOTHING to do with culture. A study which purports to connect Asian dominance to culture, but which does not account for this effect, is simply bogus.

The same could be true of Stuyvesant. How many of its students might actually have settled in the NY area to partake of its offerings? I simply don't know.

In addition, where we are talking about a small place like a particular school, a winner-take-all effect can really skew how you think about this. If the statistical difference between the people who get in and the people who are just down the list is very small, but the decisions are made on the basis of some rigid numerical evaluation, you can get a cluster of one group (like Asians) who dominate quite out of proportion to their numbers in the population. But as I said, if the people on the waiting list are only insignificantly behind numerically, the cultural differences between the two groups are not particularly large.

This is a complex process. People are thinking about it simplistically. And then often drawing very hard conclusions redolent with value judgments about the populations involved.

I could go on .....

Did you know that there is a long lasting intergenerational education effect? If you come from an educated family, other things equal your grandchildren and great grandchildren likely will be better educated than their peers who are otherwise identical. What is the educational tree of the Asians who apply to conservatories and to Stuyvesant?

There is also a family size issue. Families with fewer children invest more in each. Are there systematic differences in family size that also explain some of the outcomes? Yes, family size is a choice .... more spice (endogeneity).

Lastly, immigrants may come from the slice of the population in the sending country that is more intelligent and/or that has more initiative. That is not culture. That is again sample selection bias.

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Piano*Dad

I understood ronald steinway in the sense that the asian families he observes tend to leave their children less choices about their activity than caucasian ones.

I did not understand him (in his first message) say that asian were genetically more or less prone to play the piano, or that they were more intelligent, or more disciplined in general.

In fact, your first example of the baseball player shows exactly the same concept that he said: the caucasian boy will be able to be as disciplined and have the same steely determination than the Chinese boy, but the Chinese boy is more likely to apply his determination to piano because papa wants it so, whilst the caucasian guy might well have more freedom in deciding what he wants to steel his determination on.

This seems to me an observation based on experience and derived from common sense.
I have less exposure to asian families (not so many here or where I lived before) but have observed exactly the same pattern: *in the people I have met*, mama and papa (higher education echelon) decide what the heir is going to do with his or her free time and that's that; this is of course before any consideration about their cultural environment, why they emigrated to europe etc.

I agree with you, though, that the example with the bag for the white mother was naive at best and the other one with the alleged physical inferiority which moves one to play the piano also not very well thought (if, say, physical dominance were so important, Italians would not have become 4 times soccer world champions or be so good at fencing, etc....).

BEWARE: RACE ISSUE!! smile

And by the way, Obama is 50% white: why does everyone in US TV insist in calling him "the black candidate"?
He is no more black than white and no more white than black, is he? His mother is white, so 50% of his genetic code is undoubtedly from his black parent and 50% is undoubtedly from his white parent.

Besides, *the colour of the skin should not be an issue whatsoever in the first place*, mind: *not even if he really were more black than white*, *no more than if he had a big mole on his nose*.

But no, the black candidate here, the black candidate there.....

still more than a bit obsessed with race, you Americans..... smile


"The man that hath no music in himself / Nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds / Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils." (W.Shakespeare)

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Originally posted by Innominato:
Piano*Dad

I did not understand him (in his first message) say that asian were genetically more or less prone to play the piano, or that they were more intelligent, or more disciplined in general.
I have never said this!

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Originally posted by Piano*Dad:

Do Asians dominate in conservatory admissions because of something cultural, or do the families of highly trained and potentially conservatory-bound middle and high school students in China and Korea emigrate here so that they can then partake of the music training possibilities. The pool of applicants and the group we call immigrants are (endogenously) related. If there is something to this latter argument, then you can get huge differences in enrollment rates that have absolutely NOTHING to do with culture. A study which purports to connect Asian dominance to culture, but which does not account for this effect, is simply bogus.
Not quite what you are referring to (since it's just an example), but the majority of Asian higher level piano playing kids in this neck of the woods did not immigrate here because their kids showed mad skillz (primarily because due to the age of my kids, the other kids I see didn't even start until after their families got here). Interesting question, though I would have assumed that they would have gone to Europe, isn't there a rather paucity of music conservatories here vs Europe (relatively)?

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Originally posted by Innominato:

And by the way, Obama is 50% white: why does everyone in US TV insist in calling him "the black candidate"?
Because historically, having any trace of "Black blood" made you black (tracing back to the days of slavery here in the States, maybe even before). Notice how no one considers Tiger Woods Asian (at least here in the States).

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Ronald,

And I never accused you of saying so, except perhaps about the discipline part.

Interestingly, it is that last part that might have a shred of truth to it. That is, after all, what the culture argument is all about, isn't it? That Asian families supposedly instill a discipline in their children that may be lacking to the same degree in others.

What I have been trying to show is that differential success rates themselves are NOT sufficient evidence that cultural differences are the cause. Differential success rates can be caused by many things that have nothing to do with cultural differences. I don't want to repeat myself since my arguments are all there in earlier posts.

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I do not really think the discipline. Based on my observation, I learned that Asian kids, in general, do listen to their parents' directions without too many qualifications. There is not so much argument between parents and kids. However, this trait does not take place anymore in the second and third generation. They lost the old way of Asian parents and kids relationship.

The kids of newly came immigrant know clearly what expected from them and they know that they need to reach those goals the best they can. There are not many serious Asian pianists came from the third or fourth generation Americ an Born Asians. Most of serious pianists are those whose parents are newly came immigrants.

I agree with your argument regarding incorrect sampling of data. Those Asian kids came from highly educated families. As we know that very few children know what direction to take to success. Highly educated parents usually can give them guidance which direction to take. Therefore, the coupling of the Asian family style relationship and good guidance from highly educated parents results good results as we have witnessed.

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First I want to state that I'm an American, and proud to be one. The fact that we can have this discussion openly without being persecuted (although some people are getting close to the whole racism card) is what makes this country great. Americans need to understand that certain cultures to certain things better than other cultures. That's what made this country great, because since we were a "melting pot," we could work together as a team. Unfortunately, the main reason why American children do not succeed in music compared to other cultures, is that in American society we want everything given to us quickly or make us feel good in a short amount of time. To be a good piano player, takes a couple of years of instruction and practice, to be a great player, takes an entire lifetime. Therefore, if a child isn't happy after that first month of lessons, or if the child is becoming bored or not wanting to practice, it's because as a society we give our children everything they want in a short amount of time. Look at how quickly a person can get this euphoria from the internet, or fast food, video games,

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Lastly, immigrants may come from the slice of the population in the sending country that is more intelligent and/or that has more initiative. That is not culture. That is again sample selection bias.
You are on to something that I mentioned before but no one seemed to notice. And the gap between legal immigration groups which go through the selection process as well as those who do not, as well as the "default" Caucasian population is clear evidence.

I cannot comment on why Asians specifically do well in classical music. However since murmurs of general "success" have popped up, I think it's important to clear the misconception of Asian Americans as a single, uniform, overachieving group. A brief visit to the United States census can show us the breakdown. Example: Number of Asian Americans with advanced degrees varies wildly. 12.5 for Indians, 8.5 for Chinese, 4.6 for Japanese, etc. Doesn't sound very uniform. Keep in mind here that the Japanese are an older immigration group (like the Jewish) and more are second-generation. However, the groups which are composed more of refugees (Vietnamese, Hmong) generally show less success.

Additionally, other legal immigration groups show a similar "over achievement". African immigrants had a % of 8.5 for the above stat. Europeans had around that number as well.. All of these are far higher than the average for Caucasians Americans (2.5%). Why no broad debate on cultural differences for all these groups? Legal immigration is by its nature a selective process. I hardly know anyone who immigrated to America to sit around - they did it to succeed and push their children to succeed. I do not see why it is a surprise that newer immigration groups tend to outperform the general public (as well as older ones).

Again, this is unrelated to why Asians specifically do well in classical music and conservatories. Personally, I feel this is more of a historical and perhaps cultural (in terms of music) discussion and the direction this one has been taking is misguided.

On an additional note, I agree with one point RonaldS made about parent-child relationship. In places like East and South Asia and etc, the idea of disagreeing with your parents is very foreign.


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A Korean martial arts instructor once told me that the biggest difference between Korean and Caucasian parents/students is that Koreans focus their energies on one thing while Caucasians tend to dabble in several.

I think this generally correct. Caucasian parents tend to focus on opportunity and place the burden of interest and drive on the student. They are there to open the doors and support the child's interests (plural.)

Asian children carry the burden of choice, but then the parents take over and demand interest and drive.

I make this generalization having taught at a community college and mid-sized university. Caucasian students were more likely to seek a broad-based education. The most popular degree program among Caucasians at one school was HDFS (Human Development and Family Studies), a degree that was structured so that students could enter it from a wide variety of educational backgrounds and complete it by electing a number of different courses in a variety of departments.

The more narrow degree programs and graduate degrees were populated more by international students. Degrees that required a specific kind of background (usually math/science, but also languages and business/economics) attracted these students, and completing these programs required a greater degree of specialization.


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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Originally posted by Theowne:
A brief visit to the United States census can show us the breakdown. Example: Number of Asian Americans with advanced degrees varies wildly. 12.5 for Indians, 8.5 for Chinese, 4.6 for Japanese, etc. Doesn't sound very uniform. Keep in mind here that the Japanese are an older immigration group (like the Jewish) and more are second-generation. However, the groups which are composed more of refugees (Vietnamese, Hmong) generally show less success.

Additionally, other legal immigration groups show a similar "over achievement". African immigrants had a % of 8.5 for the above stat. Europeans had around that number as well.. All of these are far higher than the average for Caucasians Americans (2.5%).
Thanks for the numbers, I was wondering about this as someone mentioned that the "over-achievement" of Asian kids might be attributable to highly educated parents. The census bureau number shows that only 4% of US population is Asian. So, 10% of the 4%, vs. 2.5% of 80% ("white" population in US)...

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Originally posted by 311Fan:
First I want to state that I'm an American, and proud to be one. The fact that we can have this discussion openly without being persecuted (although some people are getting close to the whole racism card) is what makes this country great.
:rolleyes:

The very first post in this thread came from Malaysia. There are also posts in just this one thread from another person from Malaysia, plus various folks in Switzerland, Canada, England, Ireland, and unidentified locations which might be from any number of non-US places.

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Originally posted by Theowne:
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Lastly, immigrants may come from the slice of the population in the sending country that is more intelligent and/or that has more initiative. That is not culture. That is again sample selection bias.
You are on to something that I mentioned before but no one seemed to notice. And the gap between legal immigration groups which go through the selection process as well as those who do not, as well as the "default" Caucasian population is clear evidence.

Of course there are differences. At least for me, this is part of the entire picture. I guess I'm too simple-minded, but I still don't understand why, if the discussion is about the numbers of Asians in American conservatories relative to non-Asian Americans, you'd want to mess with the samples to make them match as closely as possible. I mean, the whole point is that they don't match, isn't it?

Sure, it might also be interesting to look at what's going on with a sample that is as closely matched as possible, but I think that's a different story, because in fact, the actual populations simply are what they are, and we don't have any other numbers, as far as I know. If the Asian sample doesn't include "underachieving" groups because they don't immigrate, that's part of the story and should be mentioned, but I really can't figure out how to legitimately produce data that reflects that sort of thing. After all, except for the tiny indigenous population, ALL American conservatory students are the products of immigration, either recent or not, and ditto the entire sample base. That fact alone means that the "underachieving" groups can't quite be the same in nature as the Asian one, since the one theoretically is derived from an originally overachieving group of immigrants, and the other isn't. And I'm sure that people who spend their lives studying this sort of stuff could come up with far more subtle and much better thought out reasons why such comparisons based on numbers can't ever work.

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wr,

I don't get why you don't get it! Did you try to dissect my discussion of the problem?


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Suppose I told you that there were measurable differences in achievement between rural and urban residents, and that these differences were common across cultures. For whatever reason, rural folk have different behaviors than more urban folk. Suppose also that the Asians who emigrate are disproportionately urban. In other words, the Asians who emigrate are NOT a random sample of the Asian population.

Now you discover that Asians in the US do better in school (or whatever activity you choose to measure) than native born Americans. Voila! Their culture must predispose them to achievement.

No. You are comparing a biased slice of the Asian population to a random sample of the American population. All you may have (re)discovered is the power of the urban effect. In any analysis of culture you must control for these measurable differences or your result is itself a product of biased data.

What I am saying is that most of the posts here that claim an obvious cultural component for Asian success are way too simplistic. They presume that the data speaks for itself. It does not.
If people really want to UNDERSTAND why Asians do better at X or Y then they need to do more than repeat the fact that Asians DO do better at X or Y. You must evaluate the factors that supposedly LEAD to the difference in outcome.

The selection issues I have been talking about are mostly the very simple ones that can be dealt with in any data analysis by using appropriate control variables. Failing to use appropriate controls is actually called omitted variable bias.

Have you ever encountered multiple regression analysis? If not, this may be gibberish. If that is the case, you should be aware that you are meddling in the affairs of wizards, and they are subtle and quick to anger. wink

Suppose you quantify investment in children in some fashion (and I can imagine many ways to do this). Suppose that in addition to this investment data you also have data on ethnic origin of people. You then run a simple statistical model to see if ethnic origin and investment are correlated. Bingo, the variable lights up like a Christmas tree. Asians invest more in their children.

You have just shown that their culture is different, right?

Wrong.

Suppose you also had data on rural versus urban background. Put that in your statistical model, and you suddenly discover that the Asian variable doesn't shine as brightly. You have just discovered that there is a factor common to Asians and non-Asians that influences investment in children. Hmmm, maybe culture isn't so powerful an argument.

Then you control for income level and the Asian variable dims even more. Then you control for level of education, and the Asian variable loses a few more watts of explanatory power.

If after controlling for everything you can get your hands on that should reasonably affect investment, you still have an Asian effect, then only that remaining effect MIGHT be related to culture. Remember, you haven't yet specified what culture is, i.e. you are inferring very indirectly.

NOW we get into really insidious sample effects. Many of the things that influence success may be unobservable traits. I mentioned initiative as a factor that might stimulate migration. Migrants are not necessarily a random sample of the population. If you compare a group that share this trait that predisposes to success, and compare it to a fuller group that includes both people who share the trait and people who don't, you will of course discover that the group that shares the trait will have higher success rates than the broader sample. If you ascribe the subgroup's (Asian) success to culture you are flat wrong. It's the trait that has caused the success and it is the fact that you selected one subgroup that has a higher proportion of members with the trait that is giving you the result.

Here is a biological parallel:

Suppose you have two petrie dishes with some simple organisms placed in the center of the dish. As far as you know, the only difference between the organisms is the color. One dish has green crawlers and the other has blue crawlers. Someone said that they think the blue ones tend to reproduce better, and you want to check this out. You tell your researcher to go grab a sample of the blue ones to introduce into the green dish. If the blue ones really are mating machines (with other blues and with greens) you should see the proportion of blues rise in the dish over time. At least that is your working hypothesis.

The research assistant, however, is lazy. He sees that 1/3 of the blue critters have migrated to the outside of the dish. They are easier to collect, so he grabs those and leaves the ones in the middle behind. He then introduces these selected blue ones into the green dish at a known ratio, say one blue for every three greens. He comes back in a week and discovers that the ratio of blues to greens is higher than it was. Voila, blue seem to be different than green! That is what he reports to his boss, who is ecstatic and who then writes up a learned research paper on how there is some as of yet undiscovered trait that makes blues dominate greens.

Wrong! Is it just possible that the blues that migrated to the edge of the dish are different than the ones that remained in the center? That they have some property that is associated with movement that makes them reproductively stronger. by introducing ONLY the ones that moved into the green dish, the lazy research assistant has caused his boss to ascribe a trait to blueness that really is a trait of movement.

Economics has the best tool kit for dealing with this sort of problem precisely because nature does not cooperate for us, and because we have the most mathematics-laden methodology. We have simply thought about these issues a lot. Recognizing a problem does not a solution make. But it surely does make one a bit humbler, and it most assuredly raises our antennae when we see overly simplistic causal connections being made that we know for darn sure are fraught with all sorts of statistical and measurement problems. Humility is a great virtue when thinking about big social issues. It helps keep you from making sweeping generalizations.


-- I'm off on vacation for ten days, so the econometrics lessons are over for now. wink

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Speaking as a Chinese person, its because Asian parents are more inclined to have their children excel at something, not to generalize, but the need to succeed is much higher as immigrants to the US, and education is therefore very essential to moving up in life.
Also here is a quote from Wiki:

"The prevalence of absolute pitch is considerably higher among individuals with early childhood in East Asia.[28][29][30][31] This difference has been suggested to be racial in origin.[32] A study has claimed that individuals of East Asian heritage reared in the United States or Canada have "no significant difference" in prevalence of absolute pitch than do Caucasians of the same geographical origin[31], asserting that the difference in prevalence is more likely to be explained by linguistic experience than genetic heritage. Many East Asians speak tone languages such as Mandarin and Cantonese, while others (such as those in Japan and certain provinces of Korea) speak pitch accent languages; the prevalence of absolute pitch may be explained by exposure to pitches together with meaningful labels very early in life"

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Originally posted by wr:
I guess I'm too simple-minded, but I still don't understand why, if the discussion is about the numbers of Asians in American conservatories relative to non-Asian Americans, you'd want to mess with the samples to make them match as closely as possible.
Because your 'statistical results' have no meaning if you don't.

By looking *only* at ethnicity of students in American conservatories, you are actually comparing apples to oranges...except you think they are all apples. (I don't know if that came out right)

If you do not make sure that *all other factors* that might influence why a student ends up in a conservatory (and some really important factors might not be immediately obvious to you) between the 2 groups are as close as you can get them, you have no idea whether what's causing the difference is actually ethnicity, or some other factor you didn't figure into your consideration.

For example, on a research project I was involved in, it turned out that...in the particular community that was studied... religion turned out to be one of the most important factors in determining what type of home landscaping people wanted. Religion wasn't even one of the variables that the people who designed the study initially considered...someone involved in the study just noticed while the study was going on.

If they hadn't *noticed* that religion seemed to make a difference, and factored that in, then they could have quite reasonably thought that it was some other thing that the statistics showed *also* correlated (like numbers of children). In fact it would probably have been that because the religion also influenced the number of children they had. It would have been what you could think of as a 'false positive'...

Does that help?


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I just came across this article, published yesterday. I didn't want to start another Asian thread, so I thought it might be more appropriate to post it here instead. It might be somewhat related to the ongoing discussion:

Why do more Asians have perfect pitch?
http://scienceblogs.com/cognitivedaily/2008/07/why_do_more_asians_have_perfec.php

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Originally posted by ProdigalPianist:
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Originally posted by wr:
[b] I guess I'm too simple-minded, but I still don't understand why, if the discussion is about the numbers of Asians in American conservatories relative to non-Asian Americans, you'd want to mess with the samples to make them match as closely as possible.
Because your 'statistical results' have no meaning if you don't.

By looking *only* at ethnicity of students in American conservatories, you are actually comparing apples to oranges...except you think they are all apples. (I don't know if that came out right)

If you do not make sure that *all other factors* that might influence why a student ends up in a conservatory (and some really important factors might not be immediately obvious to you) between the 2 groups are as close as you can get them, you have no idea whether what's causing the difference is actually ethnicity, or some other factor you didn't figure into your consideration.

For example, on a research project I was involved in, it turned out that...in the particular community that was studied... religion turned out to be one of the most important factors in determining what type of home landscaping people wanted. Religion wasn't even one of the variables that the people who designed the study initially considered...someone involved in the study just noticed while the study was going on.

If they hadn't *noticed* that religion seemed to make a difference, and factored that in, then they could have quite reasonably thought that it was some other thing that the statistics showed *also* correlated (like numbers of children). In fact it would probably have been that because the religion also influenced the number of children they had. It would have been what you could think of as a 'false positive'...

Does that help? [/b]
Well, it does help, and PD's lengthy explanations do too. What I am stumbling around and trying get at is not just the question of why there is a disproportionate number of Asians and Asian-Americans in American conservatories and music programs (is this true in Europe, too? to the same extent? - that'd be interesting to know); I also want to know why the non-Asians are missing, which seems just as interesting.

Given your story earlier, I can't see how we can leave a person like you out of the data, and still find out more about why you didn't end up in a conservatory. Or someone like Frycek. Or, for that matter, me. After all, in your case, you say you went for an educational path uncharacteristic of your background anyway, and potentially not one leading to a good employment situation; so, why not music?

The other thing is that, despite people's valid misgivings about casual assumptions and probable incorrect stereotyping, I also have some misgivings about the ability of statistics to get at the "reality" of the situation, although it certainly is useful, especially as an antidote to unsupported fantasies. And it is wonderful if the analysis of data can tease out factors no one would ordinarily think of looking at. But at any rate, I don't know of any serious study of the phenomenon that has been made public, although it likely that someone somewhere is working on it.

Here is something that falls into the useless speculation area, but I recently read a Chinese person's take on the phenomenon, and they said there was a cultural assumption that classical music was the most sublime human endeavor possible, at least in China, and so naturally anyone with even a shred of talent would want to pursue it as the best possible thing they could do with their life (yes, I know, this is just one person's comment and it may not be representative). Contrast that with an attitude I have often run into here in the US, which is that classical music is only for snooty and stuck-up people who think they are better than everyone else, but in fact, it really basically isn't any good. It would be interesting if a study could reveal how those differing attitudes affect the cultures they are found in, and how prevalent they are, etc. But of course if they did, the next problem would be to figure out how those ideas came about in the first place, etc.

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