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A Longitudinal Daily Diary Study of Family Assistance and Academic Achievement Among
Adolescents from Mexican, Chinese, and European Backgrounds
Telzer, Eva H.; Fuligni, Andrew J.
A longitudinal daily diary method was employed to examine the implications of family assistance
for the academic achievement of 563 adolescents (53% female) from Mexican (n = 217), Chinese
(n = 206), and European (n = 140) backgrounds during the high school years (mean age
14.9 years in 9th grade to 17.8 years in 12th grade). Although changes in family assistance
time within individual adolescents were not associated with simultaneous changes in their Grade
Point Averages (GPAs), increases in the proportion of days spent helping the family were linked
to declines in the GPAs of students from Mexican and Chinese backgrounds. The negative
implications of spending more days helping the family among these two groups was not explained
by family background factors or changes in study time or school problems. These results suggest
that the chronicity rather than the amount of family assistance may be difficult for adolescents
from Mexican and Chinese backgrounds.
A Longitudinal Daily Diary Study of Family Assistance
and Academic Achievement Among Adolescents from Mexican,
Chinese, and European Backgrounds
Eva H. Telzer Æ Æ Andrew J. Fuligni
Received: 3 November 2008/Accepted: 29 December 2008/Published online: 10 January 2009
? The Author(s) 2009. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com
to examine the implications of family assistance for the
academic achievement of 563 adolescents (53% female)
fromMexican (n = 217),Chinese(n = 206),andEuropean
(n = 140) backgrounds during the high school years (mean
age 14.9 years in 9th grade to 17.8 years in 12th grade).
Although changes in family assistance time within individ-
ual adolescents were not associated with simultaneous
changes in their Grade Point Averages (GPAs), increases in
declines in the GPAs of students from Mexican and Chinese
backgrounds. The negative implications of spending more
days helping the family among these two groups was not
explained by family background factors or changes in study
time or school problems. These results suggest that the
chronicity rather than the amount of family assistance may
be difficult for adolescents from Mexican and Chinese
Ethnically diverse adolescents
Family assistance ? Academic achievement ?
Youth from Latin American and Asian backgrounds place
a strong emphasis on family obligation and assistance
(Fuligni et al. 1999; Hardway and Fuligni 2006). Although
teenagers from these families believe that trying hard and
doing well in school is one of their primary family obli-
gations (Suarez-Orozco and Suarez-Orozco 1995), the very
real need to provide assistance to the family on a daily
basis could potentially interfere with their academic
achievement by reducing the time available for studying,
compromising their ability to complete homework suc-
cessfully, and making it difficult to make it to school and
attend classes on time. Little is known, however, about how
actual family assistance, such as sibling care and house-
work, is associated with academic performance at school.
Although some theorists suggest that family assistance may
impede achievement (e.g., Chase 1999), this link has not
been systematically tested among adolescents from a
variety of backgrounds. The current study used a longitu-
dinal daily diary method in order to examine the
implications of family assistance behaviors for the aca-
demic achievement of adolescents from Mexican, Chinese,
and European backgrounds during the high school years.
Family Assistance and Academic Achievement
Family assistance is an important feature of adolescent
daily life and provides a sense of meaning and connection
to the family. Youth from diverse backgrounds engage in
family assistance behaviors on a daily basis by caring for
siblings, doing household chores, and helping their parents
(Hardway and Fuligni 2006). Family assistance is a par-
ticularly important aspect of family life for youth from
Latin American and Asian backgrounds, especially for
E. H. Telzer (&)
Department of Psychology, University of California,
1285, Franz Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1563, USA
A. J. Fuligni
Center for Culture and Health, Semel Institute for Neuroscience
and Human Behavior, University of California, Los Angeles,
J Youth Adolescence (2009) 38:560–571
Rather, teachers, schools, and families should help Mexi-
can and Chinese youth find ways to manage their time
more effectively so that assisting their family doesn’t
interfere with their school work. Recent intervention work
shows that culturally sensitive school-based programs that
combine traditional familistic values are effective in
engaging and motivating Mexican youth and promoting
their academic success (e.g., Dillman Carpentier et al.
2007; Martinez and Eddy 2005). Similarly, schools could
be made more aware of the unique challenges facing these
students and consider ways to allow for more flexibility in
work load and deadlines when the need to assist the family
arises. In the absence of larger social and economic
programs that work to alleviate some of the economic
hardships of immigrant and ethnic minority families, such
family- and school-based interventions may be the most
effective way to assist the students and their families.
Several limitations in the current study should be
acknowledged. First, there may be sample biases since the
participation rate was around 60% each year. Those who
did not participate may be adolescents who come from
more difficult home environments, such as those charac-
terized by economic difficulties, parental illness, or parents
who are absent due to separation. Thus, we may be missing
an important subgroup of adolescents, those who may
experience the most stresses associated with their family
assistance. In addition, our measure of socioeconomic
status does not tap economic strain and youths’ reports of
their parents’ education and occupation may not accurately
portray their family’s economic need. Thus, it is unclear
from the current study how economic difficulties may
affect the association between family assistance and aca-
demic achievement. Future work should measure economic
need more directly by asking parents to report on their
economic background. Additionally, our measure of family
assistance does not capture qualitative differences in family
assistance, such as variations in task difficulty and inten-
sity, which may elucidate why helping the family may be
more consequential for some adolescents. Finally, it is
important to acknowledge that there are differences in
social, ethnic, and socioeconomic distributions between the
three schools sampled, such as CalWorks distributions, free
and reduced meal differences, and ethnic group represen-
tation. It is possible that characteristics about the school
and the education provided may be related to academic
achievement in addition to the level of family assistance
provided by the adolescents. In particular, because eth-
nicity and school are highly confounded, the ethnic
differences in the association between family assistance
and academic achievement could be due to the schools the
students are attending and not just due to ethnicity. How-
ever, we cannot separate out these two effects because we
sampled only three schools in the study, which is not
enough to be able to make any strong conclusions about
In conclusion, a growing body of research shows that
some of the most academically motivated students in the
United States (Fuligni 1997); yet, their achievement levels
do not always match their motivational aspirations. One
major source oftheir motivation derives from their valuesof
family obligation, their sense to support, respect, and help
their family (Fuligni 2001; Tseng 2004). Nevertheless, we
is a chronic activity that occurs across many days of the
week. Additional research should focus on the sources and
nature of this high frequency of assistance in order to better
assist these students tosucceed inhighschool atlevels equal
to their motivation and aspirations.
from the Russell Sage Foundation to Andrew J. Fuligni. Preparation
of this manuscript was supported in part by the National Science
Foundation Graduate Fellowship. We thank the participating students
and schools as well as Christina Hardway, Melissa Witkow, and
Chadryn Agpalo for their assistance with the study design and data
Support for this study was provided by a grant
Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which per-
mits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any
medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.
This article is distributed under the terms of the
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Eva H. Telzer is a graduate student in Psychology at the University
of California, Los Angeles. Her research focuses on family relation-
ships and well-being among ethnically diverse adolescents.
Andrew J. Fuligni is Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the
University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Fuligni’s research focuses
on family relationships and adolescent development among culturally
and ethnically diverse populations.
J Youth Adolescence (2009) 38:560–571571