Jennifer Lee

Jennifer Lee

Research Interest

Jennifer Lee is the Julian Clarence Levi Professor of Social Sciences at Columbia University and Past President of the Eastern Sociological Society. She is an award-winning author of four books, including The Asian American Achievement Paradox, The Diversity Paradox, Civility in the City, and Asian American Youth. A sociologist who has been uniquely successful in placing the study of Asian Americans centrally in the discipline, Lee is this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Contribution to the Field Award from the American Sociological Association’s Asia and Asian American Section. Her research addresses questions about the implications of contemporary U.S. immigration—particularly Asian immigration—on the native-born population. She has studied this from a variety of analytical lenses, including immigrant entrepreneurship and ethnic conflict, intermarriage and multiracial identification, educational opportunities and outcomes, and, most recently, affirmative action and the rise in anti-Asian violence in the wake of COVID-19. Lee was invited by the Biden-Harris Administration to present her research on xenophobia, discrimination and anti-Asian hate to COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force.

 

Jennifer Lee’s most recent book, The Asian American Achievement Paradox, garnered five national book awards, including the Pierre Bourdieu Book Award and Thomas and Znaniecki Distinguished Book Award from the American Sociological Association. She and her co-author tackle the vexing question: why do second-generation Asians exhibit exceptional academic outcomes, even when controlling for socioeconomic factors like parental education, occupation, income, and residential segregation? They bring culture back into the debate about second-generation outcomes, and tackle the “Tiger Mother” controversy head on by bridging research in immigration, race/ethnicity, law, and social psychology in a novel way. They show that that the change in U.S. immigration law in 1965 “legally engineered” a new stream of “hyper-selected” immigrants from Asia who are highly educated and professionally skilled. Hyper-selected immigration continually replenishes stereotypes of Asian Americans as smart, high-achieving, and morally deserving, which, in turn, creates a status advantage for Asian Americans in ways that boosts academic outcomes. Their research resolves the vexing Asian American achievement paradox that the status attainment model could not while rejecting the cultural fallacy that Asians value education more than other groups.

 

The call to dispel the cultural fallacy is even more pressing in the context of the new culture war on affirmative action, in which Asian Americans have been touted as the latest victims and most ardent opponents of the policy. Moving past racially charged headlines, Lee places Asian Americans at the center of her analyses. Drawing on national survey data of the U.S. Asian population, she finds that the reigning narrative touted by issue entrepreneurs is at odds with Asian Americans’ attitudes, experiences, and the meaning that affirmative action has for them. She argues that the war on affirmative action detracts from negative action—that is, unfavorable treatment based on race, using the treatment of whites for comparison.

 

In her latest project, Jennifer Lee meets the moment, and traces the rise of anti-Asian violence and hate to the racial foundations of science, medicine, and U.S. immigration law. Since the onset of the COVID-19, one in eight Asian American adults experienced a hate incident, and one in seven Asian American women worry all the time about being victimized, revealing scars born from an under-recognized legacy of anti-Asian violence, bigotry, and misogyny that date back more than 150 years. Lee links the past to the present to underscore how science, medicine, and law do more than reflect social constructions of race, merit, and morality; they produce them.

 

Jennifer Lee is a Fellow at the Center for the Study of Economy and Society, and has been a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, a Fellow at the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago, a Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation, and a Fulbright Scholar to Japan. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council, Lee’s work has been published in Science, American Sociological Review, Social Forces, Annual Review of Sociology, The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, PNAS, and Daedalus.

 

She is a Board Member of the Obama Presidency Oral History, a Trustee of the Russell Sage Foundation, and a Senior Researcher at AAPI Data, which recently received a $10 million grant to study anti-Asian discrimination and hate. Strongly committed to public engagement, she is a Contributor for Science and the Brookings Institution, and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and a variety of other outlets.

 

News

Selected Publications

The Asian American Achievement Paradox

The Asian American Achievement Paradox

Jennifer Lee
Min Zhou